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Selma, Alabama
—  City  —
The Vaughan-Smitherman Museum in Selma
Nickname(s): Queen City of the Black Belt, Butterfly Capital of Alabama
Location in Dallas County and the state of Alabama
Coordinates: 32°24′59″N 87°1′29″W / 32.41639°N 87.02472°W / 32.41639; -87.02472
Country United States
State Alabama
County Dallas
Incorporated 1820
 - Type Mayor/City Council
 - Mayor George Patrick Evans
 - Total 14.5 sq mi (37.4 km2)
 - Land 13.9 sq mi (35.9 km2)
 - Water 0.6 sq mi (1.5 km2)
Elevation 125 ft (38 m)
Population (2000)
 - Total 20,512
 Density 1,414.6/sq mi (548.4/km2)
Time zone Central (CST) (UTC-6)
 - Summer (DST) CDT (UTC-5)
ZIP codes 36701-36703
Area code(s) 334
FIPS code 01-69120
GNIS feature ID 0163940

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.[1] 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.



Native American lore states that Selma is built where Chief Tuskaloosa met with explorer Hernando de Soto. The site 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.[2]


Selma during the Civil War

Importance of Selma to the Confederacy

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. This strategic concentration of manufacturing capabilities eventually made Selma a target of Union raids into Alabama late in the Civil War.[2]

Previous attempts on Selma

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.[3]

Battle of Selma

Union General James H. Wilson
Confederate General Nathan B. Forrest

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.

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.

St. Paul's Episcopal Church, burned following the Battle of Selma and rebuilt in 1871

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.

Civil rights movement

During the Civil Rights Movement in the early and mid-1960s, Selma was a focal point for desegregation and voting rights campaigns. 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.[4] 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.[5]

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).[6]

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.
Police officers await demonstrators at the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday

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.[7] 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.[8]

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.
—Frank Johnson

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.[9]


Selma is located at 32°24′26″N 87°1′16″W / 32.40722°N 87.02111°W / 32.40722; -87.02111,[10] west of Montgomery.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 14.4 square miles (37 km2) of which 13.9 square miles (36 km2) is land and 0.6 square miles (1.6 km2) is water.[11]


Selma, Alabama
Year Pop.  %±
1900 7,600
1940 19,800 160.5%
1950 22,800 15.2%
1960 28,400 24.6%
1970 27,400 −3.5%
1980 26,700 −2.6%
1990 23,755 −11.0%
2000 20,512 −13.7%
Sources: "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau.  through 1960

As of the census[12] of 2000, there were 20,512 people, 8,196 households, and 5,343 families residing in the city.[1] The population density was 1,479.6 square miles (3,832 km2). There were 9,264 housing units at an average density of 668.3 per square mile (258.0 /km2).[11] The racial makeup of the city was 69.68% Black or African American, 28.77% White, 0.10% Native American, 0.56% Asian, 0.01% Pacific Islander, 0.22% from other races, and 0.66% from two or more races.[1]

There were 8,196 households, out of which 30.3% had children under the age of 18 living with them; 34.2% were married couples living together, 27.2% had a female householder with no husband present, and 34.8% were non-families. 32.6% of all households were made up of individuals and 14.6% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.44 and the average family size was 3.10.[1]

In the city the population was spread out with 27.3% under the age of 18, 9.7% from 18 to 24, 24.9% from 25 to 44, 21.8% from 45 to 64, and 16.3% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 36 years. For every 100 females there were 78.2 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 72.0 males.[1]

The median income for a household in the city was $21,261, and the median income for a family was $28,345. Males had a median income of $29,769 versus $18,129 for females. The per capita income for the city was $13,369. About 26.9% of families and 31.7% of the population were below the poverty line, including 41.8% of those under age 18 and 28.0% of those age 65 or over.[1]


Industries in Selma include International Paper, Bush Hog, Meadowcraft, Rayco Industrial, and Peerless Pump Company (LaBour).

Arts and culture


Sturdivant Hall, completed in 1856

Cultural events are held at Mira's Avon Fan Club House, the Performing Arts Centre, and the Selma Art Guild Gallery.

Museums and points of interest

Museums in the city include Sturdivant Hall, the National Voting Rights Museum, Historic Water Avenue, Martin Luther King Jr. Street Historic Walking Tour, Old Depot Museum, Vaughan-Smitherman Museum and Heritage Village.

