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Simply Selma

by Erin Z. Bass

If there’s one town that’s worked its way onto my radar since I started Deep South, it’s Selma, Alabama. Located in the Black Belt region on the banks of the Alabama River and west of Montgomery, Selma is mostly known for the part it played in the Civil Rights Movement. In the University of Alabama Press’s recent book “Alabama’s Civil Rights: An Illustrated Guide To The Cradle of Freedom” by Frye Gaillard there’s a whole chapter on Selma and the right to vote. The chapter begins, “In the winter and spring of 1965, Selma emerged as the decisive battleground in the struggle for black voting rights in the South.”

Activists in Selma had been working to register black voters since the 1930s, so by the time Martin Luther King Jr. came to town in 1965 to lead voting rights protests, the community was ready. In March, demonstrators began marching to Edmund Pettus Bridge, where they were blocked and beaten by state troopers. This day became known as “Bloody Sunday” and the marchers’ attempt as the precursor for the now-famous Selma to Montgomery March. Two weeks later, on March 21, more than 20,000 marchers set out for Montgomery again, this time protected by the National Guard. They arrived safely after five days and, in August, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law.

Since 1993, the National Voting Rights Museum in Selma has held a Bridge Crossing Jubilee during the first weekend in March. While Selma will always be remembered for its voting rights legacy, today the town also boasts a century’s worth of architectural styles, from Greek Revival to English Tudor, the grave of Abraham Lincoln’s sister-in-law at Live Oak Cemetery and even a few ghosts.

Starting today and lasting through the weekend, the 35th Historic Selma Pilgrimage invites visitors to come and discover its other side. Nine home tours and a ghost tour of Live Oak Cemetery are on the agenda and new to the event this year are book signings, plein air artists “painting the town,” a Selma Shoppe of local souvenirs and a paranormal investigation of Brownstone Manor. And there are plenty of opportunities to learn about Selma’s history and even take a walk over the Edmund Pettus Bridge while in town.

To find out more about the Historic Selma Pilgrimage, visit their site. And for insight into life in Selma today, check out native Janet Gresham’s Selma, Ala., Daily Photo blog. We’ll be doing a full interview with Gresham in the near future.

Photos of Edmund Pettus Bridge and Sturdivant Hall are courtesy of the Alabama Tourism Department’s photostream on Flickr.

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