Selma, scene of civil rights struggle, elects black mayor

Click to follow
The Independent US

For the first time since the end of racial segregation in the United States, the city of Selma, Alabama, which became one of the most potent symbols of the fight for civil rights, has an African-American mayor.

For the first time since the end of racial segregation in the United States, the city of Selma, Alabama, which became one of the most potent symbols of the fight for civil rights, has an African-American mayor.

A special run-off election on Tuesday brought defeat for Joe Smitherman, who has been mayor since 1964 - the year the civil rights turmoil began in the South. He was easily defeated by James Perkins, an IT consultant.

Mr Smitherman began his political career as a white segregationist. It was in 1965 that police clashed with voting rights protesters on Selma's Edmund Pettus Bridge, clubbing and gassing thousands, including Reverend Martin Luther King. The confrontation led to the Selma-to-Montgomery march led by Rev. King.

Kweise Mfume, the president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said that the result on Tuesday was "an appropriate conclusion to the 1965 civil rights march".

In office, Mr Smitherman quickly turned his back on his segregationist past and began to champion diversity as Selma went from being a mostly white city to one with an overwhelmingly black population. He boasted during the campaign that nine out of 12 department heads in the city of 24,000 were black.

Celebrations went late into the night on the streets of Selma after the count was confirmed. Mr Perkins, who had attempted to unseat Mr Smitherman twice before, was quick to address supporters. "Many have said it's about black and white. That ain't so. This campaign has been about faith and fear. Faith won this campaign," he said.

The Perkins campaign attracted young black volunteers from across the country. For weeks, they throughout the city chanting the campaign slogan: "Joe Gotta Goe".

Mr Smitherman tried to warn Selma that businesses would abandon the city if its government became all back. A former admirer of Governor George Wallace - who also came to disown his earlier segregationist stand - Mr Smitherman was graceful in defeat, however. "Mr Perkins ran a good race," he said. "I had bad times as mayor and good times. I think I accomplished some things."

* Death penalty critics are demanding a moratorium on executions after a US Justice Department report showed racial and geographic disparity in federal death sentences but the Attorney General wants more studies instead.

Comments