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Michelle Cole Barnes Panel Statement:

My family moved from Chicago to Aliceville, Alabama in August 1980. It was a complete culture shock, going from the hustle and bustle of the big city to a tiny dusty town.  Dirt roads were commonplace and blacktop was a rarity. Aliceville then had two whole traffic lights, now there is only one. The volunteer fire departments had little equipment. Telephone services only had party lines in this area, no private phone lines. No cable television. All county residents were on a rural route, with no 9-1-1 emergency system. Many lacked access to the county water system (we had a well). There was no public transit, except the public school buses. There were four gas stations, and now there are three. There were several thriving plants in Pickens, County: Two sewing plants, Huck felt, the Cotton Mill, and Westin house that once employed hundreds of people. Over the years those plants closed, some relocated. Hundreds of jobs were lost and never replaced.

I didn’t realize what real poverty was until I moved to Aliceville. For it was here that I learned that everyone did not have running water or indoor bathrooms, and sometimes food to eat. Yet I learned the best southern hospitality and etiquette.  I’ve met so many wonderful people. Some were poor in material possessions but rich in so many ways.

I was nine years old when we moved here. Then I discovered the unimaginable… The nearest McDonald’s was twenty-five miles away in Columbus, MS or fifty miles in Tuscaloosa, AL. I thought McDonald’s was a right (of every child).   But then I thought corn came from a can and all pigs were pink.  At least they were in children’s books.  People walked barefoot.  Some enjoyed eating greens and bread with their hands.  No fork necessary. Wow!  Very warm and friendly, but very nosy! Everyone seemed to know each other.  Have you ever visited a place where everyone seems to be kinfolks? The number one question was “who is yo folks?”

There have been many improvements to the infrastructure of the area in the last thirty years, some recent ones because a new 600-acre Federal prison complex that will employ about 350 people is being built in Pickens County. The changes include:

•  Highway 14  improvements, water, sewer, and gas service to the prison.     
These can benefit other new businesses.

•  Improvements to schools. Aliceville High School, new school construction. 
Elementary/Middle schools have had improvements and new lunchroom built.

•  Pickens County has 9-1-1 system, rural routes have been replaced with roads
and street names. Many roads are now paved.

•  New government buildings

•  New additions to the hospital.  New relationship with regional medical system.
New dialysis center. Using meditech, most patient  records are now computerized.

•  Bevill State Community College built Pickens County Educational Center in Carrollton, AL.  This satellite site has about 290 students enrolled.  The majority of student are female and are from Pickens  County. This is a big change.  I had to drive a hundred miles to get to a college when I started.  My sister was able to do her whole degree online.  Currently, more women than men are graduating from college in Alabama. Bevill’s Second Chance Program helps youth, single parents, high school dropouts, the homeless, offender status or foster children with  basic skills, GED prep, college education and other support services.

•  The telephone service has been upgraded.  Now we have private Lines, cell  phone service/towers, cable/satellite and DSL is available.

•  No McDonald’s yet, but we now have a SUBWAY(2010) and JACK’S. Also several dollar stores including–FRED’S and DOLLAR GENERAL.


It takes a village.  The village needs a vision.  For without a vision the people perish.
We are resilient, strong and resourceful.  Rural areas are full of untapped potential.  It’s time to wake up out of despair and hopelessness.  Time to rise to the occasion.  Good leadership should model and inspire change. Change must come and it must start with me.  Each person has a responsibility to contribute to the success of her village. 
We must overcome “small minded thinking” that because we live in a small rural area our dreams must be small. 
We must get input from shareholders and encourage their participation, Leadership training and capacity building are key. 
Never underestimate the power of community organizing!! 
We ourselves must develop programs for women and at-risk youth that are effective, caring and meet their needs and interests directly.
Our towns are what we make them.  Let’s work together to make our rural areas a thriving and productive place to live.


Women in Leadership Roles in Alabama
3 women in Executive offices in the State of AL- Lt Governor, Sec of State and State Auditor (out of 6)
8 women in AL State Dept and Agencies (out of 25)
3 women on the AL State Supreme Court (out of 9)
1 woman on the AL Court of Judiciary (out of 9)
6 women serving in the AL State Senate (out of 35)
14 women serving in the AL State House of Representatives (out of 105)
3 women on the AL Court of Criminal Appeals (out of 5)
1 woman on the AL Court of Civil Appeals (out of 5)
2 women elected to US House of Representatives- Terry Sewell (D), Martha Roby (R)

Source: Women’s Leadership Institute at Auburn University in Auburn, AL

Michelle Cole Barnes currently serves as the owner and director of Eagles Nest Foster Care Home, a foster home for severely mentally challenged adults. She is a licensed practical nurse, and a respected public speaker, known throughout the Blackbelt for her successful radio program/talk show.  Ms. Cole Barnes is an RDLN Leader, and her field Project is to establish a residential program for people with special needs with the Sponsoring Organization Cole Evangelical Ministries.