Bridging Selma

Bloody Sunday’s Youngest Marcher Urges Youth Vote

Bloody Sunday’s Youngest Marcher Urges Youth Vote

A black wreath hangs on the front door. Sheyann Webb Christburg is the youngest Freedom Fighter to participate in the Bloody Sunday march across Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge 50 years ago. She buried her father last week and is in town cleaning out his home. A self-proclaimed “daddy’s girl,” she remembers vividly, just how much her father opposed her participation in the march. However, her mind was made up. She was determined to join the fight for freedom at only eight-years old. While playing with her friend, Rachael, at the historic Brown’s Chapel Church close to the projects where her family lived, she had her first encounter with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “A man said to us, ‘Do you little girls know who that man is?’” Christburg says. “‘That’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’” As soon as King saw the girls, he came over and talked to them, asking them about themselves. Christburg remembers that when he turned to go into the meeting, the other man told them they had to leave but Dr. King told them to come with him. Christburg sits in her dining room, the bright white table cloth matches her smile as she begins to talk about the man who reached her like no other that day. “He grabbed us by our hands and took us into the church with him,” Christburg says. “Then, as they were preparing to have this meeting, Dr. King went and got two chairs and sat them in the back of that room and he asked us to have a seat and he continued to talk to us. It...
A Neighbor’s View of the Battle

A Neighbor’s View of the Battle

As cannon thundered and rifle shot crackled less than 100 yards away, Roy McMillan replaced a fuse in his 12-passenger van so he could distance himself from Union and Confederate forces April 26. He was getting ready for a trip that afternoon to Prattville where he and his Gospel music group, the Angelic Harmonizers were set to perform. “The noise doesn’t bother me but they ought to tell the truth,” the husky baritone said over the distant military commands and musket volleys that rattled his Sunday afternoon. He said he applauds the money that flows into the otherwise moribund economy and is ambivalent about the crowd’s embrace of the Confederate force. But, he said, he is fed up with the South painting itself as valiant underdogs in what he viewed as a battle to end slavery. “Instead of telling the truth, they still telling a bunch of lies,” he said of how the re-enactors stage the battle as a noble sacrifice by beloved Rebel commander Nathan Bedford Forrest and his men. McMillan is also more than a little annoyed by the behavior of the offspring of civil rights demonstrators who faced beatings and death to win voting rights. “There are so many 18-year-old black kids around here who can play video games with their thumbs but aren’t registered to vote,” he said. “Those same kids’ mommas got hit upside the head at the Edmund Pettus Bridge and got locked up protesting for the right to vote.” The national focus on the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War and the 50th anniversary of Selma’s role as a...
African American Confederates

African American Confederates

Bill Harris and Barbara Marthall H.K. Edgerton, embraces the pre-war south, at a ceremony honoring Confederate soldiers. “I’m a racist…but what we are not is bigots,,” said Gary Johnson Bill Harris and Barbara Marthal stand out in a crowd. Especially the crowd at the 150th Anniversary Battle of Selma reenactment. It’s not just because they’re an interracial couple, even though in the middle of two-thousand costumed, gun-toting Union and Confederate soldiers, they’re worth a second glance. It’s not even because Marthal, a black woman, tends to show up in full period dress— embroidered straw hat and hoop skirt included. Self-proclaimed historians, Harris and Marthal go to Civil War reenactments all summer long hoping to catch an eye or an ear to tell their truth—the truth of black Confederate soldiers. Marthal is the author of a children’s book Fighting for Freedom: A Documented Story, which she wrote hoping it would supplement public school history lessons on the Civil War. “Fighting for Freedom” is the true story of Richard T. Davis, a young Confederate soldier and his slave—and friend—Handy Davis Crudup. The surprising story of their long-lasting friendship, despite their roles as slave and master, is accompanied by historical documents. These are important and neglected stories, they say, and there are many like them out there. Marthal recommends that black people look up H.K. Edgerton, a black proponent of a view of Civil War history who argues that the Confederate army was made up of both African-American and white volunteers. Edgerton is the former president of the Asheville, North Carolina chapter of the NAACP. In 1998, he was suspended from the...
Civil War Redux

Civil War Redux

Reenactors march to the battlefield at the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Selma on Saturday, April 25, 2015. Photo by Maya Gilmore Reenactors pose as settlers during the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Selma on April 25, 2015. Photo by Maya Gilmore Reenactors line up on their horses right before combat begins at the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Selma on Saturday, April 24, 2015. Photo by Maya Gilmore Fake remains are loaded into a bloody trunk at the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Selma on Saturday, April 25, 2015. Photo by Maya Gilmore A Reenactor walks away from the women’s tea at the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Selma on Saturday, April 25, 2015. Photo by Maya Gilmore As reenactors enter the fairgrounds for the 150th celebration of the Battle of Selma, they are welcomed by a giant booth filled with collectables, books, brochures, and other readings. At first glance, it looks like the registration table—but it’s not. As visitors study the booth’s tables they will notice book titles including “The White Identity, the Social Conscious in the 21st Century,” and “The Authentic History of the Ku Klux Klan.” The literature on the table sets the tone for the organization. The Friends of Forrest, an organization that celebrates a notorious Civil War general, is trying to raise $54,000 for a replacement bust of General Nathan Bedford Forrest that will be placed in Selma’s Live Oak Cemetery. Forrest was a Lieutenant general in the Confederate Calvary and his military career was focused in the mid-South where he led the Confederate troops in the Battle...
A Jewish Social Club Finds New Purpose

A Jewish Social Club Finds New Purpose

David Hurlbut has been working since 1999 to restore the historic Jewish Harmony Club to its former glory. The old Harmony Club sits on Water Street in Selma. Built in 1909, the Harmony Club was a social club for Jewish residents in Selma, Ala. until the 1930s, when it became the Elks Club. From the 1960s until the building was purchased by David Hurlbut in 1999, the building remained empty. The Harmony Club sits at 1007 Water Ave. in Selma, Ala., less than a block from the historic Edmund Pettus Bridge. Pictured: Bill Tomey, resident at the Harmony Club. The Harmony Club, originally a Jewish social club, now houses a variety of art pieces and antiques. The Harmony Club is filled with many antiques and art pieces. Cooper, the resident dog at the Harmony Club, rolls around on the floor. David Hurlbut has been working to restore the long-abandoned Harmony Club for the last 15 years. The pictured room features the original pine wood bar. Bill Tomey, a Harmony Club resident, looks out at downtown Selma. David Hurlbut and Bill Tomey frequently host movie nights at what used to be the Harmony Club’s ballroom. Tomey said that with Netflix and the internet, it isn’t hard to keep themselves entertained. David Hurlbut, the Harmony Club’s owner, has filled the old Jewish social club with an eclectic assortment of antiques and folk art, working hard to maintain the club’s architectural features, while still making it his own. One of the many living room spaces in the Harmony Club building. Out back in its courtyard, the Harmony Club holds a variety of...