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Birthplace of Voting Rights Movement Getting First Black Congressman

May 28, 1992

SELMA, Ala. (AP) _ Twenty-seven years after black marchers in Selma were clubbed and tear- gassed by police, the birthplace of the voting rights movement is electing Alabama’s first black congressman since Reconstruction.

Six Democrats and three Republicans - all black - are running in the new majority black 7th District that spans 14 western Alabama counties. Whites make up nearly one-third of the district.

Besides Selma, the district includes urban Birmingham, Tuscaloosa and Montgomery.

″The white minority could elect the congressman,″ said Selma Mayor Joe Smitherman. ″White candidates in the past had to have black votes to win. Now it’s just the reverse.″

Smitherman, who is white, was mayor when Selma went down in civil rights history. On March 6, 1965, blacks marching for the right to vote were attacked by white police officers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge as the world watched on TV.

Bloody Sunday, as the day became known, and the 50-mile protest march to Montgomery two weeks later, prompted Congress to enact the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

That law has put thousands of blacks in public office across the South. The number of blacks in Congress has increased from two to 26 since 1965.

But Alabama hasn’t had a black in Congress since former slave Jeremiah Haralson was defeated in 1876.

Five of the six Democrats in the June 2 primary are elected officials: state Sen. Earl Hilliard of Birmingham; state Sen. Hank Sanders of Selma; state Rep. James Thomas of Whitehall; state Rep. E.B. McClain of Brighton; and Montgomery County Commissioner John Knight.

The other Democrat is Sam Taylor, a former aide to Rep. Claude Harris, a white Democrat who decided not to seek re-election after the district was redrawn with blacks in the majority.

In the Republican primary, the contest is between Kervin Jones, a farmer; Jonathan McPherson, a minister; and Alfred Middleton, a businessman.

In the U.S. Senate race, incumbent Richard Shelby faces a last-minute Democratic primary challenge by Chris McNair, 66, a county commissioner in Birmingham and a former state legislator.

McNair’s daughter was among the four black girls killed in the 1963 bombing of a Birmingham church by a white racist.

He entered the race right before the qualifying deadline. Mrs. Frank Ross Stewart, a perennial candidate, and political newcomer Bob Miller, who accepts no contributions, also are on the GOP ballot.

The winner faces Republican Richard Sellers in November. Sellers, a Montgomery business consultant and former lobbyist, lost his only other race, a 1986 congressional primary.

Despite the emergence of more black politicians, racial tension remains.

Two years ago, Selma suffered through a long racial dispute over the school board’s decision not to renew the contract of the black school superintendent.

In Birmingham, Mayor Richard Arrington, who is being investigated for alleged corruption, has accused white federal prosecutors of singling out black officials. He is black.

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