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Tornado rocks historic civil rights community in Alabama

Zakiya Sankara-Jabar’s cell phone buzzed incessantly, causing tornadoes across the southern United States and destroying relatives’ homes and churches in the part of Alabama known as the Black Belt.

Text messages and phone calls from loved ones, many of them hysterical, brought her a devastating update on Thursday’s storm. The storm tore through her native Dallas County, including streets steeped in Selma’s history.

The city’s families, synonymous with the civil rights movement, remained structurally sound despite their homes being damaged. For the people of Beloit, the nearby unincorporated town where Sankara-Jabar spent his first twenty years of life, the damage was almost immeasurable.

“I have a family that has lost everything,” she said Friday. It seems that.”

The Sankara-Jabar family has called this part of Alabama home for generations. Named for its rich, dark soil, the Black Belt is a region fraught with economic and social challenges. Many of the civil rights movement’s most important struggles were fought in this area. In “Bloody Sunday”, state troopers and deputy Klansmen violently attacked blacks who were non-violently marching for voting rights across Edmund’s Pettus Bridge in Selma nearly 58 years ago.

Nearly every year since the march, Selma and Dallas counties march hundreds to thousands of marching infantry, tourists, politicians, and others to ceremoniously cross the Pettus Bridge to commemorate the sacrifice of those who have bled for democracy. We welcome activists. But long after the annual celebrations are over, the Black Belt, like many U.S. communities, remains a working-class neighborhood struggling to cope with gun violence and drug addiction. but with far fewer resources.

Dallas County, which includes Selma, is home to approximately 37,600 people, of whom approximately 71% are black and 27% are white. The county’s median household income is $35,000, and nearly one in three residents lives in poverty.

“These people are not mentally poor, they are financially poor,” said Sankara-Jabar, a racial justice activist who now lives just outside Washington, DC. ”

Thursday’s storm severely damaged Selma, uprooting brick buildings, uprooting oak trees, overturning cars and leaving power lines hanging down wide streets in the downtown area. cut open. Officials in Selma said no deaths were reported, but several people were seriously injured.

This city is famous for its historical sites. The Pettus Bridge commemorating the Selma to Montgomery march. Brown Chapel AME Church. During the Selma Movement, Reverend Martin Luther King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference worked with local activists. The National Voting Rights Museum and Institute, founded in 1991 and opened near the bridge.

Felecia Petteway, a board member of the Voting Rights Museum, said, “It’s communities of color who have suffered the most in this particular storm, so please keep Selma still in mind.” We are really worried about what will happen next.”

Pettway is also the Director of Development for Legal Services Alabama, an organization that provides free civil legal advocacy to low-income residents. The organization’s Selma office was damaged in a tornado.

It’s no exaggeration to consider Selma’s downtown district to be a sacred place. This is where the late Amelia Boynton Robinson, a Selma voting rights strategist and civil rights patriarch, persuaded King to join the movement, hoping to help him nationalize the voting rights struggle. On March 7, 1965, the late Georgia Congressman and voting icon John Lewis was nearly beaten to death by state troopers while crossing the Pettus Bridge.

It’s also where the first black president and first black vice president paid tribute to the civil rights movement. The civil rights movement took their promotion to high office from a dream to a reality.

Downtown turns into a giant street festival this March as tens of thousands are expected to gather for the annual Selma Bridge Cross Jubilee. Music blares and vendors appear selling food, t-shirts and other memorabilia.

But when the country’s politicians leave and the news media cameras disappear, what remains is Selma’s high crime levels, potholes in the roads, abandoned homes and vacant homes. The city, notorious for voting rights struggles, still has to contend with low voter turnout.

And make no mistake, Dallas County communities and areas are still being cleaned up and rebuilt from Thursday’s tornado.

Adia Winfrey, executive director of Transform Alabama, a nonprofit that promotes civic and voter engagement, and a member of the Black Southern Women’s Collaborative, said:

Winfrey said needs are diverse, not just in Selma, but across Alabama’s Black Belts. From water, sewage and education infrastructure to childcare, parental support and youth activities, the region is underfunded to accelerate progress.

“There are great people doing great work, but their abilities are limited,” said Winfrey, who is also the board secretary of the Selma Bridge Crossing Jubilee.

Jubilee is an important community tradition and provides some economic stimulus, she added.

“People just come for the photo shoot and the experience and they don’t really leave anything behind,” Winfrey said. and Selma’s interest in history, how can we bring resources to Selma?”

On Friday, Sankara-Jabar said it was frustrated by the apparent lack of urgency in statewide leadership to provide relief and shelter to Black Belt residents affected by the storm. said. Asked where her friends could donate to help her family, Sankara-Jabar tweeted her Republican Gov. Kay Ivey on Twitter.

“Respect Ma’am, what are you doing?? There are families in Dallas County who have lost everything,” she wrote. “You lack action.”

Ivey sent a tweet after Sankara-Jabar’s plea, but not as a direct response.

“Just hung up (with President Joe Biden) after visiting Dallas and Autauga counties,” the governor tweeted. “I asked him to expedite the Alabama catastrophe declaration. He promised to approve it as soon as it was received. Thank you very much!”

Sankara-Jabar said she will be vigilant about how emergency relief funds are distributed in her home state.

“I want to make sure the Republican-controlled Alabama government does the right thing with the Black Belt when the cameras are gone and the news is gone,” she said through tears.

“When money from the federal government reaches my family and everyone in the Black Belt, those dollars need to go where they are needed.”


Associated Press writers Kim Chandler and Sharon Johnson contributed from Selma, Alabama. Aaron Morrison is a New York-based member of AP’s Race and Ethnicity team. Follow him on Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/aaronlmorrison.

https://fox40.com/news/national/ap-us-news/ap-in-alabama-tornadoes-rattle-historic-civil-rights-community/ Tornado rocks historic civil rights community in Alabama

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