Joining WMF watch list brings spotlight to multiple historic locations in Selma

Published 7:52 pm Saturday, April 14, 2018

By: Adam Dodson

Leaders of the Selma-Black Belt section of the African-American Civil Rights Heritage Sites Consortium met inside First Baptist Church to discuss their plans moving forward after their success in being added to the World Monuments Fund’s 2018 watch list.

The World Monuments Fund is an organization that attempts to highlight historical locations and buildings that have impacted the world in a multitude of ways.

Earlier this year, the WMF announced that the Civil Rights Consortium’s collection of sites would be added to their annual World Monuments Watch. The 20 sites comprised into one consortium is the first time the WMF has recognized multiple sites as part of the same listing.

Locations include places of worship and civic engagement from Birmingham, Montgomery and Selma.

The Selma-Black Belt locations include Brown Chapel AME Church, First “Colored” Baptist Church, Tabernacle Baptist Church, the Sullivan and Rickie Jean Sherrod Jackson Museum, the Jackson Family SNCC House in White Hall and the Safe House Black History Museum in Greensboro.

The sites’ inclusion on the WMF list has sparked the interest of many Selma residents, including public figures and community leaders. This included Ward 8 Councilman Michael Johnson, who attended the meeting among representatives from the awarded sites.

“There is a lot of history here that needs to be preserved, and I want to do my part in helping the sites,” Johnson said. “We can’t change history. All we can do is make it better, learn from it and try to move forward.”

In order to move forward, representatives from multiple churches and historic buildings had to bind together for their initiative, which some people did not think was possible, according to Priscilla Cooper.

Cooper, a member of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, has spent much of her efforts the past year serving as the liaison between the Selma-Black Belt locations and the Birmingham sites.

Cooper is proud to have played a role in bringing everybody together and on the same page, despite of people’s doubts.

“We always heard about what we won’t do, that we won’t work together. So the fact that it’s been over a year, and here we are working together, it says a lot,” Cooper said. “Other people are looking to this project as a national model. We have seen Black Belt initiatives come and go. It is important that we have participation.”

Progressing into the next stage of their process, the individual sites want to do whatever they can to keep the positive momentum going. Cooper noted that as they advance as locations on the WMF, they need to continue educating people of the history that took place at the 20 landmarks.

However, they know that it cannot all happen at once, continuously stating during the meeting that this is a process that will require time and patience of its participants.

The consortium also understands that there are historic sites in the Selma-Black Belt area that were not included as one of the 20 locations added to the WMF list. The members of places that were included on the list have not forgotten about the unincluded locations, and want them to know that this project should not be viewed as the end result, but as a “pilot project.”

The members of the consortium are motivated to continue binding people together through the inclusion on the watch list and the teaching of history. One man who realizes the hard work the consortium has put in is Pastor Leodis Strong of Brown Chapel, who believes none of this would have been possible had they not united.

“What you all have done to bring us all together, it is herculean,” Strong said. “If it had not been for the effort of you guys, none of us would have had the time or the resources to pull this off.”

The 20 locations focus on civil rights eras from the 1950s and 1960s and dating back as far as the Reconstruction Era.

The civil rights sites make up one of two different areas in America covered in the 2018 watch list, with the other being the Central Terminal Building in Buffalo, New York.

Next up for the consortium is a visit from the Kaplan Heritage Committee, who are coming to Alabama from April 23 to April 25 to meet with consortium representatives and to tour historic civil rights landmarks included on the WMF list.

For more information regarding the 20 sites honored on the World Monuments Fund’s watch list, visit consortium@bcri.org.

For more information on the World Monuments Fund, visit www.wmf.org/2018Watch.