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Time for economic change in Selma, as everywhere else.

By James Clingman
On March 30, 2015

Many showed up to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the March on Selma but how many left
an economic impact on the struggling town?
Credit: Pete Souza/

( – I remember back in 1999 when my daughter came to me crying about something she had seen on TV.  It was the movie, “Selma, Lord, Selma!”

Even at six years old, she was distraught at the mistreatment of Black folks in Selma in 1965. My daughter related to actresses Jurnee Smollett and Stephanie Peyton in their portrayals of Sheyann and Rachel, two young girls growing up in Selma during that time. That being a teaching moment, she and I had a talk about Selma and other issues pertaining to injustice toward and mistreatment of Black people in this country.

Adding to the title of that movie, by making it “Selma, Lord have mercy, Selma!” captures my effort to highlight and reemphasize not only the historical tragedy of Selma, but also its current political and economic condition in light of the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday.

During March 3-7, 2015, tens of thousands of people converged on Selma, including politicians, celebrities and corporate executives. Selma enjoyed the national and world spotlight for a brief time, but I wondered if those folks would leave Selma without addressing current critical issues that exist there. Daily life in Selma includes a 40 percent poverty rate, high unemployment, low median family income, crumbling infrastructure and building facades and closed businesses.

I can only pray that some of the folks who visited and made speeches also left some money there, maybe to start a micro lending fund, an equity fund, or even invested in a business in Selma. I hope the politicians who say they hold Selma in such high esteem went back to their respective offices committed to allocate funds to help the city that some refer to as, “The Third World of Alabama.”

During our family visit there in 2001, former head of the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute, Joann Bland, gave us a tour (even though it was past closing time). She told her personal story of being in the march at 10 years old and shared her wealth of knowledge with my then 8-year-old daughter.  My eyes were opened to the history and the present state of Selma, a city still waiting for change, especially economic change.

Fifty years since 1965, that famous bridge named for Edmund Pettus, a former U.S. Democratic Senator, chairman of the state delegation to the Democratic National Convention for 20 years, and Grand Dragon of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan, has even greater meaning.  Back then, it symbolized the struggle for voting rights. Today, it is a guidepost for a new struggle, the struggle for economic justice and empowerment.  Those who walked that bridge in 1965 won their battle. We must be as strong and as determined as they were then to win the battle we face today.

Is it enough to have gone to Selma simply because it was the 50th anniversary? Albeit a treasured occasion, for some it has become more symbolism than substantive, a photo op, just as the 50th anniversary of the famous March on Washington was in 2013. Today, our words and activities in Selma must result in progressive and appropriate action, so that next year we can celebrate the victorious culmination of that revered freedom march, rather than lamenting our continued frustration over the fact that 50 years later, as some of the dignitaries said, “Our march for justice continues.”

Selma needs much more than an annual celebration.  It needs economic development, businesses, employment and revitalization. That city, so important to our history, should be held in the highest esteem by Washington, D.C., the state of Alabama, and the rest of us.  In addition to an annual spotlight, we must keep it on the political radar screen throughout the year, until it is given the assistance it certainly commands and truly deserves.

The culmination of true freedom is economic freedom. Selma citizens and those who endured the batons, horses, dogs and those who were murdered leading up to and during the march, are certainly deserving of more than 50 more years of “We ‘shall’ overcome.”

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