Churches In Selma, Alabama, Seek Healing to Move Beyond Racial Stigma

racial healing

When Jerry Light moved to Selma to become pastor of First Baptist Church several years ago, he was surprised that only two African American churches identified as Southern Baptist.

“It bothered me because Baptists are always missions-minded — both locally and abroad,” Light said. “I know Selma has a racial stigma hanging over it but that was a long time ago and we need to move beyond it.”

Light and First Baptist began making a concerted effort to reduce some of the divides in Selma, a city of 20,000 where more than 75 percent of the residents are African American.

Among the first steps: First Baptist hosted a joint Vacation Bible School with an African American church in town.

And Light met Juanda Maxwell, a member of Brown Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Selma.

Together, Light and Maxwell spearheaded an organization named One Selma: Coming Home United in Faith, a group that began meeting last fall with the aim of lessening the Alabama town’s racial divide by starting with the local faith community.

“In a conversation [Juanda and I had] one day over the phone, we hatched the idea of having a unity march,” Light recounted.

The Unity Walk, which took place in March, attracted about 2,000 participants and commemorated the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday,” when 600 peaceful protestors marching from Selma to Montgomery were met by Alabama state troopers and a mounted group with billy clubs, cattle prods and tear gas.

Light and Maxwell advocated for the march to take place toward — rather than away from — Selma to “show that as a community we’re together and headed home,” Light said.

The pastor said the march opened his and Maxwell’s eyes to the appetite for change in Selma. From there they worked with Sony Pictures to bring a showing of the movie “War Room” to Selma, which also proved to be a success.

They then started planning their next initiative, Return to Worship Week, a community-wide and denominationally inclusive outreach to encourage people to go to church — any church — in Selma during the week of Sept. 13-19, whether it entailed re-engaging in or experiencing church for the first time or, for church members, inviting friends and family. It was called Return to Worship Week, Light said, because not all churches worship on Sundays.

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SOURCE: Baptist Press
Anna Keller/The Alabama Baptist