Bridging Selma

F.D. Reese Insists on Using the Front Door

“There were those who made sure they made you feel like you were less,” said Reverend Dr. F.D. Reese about the treatment of black people by white people during the civil rights movement that made him one of the most famous civil rights figures in U.S. history. Dr. F.D. Reese is a member of the “Courageous Eight,” a group of prominent black leaders and committee members for the Dallas County Voting League (DCVL), and a reverend at Ebenezer Baptist Church since the church’s construction in 1976. Dr. Reese was born and raised in Selma, a small town with a lot of history both in Civil Rights and the Civil War. In 1965, Dr. Reese was the President of the DCVL at the time of the marches in Selma. Reese was responsible for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s involvement in the marches and meetings when he invited him to Selma. Two weeks after Bloody Sunday, the march that hospitalized over 50 people and led the Voting Rights Act a few months later. Dr. King asked marchers to come back for a second attempt at a “peaceful” protest, protected by law enforcement under the order of President Lyndon B. Johnson. Called “Turnaround Tuesday,” it was the day Reese and Dr. King along with the Dallas County Voting League and Southern Christian Leadership Conference walked side by side leading hundreds of non-violent protestors. Almost 20 years after the marches in 1984, Reese ran for mayor of Selma, but was defeated by incumbent Joe Smitherman. Even after his loss, Dr. Reese continued to be an influential figure in the community giving a sermon...

Fledgling School Hopes to be an Integrated Alternative

Shania Black, 12, was the first black student to attend all-white Morgan Academy, a school founded on the heels of integration in the ’60s, as white families pulled their children out of the public schools. Though she wasn’t threatened herself, she says that other students she carpooled with were bullied for being friends with her and their families received death threats. “I’m glad I that I didn’t know about that then,” she said. “But now I’m happy that I did that because after that year another girl that was African American came to that school, too, and I think me going there helped other African American families know that they could go there, too.” That was in 2008, when Black became the first African American student at the private school that had been all-white since its founding in 1965. She stayed there until this year when she moved to the Freedom Academy, a brand new school run by volunteers from a nonprofit, community-based organization called The Freedom Foundation. ***** Selma Community Church sits on the corner of Selma Avenue and Franklin Street. It is a typical-looking Southern church that was built in 1906. But inside the doors, an unexpected scene unfolds each day: A group of children are laughing, talking, eating lunch and preparing for their speech class. This is Selma’s Freedom Academy, an innovative school that provides an alternative option to traditional education where kids get to explore their passions. The residents of Selma find their city stuck in the past. “In some ways, [the civil rights battle in] Selma helped the whole world but Selma got left...

A New CEO for Selma’s Troubled Schools

Video: Newly appointed School Superintendent Angela Mangum gives her vision for turning Selma’s beleaguered school system around.   After years of struggling, the Selma City School district is hoping to start a new chapter by appointing Angela Mangum as the district’s new Superintendent, a job comparable to the CEO of a company. Mangum inherits a system that has been plagued with poor performance for years. The high school, Selma High, recorded a graduation rate of 67 percent in the 2012-2013 school year. However, in 2014, 80 percent of the students graduated, a feat which Mangum hopes the school, and the entire district, can build upon moving forward. But that same year, they changed the way that “graduation rates” were calculated so that instead of measuring how many students graduated in four years, it measured how many graduated in five years. The test scores for Selma High students are low. Less than one percent of high school students tested as exceeding or meeting grade level expectations in science, according to the Alabama Department of Education. Only 2.4 percent met or exceeded standards in math. In English, 37.1 percent met or exceed standards. There are 1,500 students at the high school and, years after integration, the school is 99 percent African American with 89 percent qualifying for free or reduced lunch. Selma’s R.B. Hudson Middle School is one of 66 Alabama schools on the national “failing schools: list due to consistently poor test scores. The Selma City schools themselves were so poor and badly managed that the state intervened in 2012 to take them over and appoint an interim superintendent. State investigators found sexual misconduct—the accused teacher was later convicted...

The Millers Run a Funeral Parlor

Randall and Betty Miller defied local custom and married in Selma, Ala. during a time, 25 years ago, when racial tension was still high. They remembered being faced with many challenges because of the racial divide in Selma, but it only made their relationship stronger. Now, they are one of Selma’s leading power couples. He’s black, she’s white. Randall is considered to be the wealthiest black man in the city after inheriting a successful funeral home when his father died 32 years ago. He was warned that he would go broke if he insisted on marrying a white woman. The funeral home sits next to the First Baptist Church on Saint Phillips Street. The Miller’s Funeral Home is the one almost all African-Americans turn to when a family member dies. Although some whites have used Miller’s, most of his clients are black–and he attributes that to tradition. “Local funeral homes are more or less on racial lines,” he said. “I bury some whites, but 90 percent of the people I funeralize are black. White funeral homes bury a very small number of blacks. Just like barbers you know, black men go to black barbers and white men go to white barbers.” “It’s just a tradition. It’s no difference in the business, either one can do the same thing,” he said. While some funeral homes still follow the tradition of segregation in death, Randall believes black and white people can enjoy life together. “Black and white can live together in this town,” he said. “They do socialize together, but the media doesn’t paint that picture. They paint the picture of...

Seeding a Garden in the Food Desert

For $10 local residents dined on southern delicacies like pulled pork sandwiches, ribs and chicken. The more adventurous tasted alligator bites and rattlesnake eggs all in the name of supporting Grow Selma’s goal to build a community garden during the Rock ‘N ‘Ribs benefit on April 25, at Lion’s Fair Park in Selma. “The community is going to learn all about healthy food, how to plant, and maintain a garden,” said Grow Selma board member, Jerria Martin. The organization was founded by Selma resident Clay Carmichael, who wanted to start a benefit group and organize events to fundraise for local charities. Times are tough in Selma—particularly for the black community. The median household income for white residents in Selma is $41,448 but for black residents, it is $19,591. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate is 3.8 percent for white men and 18.8 percent for black men. Many families are struggling for balanced meals in what local residents call a “food desert,” an area defined by the Agriculture Department as one where healthful local foods are hard to find due to a lack of grocery stores, farmers markets and healthy food providers. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, between 2009 and 2013, the poverty rate for Selma’s white residents (3,562 during that period) was 14.4 percent, while the percentage of blacks below the poverty level was 48.4 percent. In Selma, the number of poor people has only grown in the 50 years since the community became one of the epicenters of the civil rights and poor peoples’ movements. The number of people who receive food stamps remains high. Forty-eight percent of the...

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...