Selma museum artifacts worth a closer look

Published 5:35pm Saturday, July 19, 2014

Selma possesses an unparalleled historical story and few other Alabama cities can compare.

The most prominent of Selma’s history — the Edmund Pettus Bridge — is critical to the city’s existence. Without it, commutes would lengthen greatly and businesses would likely see reduced traffic, as motorists used the Cecil Jackson Bypass on U.S. 80.

But aside from the much-repeated and frequently celebrated history, many portions of the city’s history is unknown or known by few.

Other portions of Selma’s history are less immediately visible, but equally important. A few buildings are left from Selma’s early history, including Civil War era buildings.

Selma is home to several different museums — the Old Depot, Vaughan-Smitherman and Sturdivant Hall to name a few.

Perhaps local residents are aware of the basic details of Selma’s history. Besides Bloody Sunday, we hear about the Battle of Selma every year. All events help to shape the city’s future, but artifacts in local museums provide a truly unique view of what Selma might have been like 100 or even 50 years ago.

In touring museums during the recent seven for seven promotion — pay $7 for admittance to seven museums — three displays caught my eye.

None are ground breaking and wouldn’t change the conventional wisdom about the course of Selma’s life as a municipality, but provide insight about how the city changed.

The first, and certainly most interesting, is an emergency room log of protesters that were injured during Bloody Sunday. Housed at the Old Depot Museum, the log provides a unique insight about the true size and scope of the horrific acts committed.

The log even lists the specific injuries of each patient.

A second, and often unanalyzed, portion of Selma’s history is the loss of dozens of historic buildings.

The display of lost buildings also sits in the Old Depot Museum, near its entrance.

Titled “Buildings Lost to Progress,” some of the buildings include the Wilby Theater, Hotel Albert and Edmund Pettus’ home. One building that particularly caught my eye was an extravagant house that sat at the corner of Lapsley Street and J.L. Chestnut Boulevard (previously Jeff Davis).

The display isn’t extravagant. It consists of several pictures and a brief description.

Nonetheless, the display shows the most visible way that Selma has changed.

Though more recent, the Vaughan-Smitherman Museum houses a nearly identical replica of Joe Smitherman’s office, complete with campaign T-shirts.

It’s as if Smitherman had only left a few minutes ago for his lunch break.

The emergency room log and “Buildings Lost to Progress” display and Smitherman’s office replica are only three of the dozens of interesting historical artifacts from Selma’s storied past.

Selma residents often tout the city’s history, but how many have truly taken the time to educate themselves on the various artifacts housed within museum walls?

The seven for seven promotion was a great idea and undoubtedly brought people to museums for the first time. An identical promotion may be months away, but it shouldn’t take a special deal for a city to explore its own history.

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