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Alabama - Selma: Alvin Benn Interviewee
Dent, Thomas C.
Tom Dent interviews Alvin Benn in Selma, Alabama. He is bureau manager at the Montgomery Advertiser in Selma. They talk about whether or not there can be an effective coalition between Black and White populations and the Black community gains equity. Benn points to the case of Marion Alabama in Perry County, where the city school system was incorporated into a county-wide system to force integration. Marion Academy, which is almost completely White, was created in response. They discuss the possibility of a Black politician winning a political office and what it will mean for the community. Benn says Black and White communities in Selma get along well and mix socially. He uses the return of the National Guard unit as an example. Benn talks about former school Superintendent Norward Roussell's contract not being renewed by the School Board. He thinks Roussell was unsuccessful not only because he was Black, but also because he had an abrasive personality and came from outside the community. He would have gotten farther with more diplomacy. Benn talks about his children's experiences going through school in Selma, where they were put in level one and level two. Henry Sanders and others have pointed out that the level system is used to segregate Black and White students within integrated schools. Benn tells the story of Terri Sewell, who is at Harvard Law School on a Marshall Scholarship. She is a product of the public school system and received parental support. He sees parental support as instrumental to education. Dent points out that if encouragement does not come from family, it may have to come from someone within the school system. Benn cannot confirm that a discriminatory level system ever existed and suggests he talk with Superintendent James Carter. Dent tells Benn about an interview he performed in Charleston with a young Black man who felt that he would never have attended Notre Dame if it had not been for a White teacher who took an interest in him and suggested he take certain classes and apply there. Dent aske Benn about the "Jeff Davis crowd" in Selma. Benn says, "they love me and they hate me." He talks about covering the Black Belt for the Montgomery Advertiser, the birth of the Alabama New South Coalition, and their effectiveness. They have built a political and social empire. The White community's criticism is that they are using their political base to enrich themselves. He uses Rose Sanders' involvement in Greentrack as an example. He sees Dallas County as the strongest point of the Black Belt, based solely on the population numbers. The political power base has shifted from White to Black. They discuss Congressional redistricting. Benn talks about the division between Black and White that still exists in Selma. Public schools that are primarily Black are severely underfunded. Benn thinks that in recent years, the power structure has recognized that Selma's role in the civil rights movement could be monetized, which has brought them around slowly to its value. Conflict occurred when they tried to plan the twenty-fifth commemoration of the Selma to Montgomery march. A biracial group called One Selma has been formed to address mutual concerns. Dent describes how the City of Greensboro has effectively managed the civil rights commemoration there. There are plans to turn the path of the Selma to Montgomery march into a National Historic Trail. The region's problems continue to stem from the power struggle between the Black and White communities. Change will be slow.
Civil rights demonstration
Black Belt (Al.)
Tulane University Digital Library
Box 150, Item 17, Side 1, Tom Dent collection, Amistad Research Center at Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana
Physical rights are retained by the Amistad Research Center. Copyright is retained in accordance with U.S. copyright laws.