There will be no party here this weekend. While thousands are gathering just an hour or so south in Selma to remember one of the high marks of the civil rights movement, black leaders say there is nothing to celebrate. Political leaders, including President Obama, and foot soldiers of the movement are in Selma to observe the 50th anniversary of the “Bloody Sunday” march that helped to propel the passage of the Voting Rights Act. But this is Shelby County, a rural cluster of small towns, modest homes and farmland. It was here in 2013 that local officials won a major victory when the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the federal law that resulted from those historic marches in Selma, especially the first, on March 7, 1965, when peaceful protesters at the Edmund Pettus Bridge were beaten and tear-gassed.
“Shelby County has become the new Selma,” said the Rev. Kenneth Dukes, who has spent all 47 of his years in the county, leads the local NAACP branch and on weekdays drives a school bus for the Montevallo school district. “Not because of the brutality; we aren’t being beaten. But because we’re still here fighting for the same things, fighting the same battle.”
The Shelby County v. Holder decision struck down a part of the Voting Rights Act that determined which states and local governments needed federal approval before changing voting procedures. Efforts by some in Congress to restore the requirement, meant as a safeguard against government practices that would disenfranchise minority voters, have seemingly stalled.