Contrasting events should not divide us

Published 12:10 am Friday, April 17, 2009

We’ve watched people parse history for many years. On Tuesday night we saw it again as some on Selma’s City Council took exception to the Jubilee in honor of the 1965 crossing of the Edmund Pettus Bridge and others turned their noses up at the Battle of Selma. Just like old days, the differences of opinion about these two events held every spring in Selma run along racial lines.

The other night, Mayor George Evans rightfully told the council and the public that the old-style thinking should quit. Evans, an African-American, certainly does not celebrate the portion of history during which the South attempted to maintain chattel slavery. Nobody in their right mind would. To treat people as animals is unthinkable. But the Battle of Selma is not a celebration of the struggle to maintain slavery in the South, it’s recognition of an event that led to the fall of another Southern city — one with an arsenal and a foundry and with a prison camp not too far away in Cahawba.

To recognize battles from the Civil War is to acknowledge history in a different way — to understand the development of warfare during that time. Some historians call the Civil War the first modern war. Certainly the use of hot-air balloons during battle indicated that people were beginning to think of air warfare. Thaddeus Lowe was a chemist, who later became head of the first Air Force of sorts when the military discovered the balloons could be used to spy on the Confederates. By the way, Lowe also invented the ice machine. There are other stories similar to these.

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But those who are offended by the Jubilee are just as at fault for being ignorant. After all, the civil rights era was more than just a black and white struggle. In some Southern states, because access granted African-Americans the rights to sit on juries, women finally received those rights as well. And the music that came from the struggle — not just the gospel protest songs, but the modern folk music of Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Janis Ian and Judy Collins still resonates today.

So, Evans is correct. This is all our history. Our two major events in the spring bring many people into Selma to spend money on food, lodging and other goods. We have the opportunity to show how good we are as a city and as individuals.

And in doing so, we continue to make history.