A Project for Students and Citizens

Selma/Old Cahawba

Taryn Pic 3Body Builders Inc. builds loyal following

By Taryn Wilson

Selma is a city made famous by people with strong ideas, but thanks to Body Builders, Inc. gym there are quite a few people with strong bodies. Opened nearly 33 years ago, and operated by its current owners for the past 25 years, Body Builders, Inc. is a fixture in the Selma community. Owners Kirk and Brenda Jones have seen many competitors come and go, but say that reliance on old-fashioned business principles has been their secret to success. Kirk Jones, attributing success to their “old school” way of doing things, said some business owners “let their overhead and advertisement get out of hand, and they can’t keep their doors open.” And with no computer in sight, their way of doing things certainly is “old school.” New members fill out a short form and upon completion receive a small blue business card with their name and next payment date handwritten on it. Show the card to whoever is at the front desk and write your name in a simple spiral bound notebook, and you have completed the check in process.

The gym, housed on the second floor of a shopping center also owned by the Jones’, isn’t very large, but plenty of equipment is packed in the space. Split into aTaryn pic 4 unisex side and a “Ladies Only” room, the gym has nearly 75 different machines and enough weights to make you wonder if the gym might not make an unplanned move to the first floor. Lined with more mirrors than a fitting room at a department store, the unisex weight room has a wide array of equipment, some machines looking like they have seen many more years than others. The gym  offers classes, personal training and even has tanning booths. Having always been in the same place, save a short stint at a location across the street, Body Builders, Inc. has quite a loyal following, with many members coming at the same time every day for years. I’ve had the opportunity to meet and talk with many of them, and everyone has been more than welcoming. I’ve made it a habit to go to the gym at the same time every day for the past couple of weeks, and I have begun to be considered part of the early morning group that works out right after the gym opens. I’ve met school teachers, police officers, high school students, tax specialists and Army veterans. Many say they have been coming for years and know and greet the owners like old friends. Mr. Jones says that he has met people from far and wide who come through Selma and know someone who works out at Body Builders, Inc. Coincidentally, I am one of those people, knowing a personal trainer from back home in Georgia who grew up in Selma and worked out at Body Builders, Inc. before moving to the Atlanta area. “I’ve met people from Boston to Miami who have heard of us. It’s really a small world,” Jones said as he waved goodbye to a muscular man who clearly takes the gym name Body Builders, Inc. literally.

Taryn Pic 1Bodybuilders

I’ve continued to talk with Mr. Jones on more than one occasion, and his willingness to share knowledge and business experience have been helpful to me as a business student and as someone hoping to create a successful enterprise in the Selma area. His dedication to teaching those who work for him the skills necessary to run a successful business show he is not only capable of helping to build strong bodies, but also strong minds.

 

 

Taryn 10

“Glory in Graves”

By Taryn Wilson

“There is glory in graves,” reads the engraved message on the Confederate Circle Monument in Old Live Oak Cemetery. Reserved for a graveyard in 1829 and added ontoTaryn 1 in 1877, Live Oak Cemetery, now called Old Live Oak Cemetery to differentiate it from its newer counterpart New Live Oak Cemetery about a mile down the road, features two halves bisected by King Street. A busy thoroughfare connecting the Riverview Historic District to Highway 22, this section of King Street functions as a highly trafficked “cut through” of sorts for all of those who live in the neighborhoods on the other side of the cemetery. People drive and walk the 200 yard passage between the two sides of the cemetery countless times a day, finding it to be a quicker way to get to Highway 22, one of the major roadways that crisscross through Selma.

Being in such a high traffic area, the cemetery is surprisingly quiet, with the sounds of passing cars dampened by the stone wall separating the cemetery from the highway. Cars are rarely seen parked on the gravel paths that stretch across the cemetery and, beyond an occasional runner, few living people populate the actual cemetery at any given time. With paths lined by the oak trees planted in 1879 by Col. N.H.R. Dawson, the cemetery is a peaceful albeit haunting monument to the Selma’s past. The limbs of the majestic oaks are cloaked in Spanish moss that sways eerily in the wind. And while the shaded concrete markers pay a silent homage to those who died long ago, the presence and monuments of the many deceased who call the cemetery their final resting place sends a message that is loud and clear.

