Security beefed up at Uniontown footwash

Published 10:36 pm Tuesday, September 22, 2009

SELMA — In 1888, the Fairhope Benevolent Society was formed to help poor African-Americans with funeral costs. The group charged a fee of 10 cents a month and would hold an annual gathering to garner extra funds for the group.

That annual gathering, which included a sermon, began to be called a “foot wash” by the residents of cities because once they got back from the rural area where the event was held, they had to wash their feet.

The Uniontown Footwash has evolved since then. It seems from people’s experiences that there are two different footwashes to attend.

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The first is the daytime wash when it focuses mainly on food, arts, wares and music. There are still reports of illegal activities, but not to the extent once the sun sets.

The second footwash begins at night.

Over and over people have said, “Anything you want to buy, you can get there — anything.”

Drugs, guns and girls are sold in the open air.

Alabama State Troopers want to help turn the lucrative event and the Faunsdale Bike Rally, which also provides a boost to the local economy, back into the kind of event parents wouldn’t be afraid to take their children to or even hesitate to go themselves.

“The purpose of an increased presence of Alabama State Troopers at the Uniontown Footwash and the Faunsdale Bike Rally is to ensure an atmosphere of safety,” Alabama State Trooper John Reese said.

Friday afternoon, legislators and public safety officials gathered to announce that the Uniontown Footwash, held Sept. 22-28, and the Faunsdale Bike Rally on Oct. 1-4 will see a greater number of troopers patrolling the areas.

“We are here to celebrate these two events, and we are proud of them,” said Col. J. Christopher Murray, Alabama Director of Public Safety.

“The Footwash is going on 121 years of existence. It is an economic stimulus to the area, and the Bike Rally does that as well. The Department of Public Safety has noted that over these years, the events have stepped over the perimeters of normalcy. We are not here to shut down either event. We are not here to harass people.”,

Murphy said the announcement was a process that begins with communication from the two events’ sheriff’s departments — Hale and Marengo. The Department of Public Safety contacted the landowners where the two events are going to take place. Officials said the landowners were on board.

“The private property landowners were brought in earlier to a meeting,” said State Rep. Ralph Howard, who represents the area. “This is not something that was shoved down their throats. They were included and agreed with bringing in more troopers.”

Howard referenced several events in Alabama – Mobile’s Bayfest and Mardi Gras and Birmingham’s City Stages – and said that proved that people could have a good time while there were a high number of law enforcement officers.

State Sen. Bobby Singleton, who also represents the area, said he had been going to the Footwash for 30 years.

“I have seen it go from a family and wholesome tradition to, as Col. Murphy said, a little bit over the edge,” he said. “I endorse the Alabama Department of Public Safety coming into the Footwash. I believe in the campaign.”

State Sen. Hank Sanders, who represents the area of Faunsdale, said it had been a while since he had gone to the Footwash.

“I used to go to the Footwash, but I quit going because there was so much open drugs, sex and visible weapons,” he said. “I knew that wasn’t the place for me, but I want to be able to go back and take my grandchildren. The majority of the people there do not participate in the illegal activities, but the actions of the few color the event.”

Authorities did not say how many extra officers would be at each event, but called it a “significant police presence.” The troopers present will be in uniform and will be there to enforce infractions.

“It is going to be like the ‘Take Back Our Highways’ campaign,” Murphy said.

“We aren’t going to be giving tickets to someone for going 72 or 73 in a 70-mph zone. It’s not about tickets. Mainly, we want to help change the behavior of the driver, and that’s what we hope to do at the Footwash and the Bike Rally. We don’t want to take away from the events, though. I hope we don’t have to make an arrest because our presence will promote a friendly atmosphere.”