Is there anything left to say about Selma?
When I heard that Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and some 94 members of Congress were going to parachute into town for the annual photo op on that bridge, I made plans – which were later derailed – to be there myself this time.
Lady Gaga and R. Kelly were supposed to come. Vanilla Ice and Rick Ross were scheduled to perform at a BET concert. The national and international media were going to show up in Selma en masse for the first time since 1965. Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and Rep. John Lewis come to Selma to march across that bridge every year, but I sensed this time it was going to be different. With so many journalists in town for the 50 year anniversary of “Bloody Sunday,” would the media learn anything about the real Selma?
In the 1960s, Selma and Dallas County were the citadel of segregation in Alabama, and a stronghold of the Citizens’ Councils. My father-in-law and his friends in the Dallas County Citizens’ Council fought to keep Selma segregated which in their view was synonymous with keeping it White and civilized. In light of the fate of Haiti, Liberia, and the chaos then enveloping sub-Saharan Africa, it was self evident to them that black people lacked the capacity to maintain a European standard of civilization.
This was not, as so many liberals falsely assume, a view of the world that was based on fear, irrational prejudice, or a passionate hatred of black people. On the contrary, it was based on familiarity and experience, and a realistic assessment of the inherent abilities of blacks combined with the unchangeable preferences of Whites. The Voting Rights Act would consign Selma to black majority rule. That was tantamount to a civic death sentence. The segregationists believed it had to be stopped at all costs or dire social and economic consequences would follow.
Fifty years later, now that the media has returned to Selma, can we finally see who was really on “the wrong side of history?” [“The Dark Side Of Selma The Mainstream Media Ignored,” Think Progress, 3-10-15]
“On the outskirts of town, clusters of mobile homes and crumbling shotgun houses sit along unpaved roads. The majority of downtown businesses near the iconic Edmund Pettus Bridge — save for several fast food chains and payday lenders — stand vacant, their windows boarded up or broken. Most of the city’s public housing projects, built in the early 1950s, are in serious need of repair.
With more than 36 percent of residents and 60 percent of children living in poverty, the county is the poorest in the state of Alabama, making it one of the poorest in the country. The unemployment rate is nearly twice the national average.”
This comes as a surprise even to me … worse than Wilcox, poorer than Lowndes, Sumter, or Bullock? Dallas County has stiff competition in this area and its descent to the status of the poorest county in Alabama is a recent development. I’m familiar with the crumbling shotgun houses and the desolate downtown business district. I’ve said before that it looked like a Soviet neutron bomb had been dropped on Selma.
When I traveled to Selma in 2011, I saw the post-apocalyptic ruins of Craig Air Force Base from Highway 80, but I didn’t scout the full extent of the ruins. [“Decayed, uninhabitable homes will be Obama’s first view of Selma,” Washington Post, 3-7-2015]
“SELMA, Ala. — Their homes would almost certainly be among the first things that President Obama would see upon arriving in Selma.
The 102 small brick structures had once served as base housing for pilots training at Selma’s long-ago shuttered Craig Air Force Base.
Now the vast majority of the homes are uninhabitable, stripped clean by looters or charred by fire. The rest are residences of last resort for those who can barely afford the $175 a month rent. …
Iasha Gadsden, 32, gazed out at the road that Obama would travel as he exited the old air base. What would the president think as he rolled past the post-apocalyptic landscape? The dozen or so homes that were still occupied had roofs that leaked when it rained, broken windows covered in cardboard, and in several instances, no working plumbing. …
These days the development, which is owned by the son of a former Selma mayor, doesn’t get many visitors. Even the garbage collectors stopped coming, said residents. The school bus, however, still makes regular stops. Monique Randall, 10, and Montel, 12, clambered down the bus steps and headed for home. They hustled past one of their neighbors who stood waist-deep in an overflowing dumpster, searching for aluminum cans.
A few yards away were the remains of a raccoon that another neighbor had carefully gutted and cooked for dinner.”
On a recent episode of AMC’s hit television show The Walking Dead, Daryl Dixon gutted a possum and cooked it for dinner after reaching the Alexandria Safe Zone. This was in the context of a fictional zombie apocalypse. Fifty years after the Voting Rights Act, the residents of Selma are eating raccoons while Obama gives speeches. They overwhelmingly voted for him, twice.