Buried in the cemetery are some of the most powerful people in Alabama during the Civil War Era:  John Tyler Morgan, a U.S. Senator, Brigadier General in the Confederate States Army and the Father of the Panama Canal, Edmund Winston Pettus, U.S. Senator, Brigadier General in the Confederate States Army and namesake of Selma’s famous bridge over the Alabama River, and even William Rufus King, a former vice president of the United States. The famous leaders buried in Old Live Oak Cemetery testify to the great people Selma has produced.  These historic figures are laid to rest amidst the graves of countless Confederate States Army soldiers. One large statue stands out in the midst of these graves, a monument to the Confederate fallen, called the Confederate Circle Monument. Conceptualized by United Daughters of the Confederacy and financed by the families of deceased Confederate soldiers, the monument features a Confederate soldier at the top in memory of all of the soldiers lost during the Civil War.

Taryn 6Amongst all of these peaceful markers, the one thing that makes, or used to make, the biggest controversy was a bust in remembrance of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest. A known slaveholder and member of the KKK, though he renounced his membership and later spoke on behalf of racial harmony, the presence of the bust in the park became a key fighting point between two groups in the community. One side of the argument, given by Civil Rights groups, suggests that the monument glorifies a racist leader and contradicts progress made in Selma and beyond. The other side, backed by Sons of Confederate Veterans and Friends of Forrest, suggest that the bust was a tribute to a successful Confederate general who led the push to protect Selma from Union forces during the Civil War. The issue escalated to the point that the bust was stolen in March 2012 and has yet to have been found.

To an outsider like myself, this kind of seems just a little bit childish, like two kids fighting over a toy. But to the people who live in Selma this is a matter of pride, even a matter of glory. Each side is fighting to protect and glorify what they believe in and those who fought for it. I don’t know that either side has a true advantage in the matter (except perhaps the individual who has the bust, of course), but I have a feeling that the city council and other local leaders are going to be mediating battles on this topic for some time to come.  In a situation where opponents are at such polar opposites, I don’t know if a solution exists that would appease both sides, but I look forward to the day that a decision is made on the topic. Though Nathan Bedford Forrest is buried 305 miles away in Memphis, Tenn., a monument in Old Live Oak Cemetery now stands with a sign offering a $40,000 cash reward for the missing bust nearby.  The theft  from this monument can be construed as taking a bronze sculpture to prove a point, but I think of it as challenge to the inscription on the Confederate Circle Monument, an effort to take glory from the grave.

Panaroma

8794444109_084ed3b0caSelma Can Spark New Beginning

By Taryn Wilson

A few days ago I watched a segment of ABC News called “What Would You Do?”, a hidden camera show documenting how people react when they witness a conflict over a hot button issue as portrayed by actors. In this episode, a waiter refused to serve a family because of the sexual orientation of the parents. Many of the other customers looked on but very few took the time to speak up to the waiter. One of the few who did, the son of two Holocaust survivors, said, “I thought I was in Selma, Alabama, listening to you speak. It’s an outrage speaking this way.” Now the man’s intentions are honorable, and clearly his intentions were good, but the negative connotation Selma receives from his argument is much less honorable. Selma is a beautiful place with beautiful people, but when people only mention it in reference to the racial turmoil that happened here nearly 50 years ago, the city and the people who live here today suffer.

8794546269_451a1c7ffe_mSelma is not the place that it was March 7, 1965. Though many residents still live here, Selma’s citizens are not the same people who were here that eventful day. The problems people currently face are not the same.  The accomplishments that have been made are not the same. The fact of the matter is that Selma is not the same. It is better. It has grown. It has developed. It has changed for the good. I’ve had the opportunity to live in this community for the past week as a Living Democracy student. I can say that, in my honest opinion, I truly feel that this city has moved beyond that moment in history and has used it to become a stronger, more united city.When I had some free time, I walked to visit the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where Bloody Sunday occurred in 1965.  As I stood on the street corner taking pictures of the bridge from afar, a woman in a red pick-up truck, with a less than approachable pit bull mix looking on from the bed of the truck, yelled across the street to me. She said, “Make sure that you read that sign over there. That’s where it all began! It all started right here!” I gave her a thumbs up and as I turned around to say thank you, the light had turned green and she had already driven off. Of course, I walked over and read the sign and the title of it was “The Selma Movement.” And that sounded poignant and historic, but under it in parentheses it read “The Beginning.” Simple, but deeply meaningful.  That Selma was “The Beginning” means that Selma had, and 8805042172_419b284fcc_mcontinues to have, the spark that can ignite something huge.

