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The BBC's Jonny Dymond
"Selma is indelibly linked to the civil rights movement"
 real 56k

Wednesday, 13 September, 2000, 01:35 GMT 02:35 UK
First black mayor in Selma
Selma commemoration
Civil rights activists commemorate the 1965 march
The first black mayor has been elected in Selma, Alabama, a crucial town in the struggle to end racial segregation in the southern United States.


This campaign has been about faith and fear - faith won this campaign

James Perkins
James Perkins, 47, a local businessman, defeated the incumbent mayor, Joe Smitherman, gaining about 60% of the vote.

Mr Smitherman, 70, was seeking his 10th consecutive term and had been mayor for 35 years.

A former segregationist, he had been mayor since about six months before the historic voting rights marches of 1965.

Since then, the population of Selma has changed from being almost entirely white to about 65% black.

Mr Smitherman had hitherto stayed in office by gaining all the white votes, as well as support from some blacks.

Blacks make up two-thirds of Selma's 14,000 voters.

No racial divide

"Some have said that this campaign was about black and white, but I stand here to tell you that ain't so. This campaign has been about faith and fear. Faith won this campaign," Mr Perkins said.

He had campaigned under the slogan: "Joe's Gotta Go!"

Mr Smitherman had said during the campaign that, if Mr Perkins won, businesses would leave the town.

First elected in 1964, when only 150 blacks were registered to vote, Mr Smitherman opposed black enfranchisement.

"Mr Perkins ran a good race and I respect him," Smitherman said in his concession speech. "I will not contest the result."

Protest march

Selma, 60km (40 miles) west of the Alabama state capital Montgomery, became famous after deputies and troopers attacked voting rights marchers with clubs and tear gas.

The ensuing protest march from Selma to Montgomery helped paved the way for the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which enabled far wider registration of black voters.

Mr Smitherman was a friend and protege of Alabama Governor George Wallace, a key segregationist of the 1960s.

He has apologised for his past and openly campaigned for black votes, appointing blacks to jobs in the town administration.

He said that when he called the civil rights leader Martin Luther King "Martin Luther Coon" in the 1960s, it was slip of the tongue.

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