In 2011, I was struck by the sheer amount of garbage on Highway 80 on the outskirts of Selma. I stopped to snap a photo of that. I didn’t know that garbage collectors had stopped coming altogether at Craig Air Force Base. Years later, Paul Kersey notes that there was still so much garbage out there that city boosters spent the entire weekend cleaning it all up before the arrival of President Obama and the media: [“City needs to clean up trash before March events,” Selma Times Journal, 2-24-15]
“Driving down many roads in Selma trash is visible by the roads and in some cases piles of trash line the road.
It’s a serious problem that people in the community need to address. We want the city to look its best when thousands of people come in March. There are so many attractive things about Selma, and we don’t want it to be overshadowed by the amount of trash lying around.
We should encourage our guests to help keep our city clean while they are here taking part in the many activities scheduled that week.
To help the cause, the city of Selma is asking for the community’s help with a city wide cleanup.”
[“Many sacrificed their weekend to pick up trash,” Selma Times Journal, 3-2-2015]
“Saturday a big chunk of one of Selma and the surrounding area’s biggest problems was taken care of by those in the Adopt A Mile program, who picked up trash down U.S. Highway 80. Seemingly every mile on Highway 80 Saturday there were groups of volunteers, picking up trash to make sure visitors that drive through this weekend don’t have to look at roadways surrounded by garbage.
Among the volunteers were students from Wallace Community College Selma and members of Lillies of the Valley.
There seemed to be orange trash bags lined up everywhere, which shows just how much garbage there was on the road. With the hard part along that stretch of road complete, our hope is that motorists will refrain from tossing items out their windows and dirtying what can be a visually appealing stretch of highway.”
In addition to temporarily removing the eyesore of the uncollected garbage, the Selma city government hired landscapers to plant flowers and bushes in front of vacant downtown businesses: [“Assignment America: Selma,” New York Times, 3-7-2015]
“He explained that he and a few of his friends were assisting Steavie in a city-sponsored endeavor to beautify Selma’s downtown area. “We only had eight days to do the job,” he said, conceding that lining the sidewalks with flowers and bushes in a city of limited resources and many vacant storefronts was a lot to ask of Steavie’s landscaping enterprise.”
Lots of journalists weren’t fooled by the band-aid though: [“Despite place in history, Selma in need of a face-lift,” Atlanta Journal Constitution, 3-6-2015]
“But under the spotlight, Selma’s blight is impossible to miss.
More than 40 percent of Dallas County’s residents live below the poverty line, compared with the national average of 14.5 percent. …
They will look out over a sleepy downtown. Vacant, boarded-up buildings dot the side streets.”
From “Queen City of the Black Belt” to “Alabama’s Third World,” 80 percent black Selma has become one of the poorest, most violent cities in Alabama. Even the home of Amelia Boynton Robinson (see above), where MLK wrote the first draft of the Voting Rights Act, is now a blighted, boarded up wreck: [“Selma anniversary puts spotlight on deep poverty,” USA Today, 3-8-2015]
“Dallas County, of which Selma is the county seat, was the poorest county in Alabama last year. Selma has an unemployment rate of 10.2%; the national rate is 5.5%.
More than 40% of families and 67% of children in the county live below the poverty line. The violent crime rate is five times the state average. The Birmingham News called the region, known as the Black Belt because of its rich soil, “Alabama’s Third World.” …
After the marches of 1965, white flight began. About 10,000 white residents have left Selma in the past three decades, leaving it 80% African-American.
The city’s downtown, which sits along the Alabama River, has a bucolic charm from afar, but it is pocked with as many vacant buildings as occupied ones. …
Civil rights leader Jesse Jackson points to the old home in Selma of Amelia Boynton Robinson, who played a key role in the 1965 marches, as a tragic symbol of what’s become of Selma. Her home was where a group of congressmen, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders gathered to write the first draft of the Voting Rights Act.
Now the home sits boarded up, indistinguishable from the many other vacant houses in that neighborhood.”
Selma is now a black city: it has a black mayor, a black majority city council, a black district attorney, a black police chief, a majority black police force, a black school superintendent, 99 percent black public schools, a black US representative, a black state senator, a black state representative, all under the executive authority of a black US president and a black US attorney general.
Public streets in Selma have been renamed after civil rights leaders. Monuments have been erected to the “foot soldiers” of the Civil Rights Movement who have been decorated with Congressional Gold Medals. Now entire neighborhoods in Selma along these streets and boulevards resemble post-Katrina New Orleans: [“With a scarcity of jobs, decrepit houses and resegregation of city’s only high school, Selma, Alabama, is once again in need of saving,” NY Daily News, 3-8-15]
“SELMA, Ala. — Fifty years later, this historic Southern city is once again in need of saving.