Now I’m not one for premonitions, but I think those two titles have the potential to be applicable not only to the Civil Rights Movement, but also to a time in the very near future. I think there is going to be another Selma Movement, another beginning, in which the citizens of Selma are going to take the time to redefine themselves and the Black Belt area as a region that is not defined by its past, but defined by what it plans to do in the future. I think that time is coming very soon, and I think that the next Selma Movement is going to change people’s impression of Selma and what its people are capable of doing. I’m not sure when that moment will come, but I am hopeful that when it does, Selma will be getting people’s attention for all the right reasons.

Andrew4

8636573959_2d4135259f_mWall Street of the South

By Taryn Wilson

If you could put a dollar value on history and culture, Alabama’s Black Belt would be the Wall Street of the 8636597949_e752c00fda_m South. Cities like Marion, Linden and Selma, which sits nestled between State Route 22 and the Alabama River about 50 miles from Montgomery, have legacies that place them on the list of the few places that have truly changed the course of American History.

Selma, a city characterized by its tumultuous past with the Civil War and the Voting Rights Act, has chosen not to let its past define it and continues to prove that a little hard work can go a long way.

Local residents are aware of the reputation of racism and social segregation that cloak much of the Deep South and seek to prove to anyone who visits that it is no longer an issue and that Selma has an abundance of positive things to offer.

A first time visitor might expect the town to be dim and dark like the nature of the history that was created there, but the town is as lively and dynamic.

8637646352_45acdfd441_mParked cars line the streets and people bustle along the sidewalks waving and greeting many of the people they pass. The town now has a movie theater, a luxury that had left the area for a period, and even has a cupcakery, a cupcake shop owned by a local entrepreneur.

A Mexican Restaurant, a South Korean Tae Kwon Do Studio and a historic Episcopal Church all lay within a block of each other.

As the locals put it, visitors always want to come back.

Selma is a place that is aware and appreciative of its past, but hopeful for the future. There is no shortage8637706442_de7823fdf2_m of museums in the town, with staggering seven museums within the city’s 13 square miles alone, including the National Voting Rights Museum, Historic Water Avenue Museum, and the Martin Luther King Jr. Street Historic Walking Tour.

There are also boards and committees formed to improve the social and economic landscape of the town.

As a community that is banding together to press forward and redefine themselves, there are also initiatives to improve the waterfront and encourage tourism, areas which many residents feel could be a huge draw for visitors. Residents desire the expansion of riverfront development in conjunction with private development and renovations east and west of current Riverfront district, including expanded marina and boat docking facilities and completion of Water Avenue revitalization and restoration as a local and tourist or visitor attraction.

8636646361_b4a77585be_mWhat really matters to people is letting them know that Selma is a safe, fun place to come visit, and that the city is not defined by the past.

When you drive in and out of Selma, you cross the infamous Edmund Pettus Bridge where Bloody Sunday occurred almost 50 years ago. But as you cross that bridge you also pass over the Alabama River, which was there long before that fateful day in 1965.

The bridge stands as a reminder to all that enter Selma of its history, but the river remains as a time honored symbol that reflects the slogan of the Civil Rights Movement, “We shall overcome.”

It has flowed during the struggles and strife the city has faced in its history and has remained persistent, flowing faithfully and progressively changing the landscape around it. The bridge, however, has been marred by racism and injustice, a reputation that will likely remain with it forever.

The people of Selma have a reputation for being like the bridge, but the drive, love and passion of local Selmanites will prove to you that they are much more like the river.

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