October, 2012. Fairhope, Alabama. Sorry, Selma.

Posted on October 28, 2012

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We always enjoy hanging out in local nightspots wherever we are – you never know what kind of conversation you may get into…or overhear, which sometimes is even better.

We were in McSharry’s Irish Pub in Fairhope, talking to the owner and sipping a couple drinks when two young ladies approached the bar to order a pair of Jaeger bombs.  One of them said, “You two are just PRECIOUS!” (We seem to remind everyone under 30 – 40? 50? – of their grandparents…) They wanted to know where we were from, etc., etc., and when we asked them the same question one said she was from Mobile, the other said, “Sorry, I’m from Selma.”

Sorry?

After a little more chit chat, they drifted away to their friends, but later I thought “Sorry?” I wished I’d asked her why.

Then I got to thinking – I have several books in my collection with an Alabama theme, and I think the story in almost every one of them eventually gets around to the tumultuous civil rights era  –  terrible times  I remember well, times that made a lasting impression on all young people of the 1960’s, north and south.

But this young lady was 25 years old. What did SHE have to be sorry about?

Well, it seems Selma – and other parts of the Deep South – have a pretty sorry record when it comes to getting past their past, and probably the most recent dust up in this Black Belt city is what she’s “sorry” about.

Selma’s 12-year battle over a monument honoring Confederate General Nathan Forrest is just the latest social disagreement about what part of the South’s history to recognize, and what part to ignore – or at least try to ignore.

AP photo of the Forrest monument taken shortly after its erection

According to an article appearing in The Birmingham News in 2000, a Selma group called Friends of Forrest announced plants to erect a privately-funded 7-foot granite monument, topped with a museum-quality cast bust of the General, on city-owned land in the courtyard of the Smitherman Building, which is located in what has become a predominately black area of downtown.  The Smitherman Building once served as a Confederate hospital, and now – or at least in 2000 –  serves as a Confederate museum, housing the artifact rooms of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

The Friends of Forrest group went through the proper channels and was granted permission for construction of the monument on the Smnitherman site by the city council and had the approval of the mayor.

Then there was an election, and Selma’s first black mayor was installed.

Naturally, not everyone in Selma was happy about the monument, which Friends of Forrest said was intended to honor the general as the defender of Selma and Alabama, NOT as a founder of the KKK.

The new city council soon voted to move the monument from the downtown location to Confederate Circle in the Old Live Oak Cemetery. Friends of Forrest members objected –  both because the site is a cemetery and Forrest is not buried there, and because they thought the previous council’s decision should be binding.

The monument had been plagued by repeated vandalism while on its downtown site, but Forrest did not find peace in his new home at the cemetery, either.  After the Friends of Forrest announced plans to spruce up the memorial in 2012, the bust was ripped off its granite base and carted off.

“It is time now for us to put our Civil War and civil rights history in the museum where it belongs,” Perkins was quoted in The Birmingham News shortly after his election.

I’m not so sure that will ever happen.

Sorry.

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Posted in: Travel - Alabama