“For those on the outside looking in, they’re seeing that the churches can’t even come together,” says Urban Hope member Dion Watts. “That’s something that has been a Goliath – a huge stumbling block. If we can come together on this, the message it will send to the rest of the world will be profound.”
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.
Last year, when James Seal left his job as an insulator at shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls Industries in Pascagoula, Miss., he said goodbye to his Blue Cross Blue Shield plan. Since then, he and his wife have paid cash for medical care or visited the hospital emergency room. But mostly, they’ve gritted their teeth through health challenges. It is a strategy that has worked for the most part.
Donna Gainey grew up here in the picturesque fishing village of Bayou La Batre, Ala., – went to school only a mile away, married a local boy, and made the tiny City Hall on Wintzell Avenue her home away from home. This is all she’s known. All she’s ever wanted to know. For 32 years, she’s watched mayors and council members come and go, but still she remains.
Traffic is jammed, bumper to tailgate, but no one seems to mind. Drivers cruise along at crawl speed, hanging out their windows from time to time to wave and yell friendly greetings to one another. The smell of barbecue hangs like Southern perfume in the sweltering heat, and strains of “Sweet Home Alabama” blast from roadside speakers. In the heart of Dixie, where college football is religion and every day is a good day to celebrate, the World’s Longest Yard Sale might as well be redubbed the Biggest Tailgate Party.
In the end, Magnolia Springs did not need BP or Mr. Obama or the governor in Montgomery. It needed the grit and determination of the people themselves – people like Hinton, who says he will stand chest-deep in the waters of the bay, linked arm in arm with his neighbors, if that’s what it takes to stop the encroaching oil from despoiling the sublime latticework of bogs and bayous that he calls home.