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Historic Selma sites named to World Monuments Fund’s watch list

By Adam Dodson | The Selma Times-Journal

The Selma-Dallas County area is being honored by the World Monuments Fund, an organization committed towards the recognition and preservation of historic sites all over the world, with the addition of four sites to its watch list.

The locations added to the list from the Selma-Dallas County area include Brown Chapel AME Church, Tabernacle Baptist Church, First Baptist Church and the Jackson Family Home. These locations and others from Montgomery and Birmingham were grouped together into a consortium brought forth by the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.

Starting in 1996 and updated every two years, the watch list aims at finding specific landmarks and sites that have significant historic value and have possibly been overlooked by society. Although their watch list is not a list of “official” monuments, the point of the locations named is to bring a higher sense of appreciation to the areas. Themes of historic monuments include those that have impacted climate change, social movements and many others. It not only provides advocacy, but could also lead to more money or services being provided to the sites due to the recognition on the World Monuments Foundation’s watch list.

According to Hillary Prim, the consortium of civil rights sites fit this mold of underappreciated areas that are dense in history lessons.

“Almost immediately, everyone felt that Selma was an undervalued aspect of American society,” Prim said. “It goes beyond what you think about this movement. There are plenty of places with historical significance in the area and are still plenty of people who have vivid memories of what happened back then. This is us putting a stake in the ground that if we don’t recognize this, it will be lost forever.”

Many of these sites come from complicated eras in history, where political turmoil ran rampant or disaster struck the area.

The WMF felt that the vital role the three listed Alabama cities had in progressing the civil rights movement made them worthy of being included on this list. With civil rights being a tumultuous time in American history, both the WMF and Birmingham Civil Rights Institute were committed to keeping the 20 Alabama locations in the spotlight of importance.

This crucial period in America’s timeline not only garners national recognition for what it means to the country’s foundation, but worldwide recognition as a reminder of how sweeping social justice movements can be.

According to Priscilla Hancock Cooper, member of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, these statewide locations were brought together in a consortium to benefit the group as a whole and to emphasize the collective importance of the sites to the world. With their addition to the WMF’s watch list, the worldwide recognition is looked to continue and expand.

“The value is in the shared history of these sites working together. They helped move our nation forward and give us lessons about what happened in the movement,” Cooper said. “A lot of international justice visitors who are educators, judges or in law enforcement come down here. The international visitors care about what happened here during the 1950s and 1960s. It is not a story of tragedy, but a story of triumph. It was ordinary people doing extraordinary things.”

As the churches, private homes and museums listed will retain their spot for the next two years, both Prim and Cooper hope that their support will lead to direct and indirect support.