Letter discusses renaming center after Perkins

Published 10:06 pm Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Dear editor,

A citizen’s well-intentioned request becomes the Selma City Council’s deliberate debate or stalemate.

On Sept. 17, 2015, I presented a request to the Selma City Council to name the amphitheater in honor of Selma’s first African American mayor James Perkins.

The request emphasized the collective sacrifices and struggles endured by numerous African Americans who sought equality by campaigning for the right to vote.

The election of Selma’s first African American mayor accomplished that goal. Thus, naming an architectural structure for the first African American mayor is historically, ethically and morally justifiable.

It seemed an opportune time to consider the naming of the amphitheater because of its reported completion, and naming it would not conflict with any other named structure.

A council member asked if my petition was politically motivated. I resented such an accusation and stated that I am a law-abiding, tax paying, independent-minded citizen of Selma for more than 50 years. The irony begins here.

A council member suggested that the Selma Interpretive Center be considered rather than the amphitheater because, in the words of the council member, it more appropriately reflected the efforts of African Americans seeking the right to vote.

On Oct. 13, 2015, during the council meeting a resolution was presented to the council to name the Selma Interpretive Center after the first African American mayor. It was approved by majority vote without questions or discussion. Within hours, the enlightenment occurred.

The council convened for a special called meeting on Oct. 16, 2015. The mayor shared information regarding a telephone conversation he and some members of his council had with Congresswoman Terri Sewell. In summary, Sewell said the name change would jeopardize possible funding she was seeking for the center.

After lengthy discourse, a motion was made to rescind the council’s previous resolution because of “glaring errors and the loss of possible funding.” It passed with a majority vote..

A letter from the National Parks Service stated that the naming of the building would not be an issue providing the park service official wording and logo remain. The noted errors in the resolution were amendable and could have been easily corrected; however, that was never considered.

Next, the debate about possible funding ensued. Sewell’s representative adamantly stated that Congresswoman Sewell would not block funding earmarked for the Selma Interpretive Center. The amending of the resolution and the assurance of securing, not blocking, funds would have removed all barriers for the naming of an architectural structure to reflect the first African American mayor. Regretfully, it did not.

It is inconceivable and questionable how a body of legal, educational, spiritual and business savvy representatives acted so divisively and promoted personal agendas. Neither the cited errors of the resolution (which could have been corrected) nor the perceived threat of losing possible funding were of such magnitude that the most logical recommendation would be to amend; however, the council by a majority voted to rescind the previous motion. The council needs to redress what it failed to address.

Althelstein Johnson

Selma