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.”
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 larger cities.”
How It Was
At 72, Gamble remembers what Selma was like before the marches and desegregation that began 50 years ago.
“When I grew up as a young person, elementary and teenager, there were separate restaurants. There were separate water fountains,” Gamble said. “They were separate, and it was not that there was no interaction between black and white, but things were segregated.”
Gamble was away from Selma, studying law at the University of Alabama, when the march from Selma to Montgomery began. His parents were still in town, though. And while they were not activists, they became involved in their own way.
“They were very, very concerned about the attitude of Jim Clark and some of the other movers and shakers at that point in time,” Gamble said. “And many of their friends strongly disagreed with them. Their white friends.”
When activists were in Selma for the march, some of them wanted to attend services at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.
“They were turned away,” Gamble said. “And my mother got up and stormed outside the church with the people who were there who were turned away, as did my daddy, as did my brother and some others.”
Selma’s Old Economy
“Agriculture was king in this area from the beginning of the city until the ’50s and ’60s, it began to diminish in terms of small farms,” Gamble said. “Small farms simply were going out of existence.”
Historically, Selma’s location in the region attracted economic activity.
“Selma, as a result of having many farms around, not having interstates, not having any of that, it was an economic hub for other smaller counties that surrounded us,” he said.
Nearby Craig Air Force Base also brought jobs and money to the area.
But as time went on, the situation changed. The farms started to fail. The Air Force base closed. The Jewish wholesale merchants began to leave, as big box stores took off.
“It’s in many ways very typical of what happens to smaller areas as the economics begins to change, and as people begin to move away,” Gamble said. He added that Dallas County has seen population loss each census since 1960.
But the struggling economy wasn’t the only reason for the area’s population loss.
In 1990, the school board decided to not have one large integrated high school, like it had since integration, and instead “broke up” into multiple high schools.
“I feel very strongly about that. It was a terrible tragedy for Selma,” Gamble said. “I want to say [before 1990] the high school was almost, not fully, but almost reflective of the population. Now, it’s virtually all African American.”
Gamble said the schools have become virtually re-segregated.
“Dr. King’s dream is gone. And it was beginning to happen, at least from the standpoint of education,” Gamble said.
He’s seen a decline in the quality of the public school system over the past 25 years. This decline has also contributed to the area’s lack of economic growth.
“It’s very hard to recruit industry when you don’t have a strong public school system,” he said. “Especially in small towns.”
The Tuesday Night Group
After the setbacks of the ’90s, Gamble and 30 friends came together to form a group of black and white businessmen and professionals. Once a month, they gather in each other’s homes to socialize and share a meal.
“We’re all good friends,” Gamble said. “But we’re getting older. We’re trying to incorporate younger people into the group because we’re all going to die soon.”
While some may have given up on Selma, Gamble still believes the town is beginning to change for the better. His law firm is small by city standards, but large for Selma.
“There are five of us,” he said. “And two of them are in their twenties.”
He has seen an increase in young people returning to the area.
“There is a lot of enthusiasm among young people who have come back, starting small businesses,” Gamble said. “I’m very positive, and see a lot of future for us.”
By Colleen S. Good