Black Belt Hall of Fame to honor three

Published 12:10 am Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Black Belt Hall of Fame will honor members of the community who have made substantial impacts in art, business, education, industry, medicine, politics and science Friday, March 16.

This year’s nominees, Mary Thomas Ward Brown, the late George Washington Carver and Willie Earl King will be honored during an induction ceremony and dinner at 5:30 p.m., inside the University of West Alabama’s Bell Conference Center. The cost is $15.

Center for the Study of the Black Belt director Valerie Burnes said all three honorees have devoted their life’s work to the Black Belt.

Email newsletter signup

“We are pleased to induct Mary Thomas Ward Brown, George Washington Carver and Willie Earl King in the Black Belt Hall of Fame,” Burnes said. “They have done amazing work to make life better for the citizens of the Black Belt and we bestow this honor upon them to celebrate their achievements and all that is possible because of them.”

Born in Hamburg, Ala., Brown lived almost her entire life on her family’s farm in the rural Black Belt. A graduate of Judson College in the late 1930s, Brown began writing in her early 50s after becoming a widow.

In the 1970s, Brown’s work was published in periodicals and by 1986, her first book “Tongues of Flame” was also published. Brown received many awards, such as Brown PEN/Hemingway, Alabama Author Award, Lillian Smith Book Award, Harper Lee Award and Hillsdale Fiction Prize, from the Fellowship of Southern Writers, among others. Brown’s autobiography about life in the Black Belt was published in 2009.

Achieving status as a celebrated agricultural educator and researcher at Tuskegee Institute, (now Tuskegee University) George Washington Carver focused his research on the use of available and renewable resources. Carver, who is best known for his experiments with peanuts, also created an extension service that included fairs and short courses in agriculture. Carver’s work encouraged black students to pursue careers in science. His research also improved the lives of thousands of poor farmers, both black and white.

Living his life mostly in Pickens County, Ala., King was born in Mississippi. Known by many as an “outstanding musician, educator (and) community activist,” King used his “struggling blues” style of music when performing for house parties and homecomings and at festivals in Europe. Having also participated in the civil rights movement, King promulgated the rich, rural heritage of the Black Belt.

King founded the Rural Members Association, or RMA, in 1989 to improve and strengthen his local community through teaching skills in woodworking, quilting, music and farming. In 2000, King received the Living Blues Magazine’s awards for “Best Blues Album,” “Best Contemporary Blues Album,” and “Best Blues Artist.” The Alabama State Council on the Arts also awarded King with a fellowship and its Alabama Folk Heritage Award in 2009.

The deadline to register for the event is Monday, March 12. To RSVP for the event, call 205-652-3829 or email Burnes at