By Caleb R. Johnson | Selma Times-Journal

Published Monday, April 13, 2009

Leading up to one of Selma’s largest tourism events of the year, director of the Alabama Tourism Department Lee Sentell urged local officials, leaders and citizens to bridge racial divides for the sake of the city’s growth.

“It’s all about making your community grow,” Sentell said. “Doing things to show this is a city-wide event, to show it is going to generate revenue.”

Sentell spoke to the Rotary Club about marketing tourist destinations across the state that would get people out of their cars and spend money. Sentell said he quickly learned, after taking office in 2003, that Selma has many tools at its disposal.

“No city reflects both Civil War and civil rights like Selma,” he said. “That’s what I love about Alabama. We have such great diversity.”

While Selma is known worldwide for its civil rights history, Sentell said it is just as important for the city to market its Civil War history. He said he wanted to see The Battle of Selma reenactment become financially stable.

“It’s very critical that Selma have a very strong Civil War reenactment program,” Sentell said.

James Hammonds, one of the event organizers, said the first goal is to pay the bills. Then, Hammonds said he would like to save money so the event could operate without the fear of low attendance having a crippling effect.

“One of the things we established early on is we have to put The Battle of Selma on a sound financial basis,” Hammonds said. “The way to do that is cover the bills every year and start putting back a little reserve money every year.”

The Battle of Selma, which is a three-day event that takes place Friday, Saturday and Sunday, brings hundreds of Civil War re-enactors from across the country to Selma. The event is one of the largest reenactments in Alabama.

Sentell said the reenactment educates people who follow the Voting Rights Trail to Selma about another side of history. He said Selma has an advantage over many places in the state because so much history actually occurred right on the black soil.

“It’s not one or the other because everything can generate money for your town,” Sentell said. “People want to see the real place where real things happen.”