Bridging Selma

African American Confederates

African American Confederates

This slideshow requires JavaScript. Bill Harris and Barbara Marthal stand out in a crowd. Especially the crowd at the 150th Anniversary Battle of Selma reenactment. It’s not just because they’re an interracial couple, even though in the middle of two-thousand costumed, gun-toting Union and Confederate soldiers, they’re worth a second glance. It’s not even because Marthal, a black woman, tends to show up in full period dress— embroidered straw hat and hoop skirt included. Self-proclaimed historians, Harris and Marthal go to Civil War reenactments all summer long hoping to catch an eye or an ear to tell their truth—the truth of black Confederate soldiers. Marthal is the author of a children’s book Fighting for Freedom: A Documented Story, which she wrote hoping it would supplement public school history lessons on the Civil War. “Fighting for Freedom” is the true story of Richard T. Davis, a young Confederate soldier and his slave—and friend—Handy Davis Crudup. The surprising story of their long-lasting friendship, despite their roles as slave and master, is accompanied by historical documents. These are important and neglected stories, they say, and there are many like them out there. Marthal recommends that black people look up H.K. Edgerton, a black proponent of a view of Civil War history who argues that the Confederate army was made up of both African-American and white volunteers. Edgerton is the former president of the Asheville, North Carolina chapter of the NAACP. In 1998, he was suspended from the organization for failure to comply with their rules—though he puts a very different spin on the story (see article). In 2000, he was appointed the...
Civil War Redux

Civil War Redux

This slideshow requires JavaScript. As reenactors enter the fairgrounds for the 150th celebration of the Battle of Selma, they are welcomed by a giant booth filled with collectables, books, brochures, and other readings. At first glance, it looks like the registration table—but it’s not. As visitors study the booth’s tables they will notice book titles including “The White Identity, the Social Conscious in the 21st Century,” and “The Authentic History of the Ku Klux Klan.” The literature on the table sets the tone for the organization. The Friends of Forrest, an organization that celebrates a notorious Civil War general, is trying to raise $54,000 for a replacement bust of General Nathan Bedford Forrest that will be placed in Selma’s Live Oak Cemetery. Forrest was a Lieutenant general in the Confederate Calvary and his military career was focused in the mid-South where he led the Confederate troops in the Battle of Selma; the Union won that battle. After the war he was well-known in the community and became a Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard. The original bust was placed at the Joseph T. Smitherman Building Museum in Selma. Later, it was moved to the Confederate Memorial Circle in the local Live Oak Cemetery. The monument remained in place for almost 12 years until this March when someone stole the life-size bronze bust. The Friends of Forrest offered a reward of $20,000 and recently upped it to $40,000 for information as to who committed the crime. The bust has not been recovered and the group is raising money to cover the cost of replacing it. On May 23, Friends of Forrest...

Meals-on-Wheels Driver Provides Vital Link for Seniors

It was 8 a.m. and the meals were stacked up in trays, wrapped in plastic and waiting for Percy Neely’s wheels. Neely grabbed a list, piled the 26 meals into his van and was off to deliver nutrition to Selma’s senior citizens. Neely isn’t a Selma native, but he knows the sprawling town and every day he can be found at the First Presbyterian Church on Broad Street. The church runs the Broad Street Nutrition Center. Director John Christian, affectionately called “TJ”, created Selma’s version of Meals on Wheels to provide one balanced meal a day to the elderly and disabled members of the community. Recipients have to be at least 60 years old. Registration requires a one-time fee of $1.25. Neely is a delivery driver for Meals on Wheels and on April 29, he had more than 20 houses on a delivery route that wound through the residential streets of Selma. The first stop was at a blue and red house owned by an elderly woman named, Ms. Webb. Her granddaughter answered the door while Webb stayed in bed. “Sometimes the door doesn’t get answered,” Neely said, “Sometimes there will be a note on the door that says ‘leave it outside.’” For most recipients today’s package was a mid-day meal, a platter of steak, mashed potatoes and green peas. For those who are truly housebound, the Meals on Wheels driver is a crucial link to the outside world. “We’re kind of like a lifeline if they can’t afford a telephone,” Christian said. “Some of these folks don’t have a cell phone. So, the people who deliver become their...