Remembering Rotary Club’s history in Selma

Published 6:54 pm Wednesday, February 24, 2016

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Rotary Club will celebrate its 100th anniversary in Selma at 6 p.m. at the George P. Evans Reception Hall. 

Dear editor,
The Rotary Club of Selma was formally chartered on June 1, 1916, one short month before the Great Flood of 1916 devastated much of Dallas County.

Thus the club got to demonstrate its dedication to “Service Above Self” almost right away. It was club president Truman L. McGill who called a public meeting to organize response to the flood, and it was vice president Houston C. Armstrong who launched a fund-raising drive to assist the hundreds left homeless by the flood.

McGill initially came to Selma as director of the YMCA, foreshadowing the close ties between the club and the Y.

Rotarian Paul M. Grist embodied those ties, giving his name both to the summer camp that he founded and Rotary helped build and maintain and to the club building on Broad Street.

Since 1976, the club has also helped to sustain a major outreach to the handicapped, the Alabama Special Camp for Children and Adults (Camp ASCCA) on Lake Martin.

During the roaring 1920s, the club took a bold stand against the Ku Klux Klan, helping to sponsor a full-page ad in The Selma Times-Journal (editor, Rotarian F. T. Raiford) telling Klan organizers they weren’t wanted in the Queen City.  During the Depression of the 1930s, the club joined with the downtown churches in providing lunches to school children who couldn’t afford them. (Rotarian Dr. William W. Harper led the way.)

During World War II, the club was helping the Allies with shipments of clothes and other necessities well before Pearl Harbor. Afterwards, of course, Rotarians got busy donating blood to the Red Cross, collecting scrap metal for the war effort, and raising money to build “liberty planes” for the Army Air Force.

In the 1980s, Rotary became more inclusive, with John Crear serving as its first black president and Frances Turner as its first female president. The club has had its ups and downs; our fellow Selmians still tease us about our having twice burned down the barbecue pit at Bloch Park by accident.

But the Rotary Club of Selma is better known for providing new furniture for the public library, for giving scholarships to graduating seniors and for helping out a wide array of local organizations (like the Boy Scouts, SABRA sanctuary and the Salvation Army).

To this day, the Rotary Club of Selma is deeply committed to its motto of “Service Above Self,” striving always to be a gift to the world.

Alston Fitts
Rotary Club