Touring Selma’s Civil Rights landmarks

Published 12:00 am Monday, February 14, 2005

Across the world, history is big business. Millions flock to the Cathedral of Notre Dame, the pyramids of Egypt or The Great Wall of China in part for the mystical connection of standing in the very spot in which history occurred.

Selma, Alabama is no different.

Selma’s history is the history of Alabama, the history of the American South.

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Every year thousands come through Selma and The Black Belt to walk the same sidewalks as John Lewis or to sit in the same churches in which Martin Luther King Jr. delivered a sermon. Some come to honor the past.

Others, perhaps, come to simply try and understand it.

Regardless of why they come, they do.

Selma offers one of the greatest collection of Civil Rights landmarks in the

South that keeps people coming back year after year.

With the 40th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday coming in early March, The Times-Journal celebrates Black History Month and Selma’s place in American history with a short tour of some of Selma’s most famous landmarks.

The Bridge:

The image of the arc of the Edmund Pettus Bridge rising above the Alabama River was etched into the minds of a generation by the grainy footage and black and white pictures of state troopers and posse men beating marchers near the bridge.

Last year when U.S. Representative John Lewis -himself a veteran of Bloody Sunday- led a delegation of U.S. senators across the bridge, he paused at the crest of the arc and tried to explain the feeling of coming to that point and seeing the police on the other side.

“We had heard that there was a group of people waiting for us and we would probably be arrested…. We didn’t expect to be beaten,” he said.

Location: The Edmund Pettus Bridge spans the Alabama River on U.S. Hwy 80 or Broad Street.

The Churches:

Brown A.M.E.

Both the physical building and the members of Brown A.M.E were crucial to the movement in Selma. Brown Chapel was the starting point for the Selma-to-Montgomery Marches.

Brown hosted the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) while it was in Selma.

The church, built in 1908, On March 7, 1965, nearly 600 protestors gathered at the church- against the orders of Gov. George Wallace.

After a six-block march, they reached the bridge where posse men and police waited on the other side.

Brown still serves as the starting point for the yearly Jubilee reenactment in which thousands march from the church to the bridge in remembrance.

“Like an idea whose time has come, not even the marching of mighty armies can halt us. We are moving to the land of freedom. Let us march to the realization of the American dream. Let us march on segregated housing. Let us march on segregated schools. Let us march on poverty. Let us march on ballot boxes, march on ballot boxes until race baiters disappear from the political arena, until the Wallaces of our nation tremble away in silence,” King said during the Selma-to-Montgomery March.

A monument to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was dedicated in front of the chapel in 1979.

Location: Brown Chapel AME Church, a National Historic Landmark, is located at 410, Martin Luther King, Jr., Street.

Tabernacle Baptist:

Tabernacle Baptist was the site for the first mass meeting back in 1964. Students came to Tabernacle Baptist for weeks in order to learn the principals of non-violent protest from leaders like Bernard Lafayette and others.

Location: 1431 BROAD STREET, SELMA AL 36701

First Baptist Church:

According to the National Parks service, the First Baptist Church, along with its close neighbor, Brown A.M.E. played a pivotal role in the Selma, Alabama, marches that helped lead to the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The members of First Baptist Church allowed the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) to use their church as the planning site and organizational headquarters of the Selma campaign.

Location: First Baptist Church is located at 709 Martin Luther King, Jr., Street.

Dallas County Courthouse:

The Dallas County Courthouse is where Selma’s black lined up to try and apply for the right to vote.

Often it was sheriff Jim Clark or his men who were there to deny entrance.

The Rev. F.D. Reese led the teacher’s march to the steps of the courthouse only to be turned away by Clark, who seemed determined to provoke Reese into doing something to get arrested by using his club to push Reese back down the steps, time and again.

In another incident C.T. Vivian led marchers to the courthouse steps.

After they were denied entrance, he led a prayer.

Clark gave Vivian time to finish but kept a watch.

When Vivian went past Clark’s time, he arrested the civil rights leader.

King and Lewis also staged a stand-in at the courthouse.

Location: The Dallas County Courthouse is located at 105 Lauderdale Street.

Good Samaritan Hospital:

After the infamous Bloody Sunday March, many of the black wounded and injured turned to the Good Sam for help. In total 56 marchers were treated for various injuries including bites and kicks from horses.

The hospital was purchased by the Fathers of Saint Edmund, eventually adding a licensed practical nursing (LPN) program. It was the first medical training program for African-American women in the area. In 1965 Good Samaritan won national praise for its treatment of the victims of the Civil Rights confrontation.

Location: The Good Samaritan building is on Broad Street in Selma.

James Reeb Memorial:

James Reeb- a Unitarian Minister from the north-answered King’s call for aid in Selma from the nation’s clergy.

After the march, Reeb was attacked by three white men and beaten in the head with an axe handle.

He died of his wounds in a Birmingham hospital. Along with Detroit’s Viola Luizzo and Jimmy Lee Jackson-whose death sparked the idea for the Selma-to-Montgomery March- Reeb became a martyr of the movement.

A statue honoring him is placed on the grounds of Selma’s Old Depot Museum.

Location: The Old Depot Museum is located at 4 Martin Luther King Street.

National Voting Rights Museum:

According to their Web site, The National Voting Rights Museum & Institute was organized and developed by participants and supporters of the Voting Rights Movement of the 1960’s to document accomplishments and struggles of those Americans dedicated to the attainment and retention of equal treatment under the law for all Americans. The primary purpose of the museum is to design and create a repository of source materials on American history during the Voting Rights struggle.

The museum documents the history of voting rights in America and brings to life the pivotal events leading up to the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Location: Water Avenue

The Voting Rights Memorial Park:

The small park and walking trail located on the Selmont side of the bridge, commemorates those that fought in the Voting Rights movement.

Murals, a fountain and monuments to Hosea Williams and John Lewis decorate the park.

The walking trail winds down under the bridge.

Along the wooden walkway are many plaques recognizing heroes of the movement.

Location: Highway 80 at the foot of the bridge.