Shoppers meander among vendors during last October's Market Day. -- File photo

Past preserves future

Published 2:03pm Monday, September 27, 2010

Nov. 24, 1973 is a date to mark in the historic progression of this old Black Belt river town. On that day the five blocks of Water Avenue stirred, shaking off a century-old lethargy born of the Civil War and Reconstruction, and awakened to the sound of a Dixieland band.

Thus, Riverfront Market Day was born.

First intended as a trade day to stimulate interest in the downtown area for the preservation and restoration of the old buildings, The Market was to become successful beyond the original plans of a small group of dreamers, who with Mayor Joe Smitherman, visited Memphis’ Overton Square for inspiration, then persuaded the Historic Preservation Society to act as a catalyst for the project.

The City of Selma and Dallas County Commission gave matching funds to promote Market Day and every local and area organization participated. An estimated 25,000 people lined the streets on that first day, buying wares from 200 vendors, tapping their toes to the beat of the bands and watching a mile-long merchants’ Christmas parade.

Iron wash pots of Brunswick Stew, others filled with “roastin’ ears,” great trays of fried chicken and fried apple pies and barbecued ribs offered myriad of Black Belt gourmet treats to tempt appetites.

And children lined up to take a turn around the block in a mule-drawn wagon or to gaze wide-eyed at colorful clowns mingling with the crowd.

In the years since, the goal has remained the same, perhaps someday to be a dream fully realized. For those of you who remember that day and for those of you who will be present Saturday, Oct. 11, enjoy these words written by Times-Journal Editor Paul Davis more than 35 years ago:

“A dream came alive last November when Selma conducted its first Riverfront Market Day. The goal was to get the community to join hands in support of a campaign to restore historic Water Avenue.

In a few quarters, some thought the plan was a little too much of an undertaking for our city. They thought the task too large. But November came and Market Day attracted more than 20,000 people.

And yesterday we had Market Day II with an even larger turnout. It’s clear that we are on to something big, something good for Selma and Dallas County.

First, we’ve kindled some community spirit, started building anew some community pride and that sort of thing is most contagious. We can, so we’ve learned, do just about anything we set out to do.

We’re learning to drop the defensive postures we’ve maintained for far too long and join hands to support the good, the positive …

With the momentum we now have, it will be difficult to slow down progressive projects, undertakings which are good for the city. Market Day showed our good side, projected an excellent image to thousands of visitors. Let’s continue to build and promote and support good things for all people.”

The festive weekend begins on Friday evening, October 8 with the 32nd annual Alabama Tale-Tellin’ Festival that invites “Y’all come!” Held at the Pickard Auditorium on Washington Street. The festival opens at 5:30 p.m. for Swappin’ Ground both Friday and Saturday with Tale Tellin’ to follow at 7 p.m. Our “Miss Kathryn” will be present to delight us with her ghost stories, folk remedies and tales about our world to bring us laughter and joy.

Also joining the tellers of tales this year are the Rev. Robert Jones and his wife Sister Bernice Jones of Detroit, performers for more than 20 years throughout this country, Canada and Europe. The couple is noted for Jones “Keeping the Blues Alive” and Sister Bernice for her powerful and amazing singing voice.

Connie Regan Blake brings to the Tale Tellin’ stage the humor and wisdom of her Irish heritage and Southern roots, a journey from old-time mountain tales to adventures in everyday living.

A Selma favorite, The Dill Pickers, will bring their vocal string band from Birmingham for Tale Tellin’. Since 1999, they have performed gospel, bluegrass, folk and country music, using instruments ranging from banjo and guitar to mandolin, harmonica, piano, strum stick and spoons.

On Saturday, Oct. 9, the 37th year since Riverfront Market Day was born, come and enjoy the happenings on the historic blocks of Water Avenue, hunker down by the riverbank and eat a barbecue sandwich, fill your shopping bag with purchases from the vendors, and above all, be proud to be part of a community that cares enough about its past to preserve its future.

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