Though Selma, Alabama is now most famous for its role in the civil-rights era, in Walker Evans's 1930s photograph of Main Street the town is a quiet place where people gather to chat outside the local Trading Post. The struggle to regain voting and citizenship rights began in this period, and African-Americans throughout the state established civic and voter leagues known as citizenship schools. Because illiteracy rates were high, ideas about voting and desegregation spread by word-of-mouth when people came together in small groups.
It is difficult to know whether this topic spurred Evans to make the image. Although he was in the Deep South to photograph white sharecroppers for Fortunemagazine, Evans had a habit of photographing whatever interested him. The architecture of the street and the assortment of goods on the sidewalk may have been what compelled him initially, but as a keen observer of people's habits, he was likely motivated by the individuals casually assembled in front of the store.