There were a lot of things that combined in Tuesday’s historic election of the first Democrat to represent Alabama in the Senate in more than 20 years. But what gave Senator-Elect Doug Jones the critical edge is a place that is no stranger to historic moments in American politics.
Dallas County, which was a major voice for Jones, is also the home of Selma, Alabama. With 30 of 30 precincts reporting, Dallas County went for Doug Jones, 10,492 to just 3,485 for Roy Moore.
Selma was the heart of the civil rights movement in the 1960s. Its place was cemented in history on “Bloody Sunday,” an event in March of 1963 where hundreds of civil rights marchers headed east out of the city on US 80. They made it six whole blocks before police with billy clubs attacked the peaceful marchers. By the end of the month tens of thousands joined a march from Selma to the state capitol.
This was a moment that brought the Voting Rights Act, which was passed five months later.
Flash forward to another moment rife with racial tensions fifty years later, where violence against protesters and police brutality against African Americans are prevalent in the minds of Americans, and especially of voters in Selma.
The similarities between the historical moment that led to the Selma-Montgomery March and the Voting Rights Act and the moment today with the rise of violent white nationalism have never been more clear than Tuesday night, where once again Selma helped the nation see the gravity of the moment.
And Jones knew the importance of Selma, not only to history but to this particular historical moment.
“This is Alabama. A proud history with a bright future. But after this Tuesday, Alabama could become something very different,” a Jones ad called on voters, warning them of the stark importance of being on the right side of history.
Katelyn Kivel is a journalist and political scientist in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @KatelynKivel.