Bridging Selma

Protest on the Bridge

April 24, – Each year in April, a month after celebrating the voting rights victories achieved in Selma, the town hosts the Battle of Selma Re-enactment festivities. Thousands of people come to town to remember the April 1865 Civil War battle in which Selma’s Confederate Troops were defeated by Union troops. For some, the observance of this part of the town’s Confederate past honors the people who fought against the rights of black people, who now make up the majority of the town’s population. This slideshow requires JavaScript. Doyle MaurerWVU...
Confederate Remembrance Day

Confederate Remembrance Day

“We had more love and respect for people 60 years ago than we do today,” said Gary Johnson, a Sons of Confederate Veterans member who was at a Marion, Ala., cemetery on Confederate Remembrance Day Sunday. “Now, granted things weren’t equal back then. There were a lot of things that were wrong, no doubt. There’s things that were wrong yesterday that we hope to right today. We’re not perfect people.” Johnson spoke after the memorial ceremony, which involved a pledge of allegiance to the Confederacy, a rousing rendition of “Dixie” and a speech by H.K. Edgerton, an African American man dressed in Confederate soldier garb who spun a pre-war history of the south where slaves and their masters lived in happy harmony. (See related article “Civil War Reenactment: African Americans Join the Confederate Forces.) Johnson takes issue with the characterization of racism as a negative word. “I am a racist. I want my children to all be white. H.K.’s a racist. And we should be. But what we are not is bigots,” Johnson said. “We’re not that way. We’re loving people…this is the way we used to be.” Johnson, a Marion resident, lives in the house that once belonged to Confederate General and Ku Klux Klan Wizard Nathan Forrest. Forrest led the Rebel troops in the 1865 Battle of Selma and Johnson honors his legacy by serving as the commander of the local Sons of Confederate Veterans group called Gen. Isham W. Garrott Camp #764. Each year on April 26, the camp hosts a ceremony for the area’s Confederate Memorial Day, a holiday in honor of Confederate soldiers who...
Friends Reflect on Civil Rights and Selma

Friends Reflect on Civil Rights and Selma

  Dianne is a two time jail bird, but for the right reasons,” Joyce O’Neal says about her best friend Dianne Harris. Harris was jailed twice for activism during the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s in Selma. O’Neal, who was never arrested, was also an activist. The two women, who have been friends for almost 60 years, were teenagers at the time. O’Neal and Harris both lived on the same street as the Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church, which they attended, and which was at the center of the movement in Selma. It’s been almost 60 years since the two met. Joyce O’Neal, a former Director of the Food Assistance Program for the state of Alabama who is now a tour guide for Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church and Dianne Harris, an educator for almost 30 years, have been friends ever since. As teenagers, O’Neal and Harris attended separate high schools but still remained very close. At the time, schools were segregated. Students from R. B. Hudson High School, where O’Neal was a student, were coming to First Baptist church and to Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church to join and organize the marches. O’Neal, wanting to be involved, consulted her mother who advised her not to attend school rather than leaving in the middle of the day to join the march. Harris, who attended Alabama Lutheran Academy, remembers being involved in a different way. “We wanted to be part of history… All we needed was a little encouragement. We already had the thrill.” Harris recalls a young man from R. B. High School visiting her school and asking Harris and her classmates, including her younger brother, to participate in...
The (Still) All-White Country Club

The (Still) All-White Country Club

  This slideshow requires JavaScript. Attorney Bill Gamble’s family has lived in Selma a long time. His father Henry Gamble was a Selma lawyer and he and his brother followed in his footsteps, even working at the same firm. While in some ways, Bill and his family fit the rich, white lawyer stereotype, in other ways they do not. Bill, now 72, has been a member of Selma’s all-white Country Club since he first reached adulthood. While he enjoys spending some of his free time there, he doesn’t agree with some of the club’s policies. “Selma Country Club unfortunately is still segregated,” Gamble said. “It has no black members. I’m not proud of that at all.” Gamble said that not only was it “wrong” to not accept black members, but also “stupid.” Welcoming Community While some institutions in Selma have their problems, Gamble said that in many other ways, Selma is a very open and welcoming town. “It’s a wonderful community to live in,” Gamble said. “I find Selma to be an extremely accepting place.” By and large, Selma is a “friendly,” he said. “There are others who are not, but that’s going to be true anywhere,” Gamble. “But overall, I just love it here.” Gamble said this also applies to the elite in the area. “Selma’s a small town, so you know you don’t necessarily have as much elitism as you might in a larger town, because you intermingle with all the segments constantly,” Gamble said. “I would say the elite [in Selma are] probably more civic minded, not nearly as exclusive as other elitists who are in...
In a Two-Block Radius of the Bridge: 48 of 90 Shops Shuttered

In a Two-Block Radius of the Bridge: 48 of 90 Shops Shuttered

This slideshow requires JavaScript. Standing at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge, looking down Selma’s main street, it is hard to envision 100,000 people walking down these desolate sidewalks, as they did just a month ago when they gathered to commemorate Bloody Sunday and the Voting Rights Act. Within a two-block radius of the bridge’s base, 48 businesses are closed and 42 only remain open. William Scott runs a Community and Economic Development Company called Tristatz. He provides technology and resources for local startups. Scott holds workshops, hosts meet and greets and offers free classes on customer service and management. It costs $700 for a business plan, lawyers at discount, and access to the conference room and facilities. Scott says for small businesses in Selma to be successful they need to find their creative niche. Mom and pop shops do well in the Black Belt because people like to shop in businesses that where they know the owners. Though there are so many shuttered businesses in Selma’s downtown now, he is optimistic about the town’s future. Even though many of the business have closed down in this section of town, he says companies where people work out of their homes are doing well. But statistics show that Selma, like many small towns that relied on manufacturing, is struggling. The downtown is a strong reminder that the 2008 recession hit hardest in places that were already struggling. The median household income in the state is $41,574. But in Selma it’s $21,265. For black residents of the town, it’s $19,591. The job growth rate has actually declined 3.14 percent. Selma...