Selma is a city in and the county
seat of Dallas County, Alabama, United States, located on the banks of the
Alabama River. The population was 20,512 at the 2000 census. The city is best
known for the 1965 Selma Voting Rights Movement and its Selma to Montgomery
marches, three civil rights marches that began in the city.
Prior to settlement by European peoples, the area of present-day Selma was occupied by the Native American people known as the Muscogee (also known as the Creek).
Benjamin Hawkins, seen on his plantation in this 1805 painting, teaches Creeks to use European technology.
The site of present-day Selma was officially recorded in 1732 as Ecor Bienville, then later as the Moore's Bluff settlement. In 1820, Selma (meaning "high seat" or "throne") was incorporated. It was planned and named by future Vice President of the United States William R. King.
Selma became the seat of Dallas County in 1866.
Old Depot Museum
During the Civil War, Selma was one of the South's main military manufacturing centers, producing tons of supplies and munitions, and turning out Confederate warships such as the Ironclad warship Tennessee. The Selma iron works and foundry was considered the second most important source of weaponry for the South, after the Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond, Virginia. This strategic concentration of manufacturing capabilities eventually made Selma a target of Union raids into Alabama late in the Civil War.
The capacities and importance of Selma to the Confederate movement had been notorious in the North, and were too great to be overlooked by the Federal authorities. As the town grew in importance, the necessity to capture it with a Federal force increased. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman first made an effort to reach it, but after advancing as far as Meridian, within 107 miles (172 km) of Selma, his forces retreated to the Mississippi River; Gen. Benjamin Grierson, with a cavalry force from Memphis, was intercepted and returned; Gen. Rousseau made a dash in the direction of Selma, but was misled by his guides and struck the railroad forty miles east of Montgomery.
On March 30, 1865, Wilson detached Gen. John T. Croxton's Brigade to destroy all Confederate property at Tuscaloosa, Alabama. After capturing a Confederate courier who carried dispatches from Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest describing the strengths and dispositions of his scattered forces, Wilson also sent a brigade to destroy the bridge across the Cahaba River at Centreville. This action effectively cut off most of Forrest's reinforcements. Then began a running fight that did not end until after the fall of Selma.
On the afternoon of April 1, after skirmishing all morning, Wilson's advanced guard ran into Forrest's line of battle at Ebenezer Church, where the Randolph Road intersected the main Selma road. Here Forrest had hoped to bring his entire force to bear on Wilson. However delays caused by flooding plus earlier contact with the enemy enabled Forrest to muster less than 2,000 men, a large number of whom were not veterans but militia consisting of old men and young boys.
The outnumbered and outgunned Confederates fought bravely for more than an hour as more Union cavalry and artillery deployed on the field. Forrest himself was wounded by a saber-wielding Union Captain whom he killed with his revolver. Finally, a Union cavalry charge with carbines blazing broke the Confederate militia causing Forrest to be flanked on his right. He was forced to retreat under severe pressure.
Selma Navy Yard
Early the next morning Forrest arrived at Selma, "horse and rider covered in blood." He advised Gen. Richard Taylor, departmental commander, to leave the city. Taylor did so after giving Forrest command of the defense.
Selma was protected by three miles of fortifications which ran in a semicircle around the city. They were anchored on the north and south by the Alabama River. The works had been built two years earlier, and while neglected for the most part since, were still formidable. They were 8 feet (2.4 m) to 12 feet (3.7 m) high, 15 feet (4.6 m) thick at the base, with a ditch 4 feet (1.2 m) wide and 5 feet (1.5 m) deep along the front. In front of this was a picket fence of heavy posts planted in the ground, 5 feet (1.5 m) high, and sharpened at the top. At prominent positions, earthen forts were built with artillery in position to cover the ground over which an assault would have to be made.
Forrest's defenders consisted of his Tennessee escort company, McCullough's Missouri Regiment, Crossland's Kentucky Brigade, Roddey's Alabama Brigade, Frank Armstrong's Mississippi Brigade, General Daniel W. Adams' state reserves, and the citizens of Selma who were "volunteered" to man the works. Altogether this force numbered less than 4,000, only half of who were dependable. The Selma fortifications were built to be defended by 20,000 men. Forrest's soldiers had to stand 10 to 12 feet (3.7 m) apart in the works.
Wilson's force arrived in front of the Selma fortifications at 2 p.m. He had placed Gen. Eli Long's Division across the Summerfield Road with the Chicago Board of Trade Battery in support. He had Gen. Emory Upton's Division placed across the Range Line Road with Battery I, 4th US Artillery in support. Altogether Wilson had 9,000 troops available for the assault.
The Federal commander's plan was for Upton to send in a 300 man detachment after dark to cross the swamp on the Confederate right; enter the works, and begin a flanking movement toward the center moving along the line of fortifications. Then a single gun from Upton's artillery would signal the attack by the entire Federal Corps.
At 5 p.m., however, Gen. Armistead Long's ammunition train in the rear was attacked by advance elements of Forrest's scattered forces coming toward Selma. Both Long and Upton had positioned significant numbers of troops in their rear for just such an event. However, Long decided to commence his assault against the Selma fortifications to neutralize the enemy attack in his rear.
