Friday, May 09, 2008

Seeing Selma, Alabama

Took a slow train to Birmingham, Alabama and now making our way through Selma to Montgomery on a little tour of the Civil Rights South.

Selma is a German name meaning "divine protector" or "helmet of God" and it feels in this famously racially torn town there seems to be a surge of pride and realignment of priorities.

The historic St. James Hotel where we are staying is owned by black entrepreneur Nathaniel Goldston. He is revitalizing the entire block around the building. We met Chef Richard Graves out back this morning, watering his herb garden and he told us his cuisine is about health, freshness, goodness.

Just down the block at the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute, consultant Sam Walker presided.

Sam showed us the jaw dropping "I Was There Wall" where hundreds of notes are posted from foot soldiers and other participants in the historic march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday, March 7, 1965. One surprise was a note from a state trooper who had been called in as back-up from Mobile, Alabama on the day of the protest. He had no background on the march and took part in beating the protesters. He was so disturbed by his actions that one month later he resigned.

Segregationist icon Sheriff Jim Clark had less of a remarkable turn around. Sam told us he was tipped off several years back that Clark was at a local restaurant meeting with would-be writers of his biography. Sam took a busload of schoolchildren from New York over to meet with Clark. Clark refused to be interviewed and told the children that if "you had been there, I'd have whupped your asses too."


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