Decrepit houses — burned out and boarded up — fill entire blocks. Jobs are scarce. And the city’s only high school has been re-segregated. …
A tour of the city’s majority-black east side reveals neighborhoods that resemble post-Katrina New Orleans.
Many of the homes along Martin Luther King St. feature collapsed front porches and cratered living rooms. Some lack doors and windows, and now serve as a haven for squatters living without running water. Others are boarded up and abandoned, blighting what used to be middle class neighborhoods.
Even some of the city’s churches have fallen into disrepair. The old Sylvan Street Presbyterian Church, deemed a “significant landmark” in 1980, is now a pile of bricks and concrete. … The once-bustling downtown sports more empty storefronts than actual businesses. Gone are the high-end clothing stores, theaters and cafes. …”
In the memorable words of Rep. John Lewis, “Fifty years ago, this place was the center of commerce, it was booming. You came here on a Friday afternoon or early evening, on a Saturday to shop from the rural areas or the small towns.”
Well, not anymore. Not after so much of this kind of “progress.”
“All this city got is history,” fumed Selma resident Arsenio Gardner, who’s 25 and unemployed. “If this bridge wasn’t here, it would just be another f—-d-up place nobody would visit.”
Gardner said he’s spent the past nine months searching in vain for a job. There’s even a waiting list at McDonald’s and Taco Bell, Gardner said.
“Nobody plans on staying here,” he added. “You just kind of get stuck here.”
The statistics bear out Gardner’s frustration.
Selma has the highest unemployment rate in the state at 11%. More than 40% of families live below the poverty line. And the violent crime rate is five times the state average. …
White residents fled the city in droves over the past few decades; Selma is 80% black.
In important ways, the city has indeed seen progress. All of the top officials representing Selma — its mayor, police chief and House representative — are African-American.”
Finally, someone has dared to tell the truth about the real Selma: if it wasn’t for that bridge, it would just be another place nobody would visit or care about. No one in their right mind, black, white, or Jewish, wants to live there anymore. Those who are left behind are trapped. They are too poor to get out.
[“Selma’s message on civil rights 50 years later,” Christian Science Monitor, 3-6-2015″]
“True, Selma now has black leaders in positions of power, including the mayor, police chief, district attorney, six out of eight city council members, and four out of five school board members. …
But the journey toward equality is still a long march. Black children here are more likely to grow up in poverty, less likely to graduate, less likely to attend college, and less likely to become homeowners. …”
Not to worry: a city with all of these problems has far more important subjects to deal with such as pro-Confederate billboards, busts of Nathan Bedford Forrest, and of course, the name of the infamous bridge.
“The search for viable employment has led Selma into a perilous spiral. After hitting a peak population of 28,400 people in 1960, the city’s population declined significantly. The US Census Bureau reported 20,756 residents in 2010, with a population that is 80.3 percent black and 18 percent white.
Countywide, the population peaked in 1960 at 56,667 people, dropping to 43,820 in 2010, with a population that is 69.4 percent black and 29.1 percent white. …
The retail section of Selma is a jumble of strip malls, fast-food restaurants, and convenience stores, with one Wal-Mart, and a small mall anchored by Belk and Goody’s. If you want to see the movie “Selma,” you will have to drive 50 miles to Montgomery; the city itself doesn’t have a theater.”
The old Walton Theater had to be reopened for the “Selma” premiere. It’s no longer viable in the long run though.
“The median household income in Selma from 2009 to 2013 was $22,478 – nearly half that of the state – with 41.9 percent of people in the city living below the poverty level. Dallas County, of which Selma is the seat, ranks as the poorest county in the Black Belt, with 36.8 percent of residents living below poverty level. Nearby Perry, Wilcox, and Sumter counties follow closely behind. …”
With 0 to 3 percent of all children in Selma enrolled in AP classes, the Selma City Schools system, that pearl of integration, is sure to attract new businesses, industries and long term investment:
“And they keep a close eye on the Selma City Schools system, which was taken over last year by the Alabama State Department of Education after a months-long investigation into allegations of academic issues, poor student performance, shoddy record keeping, and sexual misconduct. …
The Selma City Schools district served 4,140 students, 97 percent of whom were black and 81 percent of whom qualified for free or reduced-price lunches. Only 4 percent of students were enrolled in gifted programs and only 3 percent took at least one of three available Advanced Placement classes. At Selma High School, which was 100 percent black, only 6 percent of students were enrolled in advanced math or physics, and only 9 percent took chemistry. Twenty percent of the high school’s teachers were in their first or second year of teaching.
