Selma is a reflection, both good and bad, of life in Alabama’s rural Black Belt, where poverty remains entrenched. Selma has both been lifted by and bears the burden of its history. As one of the main cities in this agricultural area, many expect it to forge a renaissance and lead some of the South’s poorest counties back to prosperity while providing a glimmer of hope to an increasingly racially polarized nation.
Death did not ride in with a thundering of horses’ hooves on a cloud of gun smoke, though no doubt Heaven is a bit more lively since Macedonia native Bessie Morton’s arrival April 27. After a lifetime of adventure, it must have seemed anti-climactic, but at 87, she had slowed down a little, so perhaps death took note and crept softly, so as not to awaken Noxubee County’s self-proclaimed honky-tonk angel.
She left her clothes on the back porch. She left her gold, Hunt High School Class of ’56 ring on the dresser. She left her baby, Gloria, in her sister Betsy’s arms. And then, on a hot summer day in 1960, Lyrian Wyvonne Barry boarded a Greyhound bus bound for St. Louis and disappeared behind a cloud of Mississippi dust.
In the 23rd Special Construction Battalion, the officers were white and the seamen and steward’s mates — basically servants — were black. “I’m from Georgia,” an officer told them. “Where I come from, there’s only two kinds of niggers — a good nigger and a dead nigger. We don’t want no dead ones.”
In life, he was the keeper of history. Presidential photographs, letters, memos, campaign materials — nothing escaped the thin fingers and sharp eyes of the Columbus native who lived simply and died simply but touched time, leaving a signature of his own.
The teenager turned, walked back to the pool, slipped off his shirt and slid beneath the cool waters. Maybe his curiosity had been satisfied. Maybe he knew that Edward Yeates, head of Father’s Child Ministry, takes a no-nonsense approach to mentoring children who lack, and crave, a father’s presence. He gives them freedom, and he reins them in. Mostly, he loves them.