Breaking through ‘isms’ is a step forward in Selma

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 23, 2004

Commentary by Hank Sanders

What in the world is Selma coming to?

There are some very strange happenings in this city, where race and religion have been paramount for generations.

Some might say the happenings are unbelievable.

I just want to know, “What in the world is Selma coming to?”

In the Selma City Council run-off election, we had three leaders of African American descent – a state senator, a mayor and a community leader often referred to as a “black activist” – all over the radio, the phones and the streets strongly supporting a white woman over a black woman.

What in the world is Selma coming to?

In the same race, we had the Friends of Forrest, white supporters of Nathan Bedford Forrest, the Confederate General who built the Klu Klux Klan into an empire, strongly opposing the white woman and vigorously supporting the black woman.

What in the world is Selma coming to?

In the Selma mayoral race some three weeks earlier, the white Christian candidate received less than a majority of the white Christian votes and the black Christian candidate received less than 10 percent of the white Christian vote.

On the other hand, a black Islamic candidate received a majority of the white Christian vote but only a small percentage of the black Christian vote.

What in the world is Selma coming to?

During the last four years, two whites and four blacks (a black woman, a white woman, a white man and three black men) consistently lined up solidly against the new black mayor.

At the same time, a white woman lined up with a black woman and one black man to work cooperatively with the black mayor.

It was a real dogfight (catfight?) in most council meetings as well as in the media and community.

What in the world is Selma coming to?

It may seem crazy on the surface, but upon closer examination it makes sense.

Let’s look beyond categories.

Councilwoman Jean Martin is the white woman who tried to work independently but cooperatively with the black mayor.

Martin, based upon advice from other whites in her district, voted to relocate the newly placed statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest from the grounds of a museum in the black neighborhood to the Old Live Oak Cemetery with other Confederate statues.

For this act, she received death threats and the antipathy of some whites who make race paramount.

That is why the Friends of Forrest were supporting a black woman over a white woman for a city council seat.

Protecting interests beyond race is what Selma is coming to in this world.

For this same act, as well as a general reaching across dividing lines, Councilman Jean Martin received the undying appreciation of some blacks who view race as very important.

That is why black leaders were supporting a white woman over a black woman.

Protecting interests beyond race is what Selma is coming to in this world.

In the mayoral race, white Christian voters viewed the white Christian candidate as, among other things, not being able to win in a 70 percent black city and therefore not in a position to protect their interest.

The Black Islamic candidate was perceived as committed to protecting their interest as well as having a chance of winning.

Protecting interests beyond race is what Selma is coming to in this world.

To prevent the City of Selma from being boxed in geographically, the African American mayor unsuccessfully opposed the incorporation of a new town that would prevent Selma from expanding its land base to the North and West.

For this action, he earned the antipathy of most whites in Selma, not just those in the new town.

The black Islamic mayoral candidate supported the incorporation of the overwhelming white town, earning the support of a majority of whites in Selma as well as those in the new town.

The black mayor also opposed the incorporation of a predominantly black community into a new town, but it does not appear to have impacted the black vote.

Protecting interests beyond race is what Selma is coming to in this world.

In the end, the black mayor won without a run-off with 57 percent of the vote against three opponents, receiving over 80 percent of the black vote but less than 10 percent of the white vote.

The white woman won in the run-off with 64 percent of the vote, receiving most of the white vote and half of the black vote.

All but one of those who consistently opposed the mayor during the last four years are now gone.

What in the world is Selma coming to?

In my opinion, Selma is coming to a better place in this world.

I wish that all this crossing of racial, gender, age, religion and other lines meant that these factors are now unimportant in the affairs of Selma.

The fact is they are still very important because we sometimes ignore color to protect race.

They are, however, less absolute.

And that means Selma is coming to a better place in this world.

EPILOGUE -Every preconceived notion is a limitation.

Every prejudice is a substantial limitation.

Every “ism” (racism, sexism, classism, etc) is a severe limitation.

It’s a step forward when we break through “isms” even for the wrong reasons.