Did Black People Abandon Cities That Birthed The Civil Rights Movement?

May 17, 2011  |  

By J. Smith

BV Black Spin raises a point that isn’t discussed too often, if at all. What has become of the cities that were once bedrocks of social change during the Civil Rights movement, long after the hype has died down and the descendents have scattered? In Selma, Alabama, the prognosis is not good.

“So much here belies its rich and historic past, first as home to Alabama’s wealthy slave-era cotton kings, later as an important staging ground for the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. But after the marchers had gone and the cameras disappeared, and a handful of the rights were won, so many of the deeper ideals remained unrealized here. In 1977, Craig Air Force base left town like so many other employers,” BV Black Spin reported.

It seems that more residual effects of America’s Great Migration are unfurling. When frustrated youngsters and tired old folks stole away from oppressive towns like Selma in the early 1900s in favor of more liberal cities like Chicago and Washington, D.C., we forgot to, or decided rather, to wipe our memories clean of “the old country.” But while trying to escape recollection of the Jim Crow South, much of the black community that is left over in those places has suffered by our abandonment. “Practically all that’s left today is a paper factory, a re-segregated public school system and a political culture that remains broken along racial lines. Some residents say remnants of Selma’s segregationist past linger on the lips of politicians who are race baiting for votes,” BV reports.

Selma was the stage for the infamous and historically significant Bloody Sunday, where armed officers brutally attacked peaceful protesters attempting to march across the Edmond Pettus Bridge for voting rights. Those same factors that drove blacks out of those cities are the same issues that cripple its growth today. Bitter racial divides, a staggering economy and a negative reputation have people like Joyce O’neil of the Brown Memorial A.M.E. Church in Selma noting, “How’s that saying go? The more things change the more they stay the same.”

Could there be some kind of awakening in Selma and that would attract young black professionals or other economy boosters to rescue the historic town from oblivion?

Read more: Selma 46 Years After Bloody Sunday

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