Selma boasts the state's largest contiguous historic district, with over 1,250 structures. Area attractions include the Old Town Historic District, Old Live Oak Cemetery, Paul M. Grist State Park, and Old Cahawba Archaeological Park.


The Selma-Dallas County Public Library serves the city and the region with a collection of 76,751 volumes. It began as a Carnegie library in 1904.


The city government of Selma consists of a mayor and a nine member city council. The current mayor is George Patrick Evans. The city council members are Dr. Geraldine Allen, city council president; Cecil Williamson, Ward 1; Susan Keith, Ward 2; Monica Newton, Ward 3; Angela Benjamin, Ward 4; Samuel Randolph, Ward 5; Bennie Tucker, Ward 6; Bennie Ruth Crenshaw, Ward 7; Corey Bowie, Ward 8.



Colleges in Selma include Concordia College, Selma, Selma University, and George Corley Wallace State Community College (Wallace Community College Selma).



Selma City Schools operates the city's public schools. Public high schools consist of Selma High School and Selma Early College High School. Middle schools include Selma Middle CHAT Academy and the School of Discovery. The city has eight elementary schools.


Selma has 3 private K–12 preparatory schools, John T. Morgan Academy, Meadowview Christian School, and Central Christian Academy.


Radio stations

Television stations


  • Selma Times-Journal (daily)

Notable residents and natives

In popular culture

  • Selma, Alabama, is referred to in the final verse of Barry McGuire's 1965 hit song "Eve of Destruction"
  • Selma is referenced in the They Might Be Giants song "Purple Toupee" with the line "I heard about some lady named Selma and some blacks." The song is a distorted look at American history in the 1960s as remembered by the singer.
  • Folk-punk band This Bike Is a Pipe Bomb has a song titled "Selma", about the Selma to Montgomery civil rights marches.
  • Selma was featured in the Disney television movie Selma, Lord, Selma for its historical significance.[13]
  • Selma was the location of the filming for the 1968 film The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, adapted from the novel of the same title by Carson McCullers. The film starred Alan Arkin and Sondra Locke plus a number of local citizens were cast in the production.
  • Return of the Body Snatchers was partially filmed at Craig Field, the former Air Force base located at the edge of the city.


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Fact Sheet- Selma city, Alabama". American Fast Facts. United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 1 February 2010. 
  2. ^ a b Lewis, Herbert J. (21 January 2010). "Selma". Encyclopedia of Alabama. Retrieved 1 February 2010. 
  3. ^ Hardy, John (1879). Selam: Her Institutions and Her Men. Bert Neville and Clarence DeBray. 
  4. ^ U.S. Civil Rights Commission report, 1961
  5. ^ Eyes on the Prize documentary film ~ Blackside
  6. ^ Selma — Cracking the Wall of Fear ~ Civil Rights Movement Veterans
  7. ^ Freedom Day in Selma ~ Civil Rights Movement Veterans
  8. ^ The Selma Injunction ~ Civil Rights Movement Veterans
  9. ^ Selma & the March to Montgomery ~ Civil Rights Movement Veterans
  10. ^ "US Gazetteer files: 2000 and 1990". United States Census Bureau. 2005-05-03. Retrieved 2008-01-31. 
  11. ^ a b "Geographic Comparison Table- Alabama". American Fast Facts. United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 1 February 2010. 
  12. ^ "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-01-31. 
  13. ^ "Selma, Lord, Selma". 

External links

Coordinates: 32°25′N 87°01′W / 32.41°N 87.02°W / 32.41; -87.02

Simple English

Selma, Alabama
—  City  —
Coordinates: 32°24′59″N 87°1′29″W / 32.41639°N 87.02472°W / 32.41639; -87.02472
Country United States
State Alabama
County Dallas
 - Mayor George Evans
 - Total 14.5 sq mi (37.4 km2)
 - Land 13.9 sq mi (35.9 km2)
 - Water 0.6 sq mi (1.5 km2)
Elevation 125 ft (38 m)
Population (2000)
 - Total 20,512
 Density 1,414.6/sq mi (548.4/km2)
Time zone Central (CST) (UTC-6)
 - Summer (DST) CDT (UTC-5)
ZIP codes 36701-36703
Area code(s) 334
FIPS code 01-69120
GNIS feature ID 0163940

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 Selma to Montgomery marches, three civil rights marches that began in the city.

Notable residents


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