In the fall of 2014 into winter 2015, I collaborated with my good friend, the photographer Wes Frazer, to create Cuba, AL, our love-letter to the Black Belt town and to the people who live there. This is the first installment of the Black Belt Project, in which Wes and I document the culture of Alabama's Black Belt region, as well as plight of the invisible many who call it home. You can read an excerpt below, as well as view some of Wes's photos.
The city center (if it can be so called) of Cuba sneaks up almost imperceptibly, the taller pines giving way to oak, poplar, and ash, the WWII-era homes proliferating and bunching up in little clusters in the span of a couple blocks. Most are single-story with lovely front porches, many of these decked in all manner of flags and decoration, from Star Wars to Bart Starr. After a couple minutes of driving we spot an old baseball diamond off the road a ways to the left and park the truck.
A low cinderblock building with the look of a civic center sits a stones-throw from the field and we try to get a look inside by cupping our hands around heads pressed to the mildewed windows—there, a mounted ten-point buck, a few tables, chairs, thin gauzy curtains, faded bunting. At the diamond, the brick and sheet metal dugouts are rusted and weathered from decades, it seems, of disuse, the three or four power poles evenly spaced at the field's radius are simply bare wooden columns, nothing more. The infield dirt is hard-packed and clayey, giving way to thinning bermuda, the common interplay in this area of slight new-growth and incessant decay. I walk over to an outhouse-sized shed, a tiny powerhouse, it seems, for the night-game lights now gone, and wrench open the door. Nothing inside but trash, some beer cans, burnt out wires, and shards of broken transformer ceramic.
In this town, more than any other we've travelled to in the Black Belt, these remnants of old electrical grids, insulated wire, fuse-boxes, the many-colored glass fuses they house, avow a way of life that must have been here, the energy that had made of this place a thriving community rich with ritual and seasonal gatherings, barbeque clubs, baseball in the spring, football in autumn. The trappings that gather the town life about itself and momentarily brighten it beyond the daily round of working in the fields or forest instead of the Wal-Mart five miles away in Meridian, pumping gas at the station your neighbor owns for another neighbor instead of buying it from someone you would like to know but somehow cannot, and pumping it yourself in an air increasingly alien. It's as if the blood has run out. Many would say it has.