By Cheryl Smith
It was at the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday in March 2015 when I last visited Selma, Alabama. Full disclosure: I was brought into Selma to handle the media (local and national). Still, I was excited about being involved with such a historic commemoration of that 1965 March from Selma to Montgomery and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The likes of Dick Gregory, Harry Belafonte, Hon. John Lewis, Xernona Clayton, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Hon Maxine Waters, George Curry, Dr. Johnnetta Cole, Dorothy Buckhanan Wilson, Amanda Fitzpatrick, Dareia Tolbert, Danny Glover, Santita Jackson and the Obama’s were all there. Ten years earlier, I visited Selma and was awarded the “Invisible Giant” Award from the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute. Talk about honored.
I can’t thank board member Thomas Muhammad enough for the role he played in not only sharing Selma with me, but also the naming of me, as an “Invisible Giant.” The original “Invisible Giants” served as foot-soldiers of the struggle for voting rights and marched in the Selma to Montgomery Marches of 1965, the “Bloody Sunday March,” and the “Turn Around Tuesday March.” Thomas, who I have known for decades, praised my work as a journalist in dealing with and fighting for those issues impacting Black people; as did those valiant men and women who came before me. As they introduced me at the awards program, they compared my journalistic contributions to Ms. Oprah Winfrey! The Invisible Giant award is an honor I cherish because in addition to those from Selma and around the world, I joined the ranks of other “giants” who have been recognized from right here in Dallas County, Texas: the Rev. Zan Wesley Holmes, Jr., Dr. Frederick D. Holmes III, Hon. Diane Ragsdale, Judge Maryellen Hicks, Hon. Kathlyn Gilliam and Ghulam Warriciah.
The year I was honored, which was at the 40th anniversary commemoration, I was also with civil rights notables and honorees Amelia Boynton Robinson, Claudette Colvin and Susan L. Taylor. During that first trip to Selma, I even ran into an old friend, Chuck D of Public Enemy, who was visiting the museum! I have learned so much about Selma and the struggle. I am so thankful to Thomas, to Selma, to those who fought for us then and those who continue to fight today.
Which brings me to my truth.
America has never thanked Dallas County, Selma, Alabama. Instead, the city of what was then a revolution has actually been punished! Yes, significant strides were made because of what happened in Selma. The world saw, just as they did with the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the savagery of racism. I can just imagine what people think of when they hear someone talking about Selma, Alabama. Usually, since I have visited, I think of Lainnie’s. Talk about good food! I also think about good folks who have come from there, like LaWonda Peoples and Judge Remeko Edwards. But what I have noticed during my visits was a city stuck in time. This is not an attempt to throw shade. I toured the city and viewed a city that helped cities across the country grow, only to see their city remain the same. It seems as though America said that despite all the pain and suffering inflicted previously, with change, there was more paying to do, “OK, we’ll give you concessions, but somebody is going to pay in a big way.” Selma, Dear Selma!
Sadly, what I have seen with Selma is that in a city with, according to the 2010 Census, a population of just under 21,000 has today an African American population that is 80 percent, but back in the 1960s it was 50 percent. In Selma, about one in six live below the federal poverty line, school dropout rates teeter around 30 to 40 percent, and less than 20 percent of residents have a bachelor’s degree. With an overall poverty rate of almost 30 percent, at least 39.1 percent of African Americans in Dallas County (AL) are living in poverty with 33.5 percent receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, or food stamps, and 43 percent of children living in poverty. What the heck happened or didn’t happen? I’m not airing dirty laundry. I’m making a plea. On this Black Agenda I keep hearing about, we need to include: “HELP SELMA.” Let’s face it. Selma helped make this country better, and the only time we look to Selma is for annual commemorations or as we recently did, to honor giants like Rep. Lewis.
We owe Selma.
Shame on us.