Several civil rights heroes honored in Selma Ward 8

Published 2:39 pm Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Annie Cooper, Rep. Yusuf Salaam and the Rev. Lorenzo Harrison have received the first-annual Ward 8 Trailblazer award. They will be honored during a ceremony at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the Larry D. Striplin Performing Arts Center.

With Jubilee this weekend, Ward 8 Councilman Corey Bowie said he wanted to honor these leaders for their efforts in the voting rights movement.

“What I’m trying to do is honor people who served as good ambassadors,” Bowie said.

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Cooper gained worldwide fame when she stood in a voter registration line behind the Dallas County Courthouse, facing down Sheriff Jim Clark and his deputies. News outlets around the world wrote stories about Cooper, and her efforts helped jumpstart the voting rights movement.

Harrison was the first black man to serve on the Selma City Council in 1972. He served on the council for 21 years. During his tenure, Harrison’s influence saw

paved streets, built a housing project and constructed one of the first public pools in the neighborhood.

“We did quite a few things in Ward 8,” he said.

Salaam followed in Harrison’s footsteps when he was elected to the Selma City Council in 1993. Salaam tore down walls by becoming one of the first Muslims elected to public office in the state of Alabama and across the Southeast U.S. During his tenure, Salaam created the deputy council in Ward 8. This group of deputized citizens worked to improve the neighborhood and brought ideas to Salaam.

Jim Durry, who also served on the city council, was the first president of Ward 8’s deputy council. He said the group cleaned up overgrown areas in the neighborhood, and reported blown streetlights and missing stop signs to the city council.

“It made it easier for the councilman to do the things he needed to do,” Durry said. “As a result, we had a cleaner ward. For the first time in the history of East Selma, we felt a little pride.”

Salaam went on to become a state representative for District 67, which includes Selma and Dallas County. Salaam said he always tried to beautify and uplift Selma through community projects. While it is nice to be honored, Salaam said plaques do not make a good public servant.

“I’m certainly grateful,” he said. “But I don’t serve for awards. I serve for the people.”

Bowie said he plans to continue honoring different residents of Ward 8 each year during Jubilee. With the ward’s rich civil rights history, finding people to honor should not be a problem, he said.

“Ward 8 played a very pivotal role in the voting rights movement,” Bowie said. “We’re just trying to honor the people.”