Perkins says voters ready to look past racial lines

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 1, 2004

It could be that no one has a better understanding of the role race plays in Selma politics than Mayor James Perkins Jr.

A homegrown success story, Perkins grew up under the segregation of Jim Crow.

He was a child protester with a vivid memory of the colored water fountains and restaurants that refused to serve blacks. He can remember Klan marches through his neighborhood and the infamous “Bloody Sunday” march.

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Perkins lived through desegregation, integration and re-segregation in Selma.

Because of all of that, he says, only by overcoming the fear caused by hatred could he serve Selma in his current capacity,

“Serving as mayor of Selma is humbling, and in my heart and soul, I know this is a miracle,” Perkins said.

That being said, Perkins thinks that racial lines in Selma have been exaggerated and that voters have a history of reaching across those imaginary boundaries. Though many viewed Bob Armstrong’s election as a sign of change in Selma, Perkins said those indications have long been present.

“Since I can remember, African Americans have always been willing to cross racial lines and vote for white candidates.

Let’s not forget the former mayor (Joe Smitherman) and his successes in Selma’s electoral politics,” Perkins said. “Thus, I do not view the Armstrong election as an aberration.

On the other hand, the (Marvin) Wiggins election is an altogether different matter.

After his first term in office, Judge Wiggins received substantial white support. That was different and I view it as good.”

Perkins said that the voting public in Selma is savvy enough to understand that while race is a factor in all aspects of our lives, it isn’t the issue in an election.

“I believe that the public has figured out that race is no longer an issue in and of itself,” Perkins said. “However, I also believe that the public acknowledges and understands that race and class are factors in most, if not all, issues addressed in public life.

This is not a Selma thing.

It is a world thing.”

Though outsiders’ perception of Selma is that of racial strife, Perkins says he makes a point of explaining that the problems Selma faces are the same problems faced around the country and the world.

“I understand clearly why most Selmians are tired of talking about the race problem.

I believe that most are ready to deal with strategies to make things better in spite of our individual or collective bias,” Perkins said. “For certain as we move through time, we will become more familiar with each other, and hopefully that familiarity will reduce our fears and increase our understanding and acceptance of one another.”

Perkins says that for the community to achieve racial reconciliation, those changes will come from individuals focusing on their personal value systems.

“I believe that we can achieve community reconciliation, one person at a time,” Perkins said. “In my opinion, it will not be achieved by focusing on race.

But each person focusing on his/her spiritual value system and trying every day to allow ones spiritual value system to lead him or her while responding to one another.”