Selma, Alabama was the epicenter of the 20th century voting rights movement. Originally organized by Amelia Boyton Robinson and Sam Boynton in the 1930s, the fight for voting rights spread throughout Selma’s Black community for several decades. The movement gained international attention on March 7, 1965, when 600 Black protesters were brutally beaten by Alabama State Troopers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. This day became known as Bloody Sunday and inspired the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
On January 12, 2023, Historic Selma was hit by an EF2 tornado. According to Mayor James Perkins, 2,700 structures were destroyed. Ainka Jackson, Esq., executive director of the Selma Center for Nonviolence, Truth, and Reconciliation said one-third of Selma’s residents have been displaced. The destruction was widespread. But miraculously no one perished in the storm.
After the Storm
Betty Strong Boynton was 15 years old when she participated in Selma’s 1965 voting rights movement. When the tornado of 2023 struck, Boynton was in the home she grew up in near First Baptist Church.
In an interview with Mrs. Boynton in Selma, just one week after the storm she recalled,
“We were sitting there, and we were listening to the radio, and the radio was tracking the storm. And all of a sudden, they said it was coming towards Selma. And then they said we should get in something closed. So we ran in the bathroom. While we were in there, I did a lot of praying, and she did too.
And I heard this sound, it come, but it come to the side, and it shook the house a little bit. And a piece of her roof come off a little bit, and then it went on across the street and tore down the Reese’s roof, and then it tore down a tree and some limbs out the tree.
I’ve never seen anything like that tore up like that in my whole life. It was awful. Then they said the radio station 105.3 is tore up. And I went down there and looked, and everything was torn up on that part.”
A resilient people, community organizing is part of Selma’s culture. Within the first 48-hours after the tornado, residents, some of whom had been displaced by the storm, began organizing relief efforts for their neighbors. From providing food to cleaning supplies to debris removal, members of the community rallied together to create solutions in the middle of a national emergency. And as in decades past, when voting rights was the storm troubling the waters, Selma has emerged using its pain to change how systems operate during a crisis.
Marla Moore is a longtime community organizer and program manager for at-risk youth in Dallas County. She was displaced by the tornado on January 12th, but this did not stop her advocacy. On January 14th, Moore made a Facebook post requesting that volunteers assist “the helpers”. A week after the tornado struck, she was registering members of the community for “A Place of Peace After the Storm”, a free 2-day experience that provided massage therapy, sound baths, yoga, therapy, and more at the Selma Center for Nonviolence, Truth, and Reconciliation.
Jubilee ’23: Now More Than Ever
Selma’s culture of organizing is rooted in its deep history of activism. For the past 31 years, the Selma community commemorates Bloody Sunday during the first weekend in March. This 4-day festival is affectionately known as Jubilee. Despite the storm and the destruction left in its path, Jubilee is set to go on March 2-5.
In a January 19th news conference, Former State Senator Hank Sanders stated: “This devastation makes it important for people to be able to gather and for people to be able to share. But it’s also important that people help to rebuild.”