SELMA, ALABAMA 2023
A few days in an historic civil rights city reveals a sad present
Spent a few days last week in Selma, Alabama researching a new project connected to the city’s pivot role in the 1965 struggle to have Congress past a national voting rights act. Since the reconstruction era Southern blacks had been denied the right to vote through poll taxes, racist tests, and acts of violence. The leaders of the civil rights movement chose a march between Selma and Alabama’s state capitol in Montgomery to dramatize their demand. The three marches that were held in March ‘65, including the notorious Bloody Sunday march that left so many beaten and hospitalized, led President Lyndon Johnson to push through a national voting rights act, one that is curently being undermined by GOP dominated state legislatures around the country. The marches are commemorated at an outdoor mususem next to the Edmund Pettus Bridge and a small indoor museum across the highway. The events that happened in Selma have been immortalized in movies, documentaries, and books. It really was an landmark effort in making the American Dream real.
Despite of its important role in advancing voting rights (or perhaps because of it), Selma has experienced decades of white flight and disinvestment. The city, whose population was 80% African-American in the last census, has no industrial base. Agriculture, long the backbone of the Queen City, has suffered. Every young person I encountered was looking to leave the city as soon as they could, seeing few local employment prospects. On top of these woes a tornado ripped through Selma in January, damaging scores of homes in the city, inflicting more hard ship on a struggling town. You want a sign of the view typical American businesses have of Selma? The closest Starbucks is 37 miles away.
If you’re traveling down South this summer, Selma is a worth a stop, both to pay respects to the giants who sacrificed so much for the right to vote, and to bare witness to the fact that legislative gains don’t always transform into a better quality of life.