Places That Changed the World: Selma, Alabama

World Monuments Fund

Churches and private homes in Selma, Alabama, often stood at the epicenter of events that shaped the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, which demanded equal rights for black Americans. Today, site owners, stewards, and advocates have come together to form a consortium, included on the 2018 World Monuments Watch, that can collectively address the challenges facing the protection and preservation of these places and their stories. 

First Baptist Church, 1840, From the collection of: World Monuments Fund

The congregation of Selma’s First “Colored” Baptist Church was organized in the early 1840s by a freed slave, Samuel Phillips.

In 1963, under the leadership of Rev. M. C. Cleveland, Jr., the church became the first in the city to open its doors for activities and meetings of the Dallas County Voters League. During the next two years, the church was a focal point of the mass meeting and non-violent teaching sessions sponsored by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which supported the Selma to Montgomery March.

During the early months of 1965, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Ralph Abernathy, and other leaders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference spoke many nights in the church to the students gathered for the movement.

After the Selma to Montgomery March, First Baptist continued to headquarter the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and served as a distribution center for food and clothing for those who had lost their jobs.

Brown Chapel AME Church, 1866, From the collection of: World Monuments Fund

Established in 1866, this red brick structure is most closely associated with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference's 1965 Selma campaign to win equal access to the ballot for blacks. During that time it served as the conference's headquarters and as the site for rallies conducted by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It is also where the Voting Rights March, the Bloody Sunday March, the Turn Around Tuesday March, and the Selma to Montgomery March began.

During the Civil Rights movement, Brown Chapel remained open after the State and Federal courts issued injunctions to prohibit mass meetings in black churches, providing shelter to the movement during the storms of resistance to social and political change.

Sullivan and Richie Jean Sherrod Jackson Museum, From the collection of: World Monuments Fund

In early 1965, this house was the location of the strategy meetings following the shooting death of Jimmy Lee Jackson that led to the Selma to Montgomery March.

The most significant of those meetings may have been with Assistant Attorney General John Doar in March 1965, just two days after Bloody Sunday, during which dozens of nonviolent protestors were attacked and sent to the hospital while trying to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge. This meeting led to Turnaround Tuesday, a second march across the bridge.

Tabernacle Baptist, 1885, From the collection of: World Monuments Fund

Tabernacle Baptist was organized in 1885 for Selma University students. The church’s ministers were leaders in African-American Baptist organizations, including Rev. D. V. Jemison, who served as president of the National Baptist Convention. Its ministers and congregation were also active in the Civil Rights movement; Pastor John D. Hunter and Marie Foster were two of the “Courageous Eight,” the steering committee for the Dallas County Voters League who invited Dr. King to Selma in 1964.

Tabernacle Baptist is also locally significant for its Classical Revival design, executed by African American architect David T. West, a congregation member, in 1922.

Jackson SNCC House, From the collection of: World Monuments Fund

This simple white structure was an empty house when its owners – Mathew and Emma Jackson – loaned it to the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) as a “safe place” for meetings, meals, housing, support, and protection for its workers organizing in Lowndes County, Alabama. Because of their association with the movement, the house was riddled with rifle bullets during an attack by a gang of white men.

The Jackson family’s involvement in the Civil Rights movement demonstrated the power of personal community ties to take organizing efforts forward.

Safe House Black History Museum, From the collection of: World Monuments Fund

Located fifty males from Selma, this small, shotgun style home was owned by the Burroughs, a family of Civil Rights activists. They opened it up as a refuge for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in March 1968 when an angry mob of Ku Klux Klan members attempted to murder him after a speech in Greensboro, Alabama. Just two weeks later, Dr. King would be assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee.

Today the house operates as a museum, documenting the struggle for equality at the local level through artifacts, photographs, and living history; its director Ms. Theresa Burroughs, is part of the original family who shielded Dr. King fifty years ago.

Credits: Story

The Alabama African-American Civil Rights Heritage Sites Consortium was included on the 2018 World Monuments Watch to place a spotlight on the efforts of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, encourage further stakeholder engagement, and ensure that the places we preserve tell the full story of our diversity.
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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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