Bridging Selma

Confederate Remembrance Day

Confederate Remembrance Day

“We had more love and respect for people 60 years ago than we do today,” said Gary Johnson, a Sons of Confederate Veterans member who was at a Marion, Ala., cemetery on Confederate Remembrance Day Sunday. “Now, granted things weren’t equal back then. There were a lot of things that were wrong, no doubt. There’s things that were wrong yesterday that we hope to right today. We’re not perfect people.” Johnson spoke after the memorial ceremony, which involved a pledge of allegiance to the Confederacy, a rousing rendition of “Dixie” and a speech by H.K. Edgerton, an African American man dressed in Confederate soldier garb who spun a pre-war history of the south where slaves and their masters lived in happy harmony. (See related article “Civil War Reenactment: African Americans Join the Confederate Forces.) Johnson takes issue with the characterization of racism as a negative word. “I am a racist. I want my children to all be white. H.K.’s a racist. And we should be. But what we are not is bigots,” Johnson said. “We’re not that way. We’re loving people…this is the way we used to be.” Johnson, a Marion resident, lives in the house that once belonged to Confederate General and Ku Klux Klan Wizard Nathan Forrest. Forrest led the Rebel troops in the 1865 Battle of Selma and Johnson honors his legacy by serving as the commander of the local Sons of Confederate Veterans group called Gen. Isham W. Garrott Camp #764. Each year on April 26, the camp hosts a ceremony for the area’s Confederate Memorial Day, a holiday in honor of Confederate soldiers who...
Friends Reflect on Civil Rights and Selma

Friends Reflect on Civil Rights and Selma

  Dianne is a two time jail bird, but for the right reasons,” Joyce O’Neal says about her best friend Dianne Harris. Harris was jailed twice for activism during the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s in Selma. O’Neal, who was never arrested, was also an activist. The two women, who have been friends for almost 60 years, were teenagers at the time. O’Neal and Harris both lived on the same street as the Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church, which they attended, and which was at the center of the movement in Selma. It’s been almost 60 years since the two met. Joyce O’Neal, a former Director of the Food Assistance Program for the state of Alabama who is now a tour guide for Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church and Dianne Harris, an educator for almost 30 years, have been friends ever since. As teenagers, O’Neal and Harris attended separate high schools but still remained very close. At the time, schools were segregated. Students from R. B. Hudson High School, where O’Neal was a student, were coming to First Baptist church and to Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church to join and organize the marches. O’Neal, wanting to be involved, consulted her mother who advised her not to attend school rather than leaving in the middle of the day to join the march. Harris, who attended Alabama Lutheran Academy, remembers being involved in a different way. “We wanted to be part of history… All we needed was a little encouragement. We already had the thrill.” Harris recalls a young man from R. B. High School visiting her school and asking Harris and her classmates, including her younger brother, to participate in...
The (Still) All-White Country Club

The (Still) All-White Country Club

  Bill Gamble, 72, is a lawyer in Selma, Ala. His familyhas lived in Selma for generations. Family photos at Bill Gamble’s law office in Selma, Ala. ” I produced three very bright children,” Gamble said. “All of them are doing very well, but none of them are here.” Bill Gamble, 72, is a lawyer in Selma, Ala. His family has lived in Selma for generations. Attorney Bill Gamble’s family has lived in Selma a long time. His father Henry Gamble was a Selma lawyer and he and his brother followed in his footsteps, even working at the same firm. While in some ways, Bill and his family fit the rich, white lawyer stereotype, in other ways they do not. Bill, now 72, has been a member of Selma’s all-white Country Club since he first reached adulthood. While he enjoys spending some of his free time there, he doesn’t agree with some of the club’s policies. “Selma Country Club unfortunately is still segregated,” Gamble said. “It has no black members. I’m not proud of that at all.” Gamble said that not only was it “wrong” to not accept black members, but also “stupid.” Welcoming Community While some institutions in Selma have their problems, Gamble said that in many other ways, Selma is a very open and welcoming town. “It’s a wonderful community to live in,” Gamble said. “I find Selma to be an extremely accepting place.” By and large, Selma is a “friendly,” he said. “There are others who are not, but that’s going to be true anywhere,” Gamble. “But overall, I just love it here.” Gamble said this...
In a Two-Block Radius of the Bridge: 48 of 90 Shops Shuttered

In a Two-Block Radius of the Bridge: 48 of 90 Shops Shuttered

The view of Selma’s main street, looking at the Bridge Beautiful, empty buildings line the streets. Recycling was cut off this week for the second time this year. The park used for the Bloody Sunday commemoration activities is already looking neglected–more empty lot than greenspace. Nature has begun to reclaim some downtown buildings. Time has done a number on this town. The buildings that surrounds the downtown park The central park abuts this alley The owners have cheerful blue paper behind the panes The most common sight in Selma’s downtown, a locked a shuttered store. Nature reclaims some shuttered businesses downtown Zero miles per hour: The remains of an exhibit and gallery The view toward Selma’s main street from the block behind The Alabama River, which the Edmund Pettus Bridge spans, is shifting the foundations of buildings and sidewalks in the downtown area. One rarely sees homeless people in Selma; churches tend to take in those who need shelter Flowers planted for the Bloody Sunday commemoration struggle on. A yellow, water-stained sign in the window of this shop bears the scrawl, “Closed due to illness.” The signs hint at a once-thriving business area A clothing shop, Teja’s, is open “by chance” on Mondays. William Scott runs a community and economic development company, Tristatz, and says all the restaurants around here close at noon because “supper time is family time and no one eats out.” One business that appears immune to economic depression Many downtown shops opened to sell knickknacks to tourists in town for Bloody Sunday commemoration. A hopeful storefront church An alley near the bridge Hand-painted signs still...
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...