NLC holds meeting on future of Selma

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 22, 2004

The first of three National League of Cities (NLC) meetings took place Monday night at the Carl C. Morgan Convention Center.

The meeting, which discussed, the NLC’s Selma Initiative report drew about 70 concerned citizens.

The four-person NLC team gave a summary of their report, which was based on information gathered in a pair of trips to Selma last year.

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Those findings and the NLC’s process was then left open to questions.

Several citizens spoke about things they felt the report didn’t adequately address.

Pat Knight spoke on behalf of Selma’s YMCA and the job they’ve done to help bridge the city’s racial divide. The YMCA, he said, was not sufficiently addressed in the report.

“The YMCA could be the catalyst to turn this thing around,” he said.

Knight also took time at the podium to praise the work ethic of Selma’s citizens.

The purpose of the meeting, according to James Hunt, a councilmember from West Virginia and the National Vice-President of the NLC, was to hear Selma’s response to the report and gauge the communities interest in moving forward with the NLC.

“I think what we have to look at, and reflect back and see if the people who founded this country would have been proud of us tonight,” Hunt said. “A group of diverse individuals, many with strong opinions on both sides, sat in a room in Selma, Alabama and discussed things and brought to us comments we clearly benefited from. I think clearly the founders of our country would be proud of what went on tonight.”

After a prolonged summary of the 27-page report, the questions and comments from the public were a little slow at first.

The first to speak was Richard Bean who said the report did not address the needs of older Selmians.

Another citizen added that he thought the report should point out that Selma’s race-relations issues were not unique.

The NLC’s Maggie Potapchuk, who spoke about race relations, agreed.

“Race is still a major issue, here in Selma as it is across the nation,” she said.

Selma’s Pat Godwin addressed the council and took issue a passage that read; “Selma’s image from the Civil Rights era and its Civil War roots continues to haunt the community today.”

Godwin didn’t believe “haunt” was appropriate.

“I don’t understand why the word haunt should be used, I feel like our Civil Rights and our War Between the States should not be haunting issues, they should be positive issues,” she said. “They should be positive draws.

Selma is unique.”

Some questions the process of sending out the 800 copies of the 27-page booklet and the publicity methods to get the word out about the trio of meetings.

Dr. Alston Fitts, a noted Selma Historian, changed some of the serious tone of the meeting.

While breaking the crowd into laughter more than once, Fitts talked about the passage of the booklet suggesting the creation of a new event, one that everyone can attend. Fitts said blacks and whites could come together and celebrate the town’s big events, The Battle of Selma and Jubilee,

“We don’t celebrate the way we could,” Fitts said.

Kobe Little also spoke and praised the Leadership Selma program, which brings business leaders together to work together and learn about Dallas County and Selma.

“It is really a positive way for us to engage each other,” he said.

The meeting closed with an offer from the NLC.

If the community wants the NLC’s help moving forward with race relations, education and economic development, they will have it at no cost to the city.

But without community involvement, NLC team members stressed they can do nothing.

“We believe that working in Selma is good for us,” the NLC’s Gwen Wright said. “The lessons learned and the stories shared will serve as a model.

We want to share your story in a very good way. We believe there is value on both sides.

It’s a win-win situation.”

To hear what the NLC has to say, get a copy of the report or have comments heard, attend one of the final two meetings.

Today, the NLC will meet in City Council Chambers from 10-12 p.m.

They will meet again Wednesday from 4-6 p.m. at the Carl C. Morgan Convention Center.