Driving down Broad Street and Water Avenue, the only things I noticed were closed businesses and dilapidated buildings. Once a beautiful, prosperous city, Selma is the seat of Dallas County, the poorest county in Alabama and one with a rich history rooted in the Civil Rights Movement. As my classmates noted, Selma has wonderful potential. The Edmund Pettus Bridge brings tens of thousands of visitors to Selma, according to Jerria Martin, candidate for mayor. However, many visitors take their picture at the foot of the bridge, and then go on their merry way. The bridge brings people to Selma, but nothing keeps them in there. We told Martin that we were spending two days in Selma, the longest stay in any one place on our trip. She was very pleased and appreciated our quest to learn more about Selma and its problems.
The Selma Interpretive Center, Brown A.M.E. Chapel Church, and the National Voting Rights Museum are vastly educational, but our discussion with Jerria Martin about the current condition of Selma has remained most salient in my mind. The city that people recognize for “Bloody Sunday” and the Voting Rights March, still has strained race relations. The schools and neighborhoods remain segregated. Racial disparity even extends to public facilities, like the separate YMCAs—the one for whites is an open, large, beautiful facility, and the one for blacks closed years ago.
Of the 20,000 people currently in Selma, about 80% are black. Even after the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and increased numbers of black registered voters, Selma did not have its first black mayor until 2000. The election of James Perkins ended Mayor Joe Smitherman’s long 36 years of service. Although small, the white population of Selma has remained in political power, systematically keeping Selma in perpetual state of segregation. According to Martin, Selma’s decline began in 2000–business have continued to close; buildings are crumbling; roads are sinking, the crime rate soars, and the numbers of impoverished people are staggering.
Martin agrees with our enthusiasm and vision of Selma’s possible future prosperity. She is tired, yet hopeful: she wants to see the infrastructure improved, roads rebuilt, public transportation initiated, and businesses restarted. Running for mayor as the youngest candidate, and first woman, she is up for a challenge against James Perkins and incumbent Mayor George Evans. While I am not in any position to determine which candidate is best for Selma, my hope is that the citizens of Selma exercise their voting rights and elect the best person for the job. Selma has been too important to the history of this country to fall apart now. The people of Selma, white and black, are more resilient than that. Selma deserves more than simply its historic reputation. One day, I hope I can go back to Selma and genuinely say that it is once again a beautiful city.