When I last visited Selma in 2011, I was struck by the obvious decline of the city: the blighted homes, the abandoned shopping centers, the syphilis billboard juxtaposed next to the old antebellum homes.
I noticed the potholes, the trash on the side of the road, the knee high grass in the medians, rusting cars, the “rewilding” of abandoned gas stations, the tumbleweeds blowing through the downtown business district, etc.
Two years later, the Selma City Council is still struggling with the classic symptoms of the Black Undertow:
“It is easy to drive around Selma and find abandoned houses and yards that are landscaped with rusting items that don’t look anything azalea bushes and dogwood trees. We always tout the greatness and beauty of our city — we still think Selma’s historical architecture and loving warmth make up for these little eyesores — but what we really need is someone or something to enforce the codes that are in place to keep it that way. …
And we agree. These yards and violations around the area are obvious, ugly and really put a damper on the fervent efforts of city leaders to beautify Selma.”
In 2000, Selma elected its “first black mayor”: James Perkins, Jr.
“But the nine-term mayor also gave ammunition at times to critics who portrayed him as a relic of the Old South. During this year’s campaign, Smitherman claimed that Perkins would hire only blacks at City Hall and would scare off white businesses …
The election returns reflected a stark racial split, and so did the early reactions. Blacks danced in the streets, proclaiming Perkins’s victory to be the final leg of the Selma-to-Montgomery march. Teary-eyed whites viewed the revelry and predicted Selma’s imminent decline, with Jack Smitherman, the defeated mayor’s nephew, predicting Selma would go broke in a year and become a “monkey town.” (The former mayor, however, was gracious in defeat.)”
Note: In 2010, Selma was 80.3% African-American. Like Birmingham, Selma’s population peaked in the 1960 census and has declined by about 25% since the city made world headlines for “Bloody Sunday.”