Selma is famous for its Selma March, commemorated every spring with a Jubilee Bridge Crossing. It also has the National Voting Rights Museum open all year around. The museum has recently moved to new headquarters from a historic building on Water Street. It is now located just over the bridge from downtown on the Montgomery Highway. It has more space in the new building, so its collections show off the better advantage. The highlight of the tour, though is not the collections themselves, but the fact that tours are conducted by volunteers who were actual foot soldiers in the march. My guide was Anna Pearl Avery, who told me her own compelling story. She has become interested in the Movement when she was a child. She was living with relatives up North when Emmett Till was murdered in Mississippi. She said that she was a child and he was a child, so she related to his death. She said that she heard the adults talking, but nobody would talk to her about the incident and explain things to her. As a child, she didn’t have much money, but she took her little pocket money down to the corner store and bought herself a newspaper to read about the incident. She then traced for me her evolution as a foot soldier in the Voting Rights Movement. Her personal experiences were what made my tour so meaningful. I had been in the museum in the other location numerous times and had seen the exhibits. She made the exhibits come alive through her own stories.
The National Voting Rights Museum has been a viable tourism presence in Selma for many years, but in its new setting, it is coming alive with new significance for the visitor through the new location and the guided tours. There is also a new director, Olinatta Taal, who is young and on fire with her projects. She plans to lead the NVRS to a new prominence in the community.
There are several new things happening in the world of Civil Rights and Voting Rights in the Selma area. One of these is the new Interpretive Center presently being renovated as part of the Selma to Montgomery National Scenic Byway effort. It will be located at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge as you enter Selma from Montgomery. There is presently an Interpretive Center located on Hwy 80 in Lowdnes County at White Hall to commemorate the Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights March. This new center in Selma. along with the National Voting Rights Museum and the Slavery Museum (which is presently being renovated and will reopen soon) will compliment the Lowdnes County Center. This set of attractions will create a comprehensive visitor experience to tell the Selma civil/voting rights struggle.
Visiting the National Voting Rights Museum in its present location made me realize anew what our area of rural Southwest Alabama has to offer in historical insights. This is a valuable piece of the national stories of the Civil Rights movement. We are lucky to have information preserved so close at hand. The next step in the preservation process is to get the oral histories of those who participated in the marches preserved for posterity. Perhaps, we are already too late because so many of the leaders have already passed on. We are fortunate that so much has been documented. The existing records of the National Voting Rights Museum are presently being digitalized through RC&D grants, so that what we do have is not lost.
My visit to the museum was a compelling experience. It made me realize that we in rural southwest Alabama truly live up to our tagline “A REGION OF STORIES”.