Long's troops attacked in a single rank in three main lines, dismounted with Spencers carbines blazing, supported by their own artillery fire. The Confederates replied with heavy small arms and artillery fire of their own. The Southern artillery, in one of the many ironies of the Civil War, only had solid shot on hand, while just a short distance away was an arsenal which produced tons of canister, a highly effective anti-personnel ammunition.
The Federals suffered many casualties (including General Long himself) but not enough to break up the attack. Once the Union Army reached the works, there was vicious hand-to-hand fighting. Many soldiers were struck down with clubbed muskets. But they kept pouring into the works. In less than 30 minutes, Long's men had captured the works protecting the Summerfield Road.
Meanwhile, General Upton, observing Long's success, ordered his division forward. The story was much the same for his men as on Long's front. Soon, U.S. flags could be seen waving over the works from Range Line Road to Summerfield Road.
After the outer works fell, General Wilson himself led the 4th U.S. Cavalry Regiment in a mounted charge down the Range Line Road toward the unfinished inner line of works. The retreating Confederate forces, upon reaching the inner works, all allied and poured a devastating fire into the charging column. This broke up the charge and sent General Wilson sprawling to the ground when his favorite horse was wounded. He quickly remounted his stricken mount and ordered a dismounted assault by several regiments.
Mixed units of Confederate troops had also occupied the Selma railroad depot and the adjoining banks of the railroad bed to make a stand next to the Plantersville Road (present day Broad Street). The fighting there was heavy, but by 7 p.m. the superior numbers of Union troops had managed to flank the Southern positions causing them to abandon the depot as well as the inner line of works.
In the darkness, the Federals rounded up hundreds of prisoners, but hundreds more escaped down the Burnsville Road, including Generals Forrest, Armstrong, and Roddey. To the west, many Confederate soldiers fought the pursuing Union Army all the way down to the eastern side of Valley Creek. They escaped in the darkness by swimming across the Alabama River near the mouth of Valley Creek (where the present day Battle of Selma Reenactment is held.)
The Union troops looted the city that night while many businesses and private residences were burned. They spent the next week destroying the arsenal and naval foundry. Then they left Selma heading to Montgomery and then Columbus and Macon, Georgia, and the end of the war.
Before the Freedom Movement, all public facilities were strictly segregated. Blacks who attempted to eat at "white-only" lunch counters or sit in the downstairs "white" section of the movie theater were beaten and arrested. More than half of the city's residents were black, but only one percent were registered to vote. Blacks were prevented from registering to vote by economic retaliation organized by the White Citizens' Council, Ku Klux Klan violence, police repression, and the literacy test. To discourage voter registration, the registration board only opened doors for registration two days a month, arrived late, and took long lunches.
Library Learning Center
In early 1963, Bernard Lafayette and Colia Lafayette of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) began organizing in Selma alongside local civil rights leaders Sam, Amelia, and Bruce Boynton, Rev. L.L. Anderson of Tabernacle Baptist Church, J.L. Chestnut (Selma's first Black attorney), SCLC Citizenship School teacher Marie Foster, public school teacher Marie Moore, and others active with the Dallas County Voters League (DCVL).
Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church in Selma. A starting point for the Selma to Montgomery Civil Rights marches of 1965, it is now a National Historic Landmark.
Against fierce opposition from Dallas County Sheriff Jim Clark and his volunteer posse, voter registration and desegregation efforts continued and expanded during 1963 and the first part of 1964. Defying intimidation, economic retaliation, arrests, firings, and beatings, an ever increasing number of Dallas County blacks attempted to register to vote, but few were able to do so. In the summer of 1964, a sweeping injunction issued by local Judge James Hare barred any gathering of three or more people under sponsorship of SNCC, SCLC, or DCVL, or with the involvement of 41 named civil rights leaders. This injunction temporarily halted civil rights activity until Dr. King defied it by speaking at Brown Chapel on January 2, 1965.
Photos of Voting Rights Information and Murals
Commencing in January 1965, SCLC and SNCC initiated a revived Voting Rights Campaign designed to focus national attention on the systematic denial of black voting rights in Alabama, and particularly Selma. After numerous attempts by blacks to register, over 3,000 arrests, police violence, and economic retaliation, the campaign culminated in the Selma to Montgomery marches--initiated and organized by SCLC's Director of Direct Action, James Bevel--which represented the political and emotional peak of the modern civil rights movement.
On March 7, 1965, known as "Bloody Sunday", approximately 600 civil rights marchers departed Selma on U.S. Highway 80, heading east. They reached the Edmund Pettus Bridge, only six blocks away, before being met by state troopers and local sheriff's deputies, who attacked them, using tear gas and billy clubs, and drove them back to Selma.
Two days after the march, on March 9, 1965, Martin Luther King, Jr. led a "symbolic" march to the bridge. He and other civil rights leaders attempted to get court protection of a third, larger-scale march from Selma to Montgomery, the site of the state capital. Frank Minis Johnson, Jr., the Federal District Court Judge for the area, decided in favor of the demonstrators, saying:
The law is clear that the right to petition one's government for the redress of grievances may be exercised in large groups...and these rights may be exercised by marching, even along public highways.
On March 21, 1965, a Sunday, approximately 3,200 marchers departed for Montgomery. They walked 12 miles per day, and slept in nearby fields. By the time they reached the capitol, four days later on March 25, their strength had swelled to around 25,000 people.
Text from Wikipedia
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