Southside High School, in Dallas County, reported 98 percent African-American enrollment, with 94 percent of students receiving free or reduced lunch. Only 13 percent of students were enrolled in advanced math, 9 percent took chemistry, and 5 percent took physics. No Advanced Placement classes were reported. And 48 percent of the teachers were in their first or second year of teaching.
Selma High reported a graduation rate of 67 percent in 2013, according to the Alabama State Department of Education. Southside High School graduated 86 percent of its students.”
The Rev. Jesse Jackson has a new civil rights initiative for Selma which he says is the “only way” to tackle this problem: chain White business owners to the city, pass a new law where it is illegal for them flee or relocate their businesses elsewhere. [“Rundown cities? Just don’t allow businesses to leave,” WND, 3-10-15]
“Jackson then nodded and referred to the all-black make-up of Selma’s political leadership as a major change from 1965 – but one that didn’t go far enough.
“People assume there is a correlation between political power and economic power. But a black power structure – mayor, city, council, police force – is not enough. You change the political power, and the white business owners just move outside the city. So you have power over a doughnut hole. We need help to climb out of the doughnut hole.”
The Los Angeles Times reported that he recommended a plan for the government to step in and devise regulations so that these businesses couldn’t lawfully relocate.
“It’s the only way,” he said, the newspaper reported.”
Without the White taxpayers to milk as a cash cow, black controlled Selma has no choice but to cutback on everything from public safety to schools to street and road repair to garbage collection. The black population of Selma lacks the capacity to sustain an economy that can generate the revenue to keep Selma going. Whites have no incentive whatsoever to stick around as Selma declines toward Third World conditions.
Selma is a blighted, crumbling shadow of its former self: [“Selma, 50 years after march, remains a city divided,” Los Angeles Times, 3-6-15]
“And while people on the extremes stay at war, the majority in this city of about 20,000 residents are suffering. Dallas County ranked as the poorest in the state last year, with unemployment at 10.2%. Forty percent of families in Selma live below the poverty line, and violent crime is five times that in other towns around Alabama.
The town’s infrastructure is crumbling, literally. Workers tried this week to paint and cover broken-down buildings, but the blight is pervasive. The house once owned by now-centenarian activist Amelia Boynton Robinson — the place where organizers planned the original march — is boarded up.”
In 2011, the Selma that I visited had a Sonic. There was also a Selma Mall which had a Goody’s and J.C. Penny’s. Now even those dominoes are falling or being reopened to great fanfare: [“Fifty years after ‘Bloody Sunday’ march, struggles endure in Selma,” Washington Post, 3-5-16]
“Ballard, 71, glanced down at his watch and headed off to his pickup truck for his first big event of the day: a ribbon-cutting at the local Sonic drive-up restaurant. In the past few months, Selma has lost two of its biggest department stores: J.C. Penney and Goody’s. The restaurant event offered a rare bit of good economic news.
“Technically it’s more of a reopening than an opening,” Ballard said. “The place looked terrible. Thank God Sonic saw fit to invest thousands of dollars in it instead of picking up and leaving.” The restaurant was festooned with balloons and a big red ribbon. …
Eventually, those clients became his supporters when he ran for city and county office. In the past few years, as his tax base has dwindled, Ballard has cut his county maintenance staff from seven people to two, slashed the number of county cellphones and postponed road repairs to balance his budget.”
After a trial of 50 years, Selma’s failing integrated schools have been taken over by the state, it has the highest unemployment rate in Alabama, and Dallas County is the poorest county in Alabama. Some 10,000 White residents have fled Selma which is heavily blighted and 5x more violent than the state average.
With the single exception of interracial marriage, none of the predictions of the integrationists came true. Selma was recently honored as the worst city to do business in Alabama, which anyone might have guessed from the lack of downtown commerce, or the numerous abandoned shopping centers, restaurants, and homes which are in the midst of a rewilding. The city skyline in Selma is now dotted with billboards that announce surging rates of HIV, syphilis, and teen pregnancy.
In his speech in Selma, Barack Obama said the confrontation that Sunday on the Edmund Pettus Bridge “was not a clash of armies, but a clash of wills; a contest to determine the meaning of America.” In hindsight, it was a clash in which the defenders of civilization were defeated by the residents of housing projects, who were egged on and glorified by the media, and that had great implications for the future of America.