“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.
In many places, it will end a decades-old culture of silence. People here don’t like to remember the nights of church bombings and explosions; the sound of rifles being loaded in the dark as citizens patrolled sidewalks and sanctuaries, trying to stem the violence. They don’t like to remember the fear and distrust – between blacks and whites, but also among themselves.
She says while she supports tonight’s event, it’s going to take a lot to heal race relations in Ashburn, a town where people still refer to the railroad tracks separating the white and black neighborhoods as “the line.” She points out that just last week, a group of white students held a private prom at a nearby marina, heedless of this week’s prom, which had been heavily announced and heralded by what the local weekly newspaper called a “media storm.”
Tall reeds line the banks of the Alabama River, swaying lazily in the dark water’s eddies as the wild tenor of crickets and cicadas dips and soars through the October stillness. Fat water moccasins sun themselves on cracked red clay as long-legged egrets snatch greedily from a school of water beetles skimming the surface. A fish jumps once, then twice. A man laughs once, then again as he joins a handful of people boarding the ferry. All God’s creatures are free in Gee’s Bend.