cover image Why the Vote Wasn’t Enough for Selma

Why the Vote Wasn’t Enough for Selma

Karlyn Forner. Duke Univ., $27.95 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-0-8223-7005-5

The 1965 march on Selma, Ala., stands as an iconic moment in the civil rights movement, but as Forner, SNCC Digital Gateway project manager for Duke Libraries, emphasizes, “The celebrated political legacy of Selma appears worlds apart from the dismal economic realities of the Alabama Black Belt.” Over the past half century, the black inhabitants of Selma and surrounding communities have suffered the economic consequences of the region’s shift from cotton cultivation to cattle production; small farmers lost their livelihoods and found few opportunities to replace them. Beginning with the 1901 passage of a new state constitution that stripped black Alabamians of their voting rights, Forner depicts a century in which white supremacy has continued to limit the opportunities available to the area’s African-American residents. While black Selmians continue to take pride in their town’s civil rights history, they have yet to win what one activist called the “good freedom”: high-quality public schools, jobs offering decent wages and possibilities for advancement, and a transparent and racially balanced system of local politics. Forner argues convincingly that, for many black residents, “Selma did more for civil rights than civil rights did for Selma.” This lucid, detailed book is often dispiriting to read, but it’s an important reminder of the still-unfulfilled promise of the black freedom movement. (Oct.)