Storms plowed through much of the Deep South this week. As many of us huddled, I couldn’t help but notice that Selma, Alabama, was directly hit by an EF-2 tornado classified by the National Weather Service. Why did I notice this particular tornado? Selma, Alabama is a major geographic player in the civil rights movement. I am writing this on the eve of the federal holiday honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King. I wanted to think about the resilience of this community. This community has helped sustain a movement for equality for all, and I know they will weather the fallout of this storm as well.
Selma Mayor James Perkins reported that several homes had been destroyed and power distribution had been “shot.” Despite the news, Perkins delivered a message of hope and resilience during an update this weekend. He said: “In spite of all this devastation, we have much to be grateful for. We have no deaths. I want people to remember two words: restore and rebuild.” US Rep. Terri Sewell of the 7th congressional district also vowed that Selma would be “better rebuilt.” However, Sewell’s closing thoughts reflect the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King’s holiday best reflected. She said that until the resources are in place, “we must continue to help each other.”
It always frustrates me when someone talks about the Martin Luther Kink Holiday as if it were an ode or a nod to black people. It’s a national day of service for Everyone People. Selma holds a special place in the civil rights movement. On March 25, 1965, Dr. King a 54-mile trek to Montgomery, Alabama. King said in his remarks, “There has never been a more honorable and inspirational moment in American history than the pilgrimage of clergy and laity of all races and creeds who flocked to Selma to face danger alongside embattled Negroes.” According to the website of the King Institute at Stanford University, Selma had been chosen because “they expected the notorious brutality of local law enforcement under Sheriff Jim Clark would draw national attention and pressure President Lyndon B. Johnson and Congress to make new ones.” national voting rights to enact legislation.” Images of former Congressman John Lewis and others being beaten and tear gassed at the infamous “Sunday Bloody Sunday” confrontation at Edmund Pettus Bridge shocked the nation. It was an EF 10 event in the racial storms of this time.
In an outgoing address in 2021, former Selma Mayor Cheryl Oliver said that Selma’s resilience is rooted in its people and its institutions. The community will certainly be strong again as the recovery process from the tornado begins. However, there are a few caveats that I must disclose. From an atmospheric science perspective, studies continue to show that tornad activity is increasing in the southeastern United States. Researchers from Northern Illinois University and the NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory revealed this surprising trend in a 2018 study.
The other warning is related to vulnerability. A large part of the Southeast consists of population groups that are particularly sensitive to weather and climate. For example, according to the World Population Review, Selma has a poverty rate of nearly 45% and a predominantly black (83.4%) population. be clear everyone person is vulnerable to an EF2 tornado, but studies show that marginalized or impoverished groups recover more slowly or have less personal resilience (insurance, capital to rebuild, etc.) due to large income disparities. A 2021 study led by Villanova University’s Stephen Strader highlights the particular vulnerability of mobile and prefab homes in the region. dr King once said, “Injustice everywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable web of reciprocity, tied to a single robe of destiny. What affects one directly affects all indirectly.” In 2022, weather, climate and environmental justices must be considered, and Dr. King still apply.
Before ending, there is one other positive and related thing that happened this week. dr DaNA Carlis has been appointed Director of NOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL). NSSL is arguably the leading research organization in the US dedicated to improving our understanding, monitoring and forecasting of tornadoes. dr King would smile because Carlis is the first African American to be appointed laboratory director in NOAA’s Bureau of Marine and Atmospheric Research. He may rightly have a tinge of curiosity, or even concern, as to why it’s taken so long, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction.