Selma Needs Healing (And We Are Not Alone)
Physical, emotional, economic, racial and political violence have historically impacted the development of Selma and the South. Centuries of unaddressed racial violence still define attitudes and customs that, if genuinely addressed, could unleash the potential of the area in ways that could impact the Nation. The Selma Center for Nonviolence, Truth & Reconciliation’s mission is to partner with institutions to promote love, the establishment of justice and build the Beloved Community. The Center is committed to transforming and healing the root causes of physical, political, psychological, environmental, economic and racial violence at personal, family, community and systemic levels. We have partnered with the Black Belt Community Foundation through the Kellogg Foundation’s Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation Enterprise to help make the dream of a Beloved Community a reality.
Last year, many in Alabama participated in the Reenactment of the Battle of Selma, one of the last battles in the Civil War. The first day of the reenactment, the Confederates win and the next day is more historically accurate. Before the Battle of Selma, which took place April 2, 1865, Dallas County, where Selma is located, was the fourth wealthiest county in the nation largely because Dallas County had the highest number of enslaved people in the State and the fourth highest in the U.S. Also, it was one of the South’s main manufacturing centers during the American Civil War. With over 10,000 workers of mostly children, women and enslaved persons, the factories produced almost everything needed for Confederate soldiers. Following the Battle of Selma where Nathan Bedford Forrest was defeated by Union troops, much of Selma was destroyed including many private businesses and residences, as well as the Confederate army arsenal and factories. One week later, the war was effectively over when General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses Grant. Many lives were lost, more were taken prisoner and even more jobs were gone. Selma’s economy has never recovered and neither have the broken relationships. These broken relationships were intentionally created so those with wealth and power could remain wealthy and powerful, and so those in poverty, black and white, would believe that we are each other’s enemies and not unite. Some were made to believe that all of the loss during the Civil War was because of black people. Resentment has grown even more because most Confederate soldiers did not enslave black people and many whites feel that this is about their heritage not hate. We all have different perspectives that are our truths. We have never fully spoken our truths to each other and healed so that we can transform our community. The Battle of Selma may have ended but Selma is still battling. Selma is in need of truth, racial healing and transformation.
Fifty years after a day known as Bloody Sunday, because of the unmitigated violence against marchers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the Center was established near the bridge to address the continued violence and conflicts that still plague Selma and the Nation. In the 1960s, many battles were won and laws changed. However, we never got around to building the relationships needed to change hearts and minds. According to Dr. Bernard Lafayette, our cofounder and a confidant of Dr. King, more white people were killed in the Selma area for supporting the Voting Rights Movement than blacks. He says that this sent a clear message about the consequences of supporting black people and for all to stay in their place or else there would be consequences. Many don’t know this history but we perpetuate the effects when we stay in our silos. This divide is still present and reflected in many ways. For example, during the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday and the Selma to Montgomery March, there was a billboard put up near the Edmund Pettus Bridge that had Nathan B. Forrest, a founder of the KKK, that said “Keep the skeer on ‘em” and the KKK distributed thousands of recruitment flyers. We have never spoken our truths about the Voting Rights Movement to each other and healed so that we can transform our community. The Battle of Selma may have ended but Selma is still battling. Selma is in need of truth, racial healing and transformation.
These divisions were also seen when a group of students and parents protested for months in 1990 to ensure that black and poor children weren’t tracked in inadequate and unequal classrooms and subjected to in-school segregation after which almost all white children left the Selma School System for private or county schools. Since I’ve returned home, I’ve heard this movement described as violent. Initially, because I was a youth leader in the movement, I rejected this description. However, I began to hear others speak their truth about white students who were attacked during this period causing white students to leave the school system for safety reasons. After reading an article in the New York Times about the death of Dr. Roussell in 2014, I tried to explain that we just wanted to learn to one white young man who said that his brother had been beaten up at school during that time. He replied to me, “Now, no one is learning.” Our schools and our city has never recovered or healed from this. We have never spoken our truths about the Tracking Movement or its effects to each other and healed so that we can transform our community. The Battle of Selma may have ended but Selma is still battling. Selma is in need of truth, racial healing and transformation.
These divisions are also shown in politics. After the same mayor who was in power during Bloody Sunday in 1965, was unseated in 2000 by a black man, some people felt and expressed that the new mayor could not run the city. Others believe that some systematically attempted to make him fail by making Selma fail and for that reason incorporated an adjacent town, Valley Grande, which shrunk Selma’s tax base. However, I’m sure there are many who have a different truth and understanding of why Valley Grande was incorporated and became another exodus of white people from Selma. Now Selma is overwhelmingly majority black (over 80 percent) and Valley Grande is majority white (over 70 percent). We need a safe space to share our truths and heal so that we can transform our community. The Battle of Selma may have ended but Selma is still battling. Selma is in need of truth, racial healing and transformation.
Bloody Sunday may have ended but we are still having far too many bloody Sundays in Selma. In 2015, on the day we commemorated Bloody Sunday, there were two murders in Selma and two more within a month. Many people are hopeless and desperate. It is not surprising that in one year Dallas County was the poorest county in Alabama, and the next year Selma was the most dangerous place to live in Alabama and the following year Selma was named the 8th most dangerous place per capita in the country. As violence increases, the economy suffers and as the economy suffers, violence increases. I believe that broken relationships, have led to a broken economy which has led to broken communities. We are in desperate need of help to stop this vicious, bloody cycle. We have not collectively spoken our truths about the root causes of this bloody cycle and healed so that we can transform our community. The Battle of Selma may have ended but Selma is still battling. Selma is in need of truth, racial healing and transformation.
The Voting Rights Movement was never just about getting the right to vote. It was about people recognizing the humanity in us all and that our laws should reflect that recognition. However, we failed to finish the work of bridging divides and building the Beloved Community. This is the work of the Center. The work of the Truth Racial Healing & Transformation Enterprise is to change the narrative of the hierarchy of human value, meaning that some lives are considered more valuable than others, and to transform our community. In order for institutionalized racism to really end, we must each share our truths and we must each listen. There can be no reconciliation without truth first. There can be no healing without truth. There can be no transformation without truth.
Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The end of violence or the aftermath of violence is bitterness. The aftermath of nonviolence is reconciliation and the creation of a beloved community . . . . the end is reconciliation, the end is redemption.” The Center is committed to continuing the movement and finishing the unfinished business of bridging divides and building the Beloved Community.
Selma will heal and help change the world again. Join us.
Ainka Jackson, Executive Director
Center for Nonviolence, Truth, and Reconciliation