Letter discusses first trip to Selma in 40 years

Published 7:49 pm Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Dear editor,

Raised in Atlanta in the 1950s and 60s and an undergraduate at Tulane from 1966-1970, I have driven through Selma countless times, but rarely since the 1970s.  Last week, my wife and I returned to Selma for the first time in 40-odd years.

Changes experienced every day may be almost invisible while changes spanning time can be strikingly apparent.

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A parent may not see the same changes in a child that a grandparent cannot miss. With forty-ish years between visits, the changes in Selma were profound.

Of course, much has not changed: the quaint architecture of downtown, the bridge itself, the terrific southern cooking.  But the soul of the city, at least through the eyes of an infrequent visitor, appears to have changed, and very pleasantly so.

In the 1960s, I was a bearded hippie kid with Georgia license plates.

My goal when I drove through Selma was to obey every speed limit and signal turns well ahead of time.  The city scared me.

I knew the then-recent history of Selma: Bloody Sunday, the Selma to Montgomery March and the National Voting Rights Act. But I only knew them in my head, not in my heart. While I knew the facts, I had not processed the emotions, especially the commitment and bravery of the marchers who knowingly put themselves so squarely in harm’s way.

Over the span of a lifetime, I have started to internalize that knowledge and marvel at the bravery and commitment of those folks who came to Selma to make change.

In the 1960s, I also knew nothing about the St. James Hotel. What a gem! And I never would have imagined stopping a police officer at night to ask a question and ending up in a prolonged and friendly conversation, sitting in the car through several light cycles.

I never would have imagined feeling so comfortable in a racially integrated restaurant, not just at the level of the restaurant itself, but at the level of many of the individual tables where people of every age and color appeared to convey genuine friendship and community.

Selma seems to have come a long way.  Witnessing the transformation from the vantage point of then and now is both humbling and encouraging.  The history and legacy of your city is one to be proud of.


Kenneth Mirvis

Watertown, Ma.