Staring at the map from here in central Alabama I searched out places to explore nearby. Right away I noticed that Selma was only a couple hours away.
Why did I not know this? Why have we never visited before?
Wednesday, predicted to be a day filled with sun sandwiched by days of rain, seemed to be the time to go to Selma. So I did.
Armed with a map of Alabama for backup I memorized my route, I-85 to Montgomery, then highway 80 into Selma. I didn’t really figure how much time either leg would take, just went for the ride. I’m retired, I can take my time.
The trip started in grey fog, cold and damp.
Let me tell you, there’s a whole lot of nothing between here and Selma. Even the southern part of Montgomery wasn’t particularly interesting. Though I did see a miles long line of cars there, waiting, I’m guessing, to get their vaccines, complete with sheriff’s cars, lights flashing, managing the crowd.
That brought me back to reality. I’d been hanging out at the lake, no national news, sort of losing track of what was going on out in the rest of the world. That line of cars, all those people waiting, woke me up to the fact that things are still crazy dangerous.
Eventually I was driving through an area with strip malls, empty commercial spaces and tiny brick houses. Up a slight rise and I realized, with a quick intake of breath, that I was going over the bridge.
The bridge where on March 7, 1965, Bloody Sunday, marchers for civil rights were met with violence. The bridge where just last year John Lewis’s body, in it’s casket, paused for a national moment of reflection.
I held my breath as I drove slowly over it and into the town itself.
I parked near the bridge and walked back over it, stopping to take pictures of the backside of town, and of the river.
There’s was a moment, at the top, where I had to stop and just be. I imagined what it must have been like, sounded like. Felt like. It seemed like a sacred place, even with cars speeding by only a foot away.
Then I walked around downtown a bit. It’s in a sad state of disrepair. The whole place needs a huge cash infusion.
I don’t know why there aren’t tours to be had. (Though there was one young man who offered to give me a tour.) Why there’s not a 1960 diner with chocolate malts or strong coffee.
Why there’s not a welcome center with a documentary playing around the clock in a little theatre off the main display hall.
There is an interpretive center a few miles away, but I doubt that contributes to the revenue of Selma itself, and of course it was closed due to covid anyway.
There’s some beautiful old buildings, some are kind of restored, some are in disrepair.
There are several huge beautiful churches.
There was a bit of eccentric art here and there.
In fact there was an air of eccentricity over most of the town.
I found a couple of pretty places.
But mostly what I felt was sad. Sad that this piece of history is only acknowledged on anniversaries, or this past year, the death of John Lewis.
Sad that I grew up during the period of racial tensions (the ones back then, they’re still going on, I know.) and I didn’t really have any idea.
Sad that, if I’m honest, I still don’t really have any idea.
The town seems stuck in 1965, it’s moment of fame, but there are people living here that have been left behind, just like people in small rural towns all across the country. People in big cities too, if we’re being honest. Places where money and technology just don’t reach.
It’s a huge problem with no easy answers. But if more people visited Selma, found ways to spend some money here, maybe at least one historical place would begin to move forward, respecting the past but moving into the future.