Selma in History

Selma played a major role in history. It is the county seat of Dallas County in Alabama, located on the banks of the Alabama River, in what is identified as the Black Belt region.  The Black Belt region became known for the rich, dark soil that was perfect for cotton growing. During the time of “Alabama Fever”, many people from Georgia and North and South Carolina settled in the area due to the fertile soil.

As a song will only stay number one on the Billboard charts or a movie will be the top grossing until the next big blockbuster, the region that was once America’s richest and most politically powerful, became one of the poorest. The eroded soil, the boll weevil infestation, the Jim Crow era and the lack of economic diversity, all contributed to the region’s fall.

Selma’s role in history was demonstrated in the Civil War. Selma was one of the main manufacturing centers of the Confederate military during the war. It became a target of Union raids, due to the fact that the Selma Iron Works and Foundry was the second in importance, as a source of weaponry for the South. Because of its strengths and the significance it held to the Confederate movement, Selma was a very real threat to the north, and eventually it was overtaken in the Battle of Selma.

There is also a different perspective to the term “Black Belt.” A quote by Booker T. Washington explained how the initial term was used to describe a part of the nation based on the color of its soil, and was later the term used to describe a part of the country where white people were outnumbered by blacks. Slavery was a way of life in the south, especially where cotton was grown, so it was only natural that the population of blacks would increase with the growth in the region.

While blacks outnumbered whites, whites were in complete control, and unjust in their treatment of the black population. Activists were determined to change the role of black citizens in the United States. On May 26, 1965, the voting rights bill was passed by the US Senate, and then passed into law on July 9. Even after the Civil Rights Act was signed on July 2, 1964, which prohibited segregation of public facilities, blacks who tried to see a movie at the theater or eat at the hamburger stand in Selma, were beaten and arrested. Black citizens who tried to register to vote were arrested for their efforts as well.

On January 2, 1965, Martin Luther King, in direct rebellion of the anti-meeting injunction imposed on July 9, 1964 by Judge James Hare, addressed a mass meeting in Brown Chapel, which was the beginning to the Selma Voting Rights Campaign. The march from Selma to Montgomery became a horrific example of treatment of one human being to another.

Selma’s place in history ranges from the Civil War to the Civil Rights movement. While perhaps the US has not come as far as it should or could since the Civil Rights Act was signed, Selma, Alabama has played an integral role in US history.

By Jennifer Barclay

Southern Spaces
Encyclopedia of Alabama
New York Times

Photo by: arwcheek – Flickr License

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