Selma: Fifty Years Later

Oprah plays Annie Lee Cooper, the woman who knocked out Sheriff Jim Clark after standing in line for hours to vote when he told her to leave and prodded her in the neck with a billy stick.

Oprah plays Annie Lee Cooper, the woman who knocked out Sheriff Jim Clark after standing in line for hours to vote when he told her to leave and prodded her in the neck with a billy stick.

Last spring, my photographer buddy Elizabeth DeRamus (www.elizabethderamus.com) and I traveled to Selma, her hometown, during the filming of the movie “Selma” currently in theaters and now nominated for an Oscar for Best Picture. We talked to actors, cameramen, bystanders, production crew and even had an Oprah sighting on the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

This March, as most people know, marks the 50th anniversary of Selma, Alabama’s “Bloody Sunday.” Half a century since the famous marches across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, Selma remains a ghost town, the foundry crumbling, its magnificent homes abandoned, the Air Force Base almost empty for decades now, downtown a mere shadow of its glory days as a gem of the Confederacy and later the birthplace of historical civil rights legislation.

Today, many folks living in Selma are ready to move on, ready to forget the violent days preceding the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. During the filming the production the crew had a hard time finding white people to play the role as agitators. Many people here lived through those hard times and have no desire to repeat history. Who wants to be the face of white hate even when it’s a reenactment?

With a population hovering around 20,000 — almost half of what it was in 1965 – Dallas County is predominantly black. De facto segregation and a faltering economy define race relations, and while the state of affairs between blacks and whites has improved, an entrenched Confederate mythology dies hard, and tensions still simmer, manifested in battles over streets being named after Confederate war heroes or civil rights activists.

Last year activist Faya Rose Toure, was arrested at the city council meeting for protesting against the monument in the Old Live Oak Cemetery honoring the controversial Confederate general and Ku Klux Klan leader Nathan Bedford Forrest.

Nathan Bedford Forrest Monument standing in the Confederate Circle at Old Live Oak Cemetery

Nathan Bedford Forrest Monument standing in the Confederate Circle at Old Live Oak Cemetery

Lifelong resident, Mary Lawrence, says changes have been made for the better, but life here is not as good as it could be. Watching the events being filmed in her hometown with her friend Rosetta Kent, owner Thunderbird Motel for the past 45 years, she shook her head, “We’re old enough to know it all. We don’t have to read about it.” Or see a movie like the rest of us to understand the sacrifices made.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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