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.
February 12, 2021 at 12:23 pm
I can think of so many places and things that are suffering from neglect in these days. I think I’m in a bit of a “hopeless” mood. I think our society is making me sad.
February 12, 2021 at 12:51 pm
I’ve driven through Selma many times over the past 30 years. Each time I think that maybe next year someone will start a restoration project and it doesn’t happen. So much history and culture is being lost. Check out Demopolis on on of your forays. Interesting history (founded by former Napoleon soldiers) and some beautiful architecture. I love the picture you took of the backside of the factory. I love, love, love old industrial buildings. Have you been to Sloss Museum in Birmingham? You could spend an entire day there with your camera!
February 12, 2021 at 1:07 pm
I lived in Montgomery (AF assignment) many years ago. I don’t think it or Selma has changed much. We did meet a lot of nice people, though!
If you wander back to Montgomery, you might enjoy photographing the Civil Rights memorial in front of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Also the old church where Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King was pastor.
February 12, 2021 at 3:30 pm
That last photo is so telling of both the times and the town.
February 12, 2021 at 5:14 pm
You didn’t find a tour, but you gave us one, and thank you for that. Your narrative is perfect. I think that the bridge is pretty much all I’ve ever known about Selma, too. It looks so beautiful in your first photo. It’s just when one gets close and looks more carefully…
I think that any small town will have a hard time of tourist-related items if they have only one tourist draw. (Maybe the jailhouse?) Particularly if they’re low on money to begin with. There’s a lot about our country that is still heartbreaking, isn’t there.
The decorated car–one of my high-tech, high-level manager coworkers did something like that with his car. I never saw it in person, just one photo once. He often solicited for things of certain types that people maybe didn’t want any more. Just because he wanted to.
I also love your shot of the worn-out building by the river. Evocative of the place and the mood.
February 12, 2021 at 8:25 pm
Thank you for the tour. Many businesses and towns are struggling all over:)
February 12, 2021 at 10:07 pm
Gosh, I had no idea Selma look like that. Sad.
February 13, 2021 at 8:47 am
February, rain, Selma, all drape a cloak of sadness around me. And Small Town, America, looks and feels like this all across the Country. I remember many years ago riding through downtown Selma on a beautiful Spring morning with the trees and flowers in bloom. It didn’t resemble these pictures at all. Life really is but a dream, isn’t it. And we can all be a light….thank you for sharing these.
February 13, 2021 at 10:32 am
Lots of small towns — all across this country — are suffering, both from the pandemic and from changing economics, as well as from the moving-out of their residents. Sad to see that this historic place has suffered a similar fate. Thank you, Dawn, for letting me tag along on your tour. Don’t you hate that it’s taken all these many decades, yet there’s so much more to be done before real progress can be claimed?
February 13, 2021 at 11:03 am
Thank you for sharing your Selma visit and photos, Dawn. The stonework of the church is beautiful; I am curious if the inside was just as ornate. This sad, dilapidated town is like so many in our country. People leave to find jobs and eventually the tax dollars from those that are left are not enough to maintain the upkeep of the area. It is easy to imagine how Selma once was a vibrant town, buzzing with energy and residents who loved their little slice of America.
Do yourself a favor and do not turn on the tv or news. Between the impeachment proceedings and C-19… Enjoy your time away, you can catch up (if you want to) after you get home.
We (Richmond VA) had freezing rain and then 5”+ snow yesterday. Today we are getting another round of freezing rain that will add a 3/4”+ layer of ice. We have what we need and are snug in our warm home. Fingers crossed that we do not lose power. Most of the country is affected by the wave of winter storms. You might need to extend your stay until the roads are cleared and safe to drive. 😊
Enjoy your time away!! 😊
February 13, 2021 at 11:46 am
I am encouraged to see the Civil Rights Memorial Park. It is sad to see a town like Selma, once full of people and activity, gone stagnant — but that has been the fate of many, many places in the U.S., not only in the South but also in the Midwest and the Far West. Part of the story is agribusiness, a legacy of Earl Butz with his “Get big or get out!” philosophy of farming (and loans only to those willing to “get big”), but there is much more to the story, and every region doubtless has its unique story. As someone who prefers small towns to big cities, slow change to overnight transformations, I hope people will rediscover the beauty that remains and bring new life to all these places while there is still time.
My reading of the lives of John Lewis and J. L.. Chestnut, Jr., also brings these places and their pasts alive for me in new ways. Highly recommended!
February 13, 2021 at 10:06 pm
Sigh. I don’t understand why there is still such hatred in this country. But then, I don’t understand my own racial biases. Similar things are happening to gay/lesbian places and memorials and such … they’re falling into disrepair too, and being forgotten. One wonders if so much of white, straight, male society wants the rest of “us” to disappear. Seems like we ought to celebrate the change that “Selma” made, though lots more change is needed, and although what happened there is so painful too. And John Lewis, oh my word, yes let’s name an entire city after him! Thanks PJ Grath, I’ll look for the books you mention.