Selma, Alabama. The church is gone. All that remains of the Reformed Presbyterian Church is a log pile and some crumbled bricks. You can’t even tell it was a church.

There are 145-year-old beams, buried in the mud. Loose-leaf hymnal pages are scattered to the wind. This church used to be a school for freed slaves after the Civil War. It was a landmark. Now it’s rubble.

“Crazy, ain’t it?” says one local man, standing beside me on the sidewalk.

The man wears a University of Alabama ball cap. He is tall and lean, chewing something that requires him to spit occasionally. There are holes in his jeans and in his shoes. He lives nearby, and he’s surveying the church’s damage.

“Can’t believe it’s gone,” he says.

Last week, an EF-2 tornado tore through Alabama like a hellhound. This storm ripped into Dallas County, killed seven in Autauga County, then visited Georgia, where it killed two more. Including a little boy.

To quote my new friend, “This town got totally [bleeped], man.”

He’s right. Selma looks like someone tried to wipe the city off the map. Rooftops were waylaid on front lawns. Live oaks look like fallen soldiers. An uprooted oak on Mabry Street was hurled into a century-old home.

Local churches got it, too. The steeple at Fairview Baptist was ripped off. Crosspoint Christian Church had 70 daycare kids and 14 staff members inside when the rooftop was sucked off.

Sheila Stockman was one of the teachers. “I was actually on the phone with my mother asking her where the tornado was. She said ‘It’s heading directly to you!’”

My new friend and I are interrupted when a Toyota SUV passes us slowly. Maryland tags. Inside is a guy photographing damage from the driver’s window. He uses the kind of camera that costs more than dental school.

“Crazy, ain’t it?” says my new friend in mock disbelief.

“Those [bleeping] reporters have been all over this town since it happened, taking pictures. Reporters only come around here because they know the name ‘Selma’ sells they newspapers.”

I ask the man if it’s possible these journalists are simply documenting the destruction, and doing their jobs.

He laughs at me. “[Bleep],” he replies. “When’s the last time you heard the national news say anything good about Selma? They only come here when the [bleep] hits the fan. They ain’t know us.”

Maybe what this man means is, the visiting media persons aren’t focusing on the right things. Perhaps, during a journalist’s perfunctory visit, shortly before leaving to catch a noon flight to LaGuardia, they overlook certain things.

The journalists might have missed, for example, the mile-long motorcade at Selma First Baptist a few days ago. The cars came from Montgomery’s Metropolitan United Methodist. Ordinary people came with trunks full of canned goods and toiletries. They distributed food and cheer by the metric ton.

Or how about the chainsaw crews? Selma has been nothing but a mass choir of chainsaws since the storm. Many residents report hearing chainsaws begin only minutes after the tornado.

How about all the dually trucks with Perry, Lowndes, Wilcox, Marengo and Chilton license plates? The trucks tow Bobcats, commercial wood chippers and cherry pickersNobody is paying these guys to be here.

You probably didn’t hear about the Knights & Orchids Society, either. Over on Broad Street, the organization has been slammed, doling out baby food, diapers, formula, wipes and water to needy mothers.

What about the free meals at First Baptist? The church groups feeding and bathing Selma’s elderly residents? The donations of clothing from surrounding churches? I’m just skimming the surface. This town has been a veritable feast of beneficence and kindness.

If you don’t believe me, ask Greg Woodson, treasurer of the destroyed church I told you about.

“It’s been overwhelming,” Woodson told The Selma Times Journal. “People have been wanting to come from all over. We had a gentleman come from Louisiana who came up and just gave us $1,000, just like that, for the benefit of the church. He was a pastor of a church in Louisiana. It just soothes my heart and warms my heart to know that there are people out there who are so kind and just want to help on a whim.”

Another SUV drives by. Pennsylvania tags. A gal gets out. She hurriedly snaps photos of devastation.

And I can’t help but wonder whether she will have time during her Selma visit to report on something beautiful? Maybe meet some volunteers, work crews, men’s ministries rebuilding homes, or elderly women serving meals in a church kitchen.

My new friend gives the visiting reporter a friendly wave. The reporter doesn’t even acknowledge us. She crawls into her vehicle and speeds away.

The man turns to me. “Crazy, ain’t it?” he says.

Sure is.


  1. Oliver Rhett Talbert - January 22, 2023 8:14 am

    I was a photographer once, but had to sell my equipment to pay for seminary. Before I retired from the (Presbyterian) pastorate, I serve a church (in Conway SC) whose fellowship hall was filled by river water from a passing hurricane. A week or so after drying out the building and starting to recover a vital part of our church family’s life, I was at the office alone one afternoon. Heard a knock on the office door. Thinking it was a not-so-recovering frequenter around town, I opened the door to find a couple with a paper bag. “God told us to come here and give you this. It’s to help you after the storm.” I looked in the bag and saw cash, and left them to get a pencil & paper to write down their names so we could give them a receipt and send an expression of thanks for their help. But when I got back to the door just seconds later, there wasn’t a trace of them in any direction. They’d left nearly $3,000 in small, crumpled bills to help us rebuild. Poof!
    There’s no kind of photographic equipment that could’ve captured the transformative power of that moment in this preacher’s life.

  2. Keloth Anne - January 22, 2023 11:31 am

    Thank you for always finding the “good” and reminding us that humanity and kindness is everywhere—we just need to open our eyes!
    So many prayers for Selma and the other devastated communities 🙏♥️

  3. Anne Arthur - January 22, 2023 11:46 am

    Thank you for writing the good story, the story of human greatness and compassion. You show that people’s hearts have not yet turned to stone.

  4. Jennifer Sienes - January 22, 2023 12:01 pm

    Such a tragedy! My husband is deploying to Selma next Sunday for a week to help as one of the many Billy Graham chaplains. May God bless all who have a heart to serve in whatever capacity they can.

  5. mccutchen52 - January 22, 2023 12:31 pm

    The same in Georgia. My wife and I were hiding in the house but it went over us and hit downtown McDonough. I don’t believe as bad as Selma but damage from a storm is always bad. My prayers go out to all.

  6. Matt Beebe - January 22, 2023 1:37 pm

    Come and write about Hurricane Ian recovery here on Pine Island FL! Tough folks coming back from devastation!

    • Amy - January 24, 2023 7:46 pm

      I’ve lived in Selma and North Ft. Myers. Both are equally destroyed….both have hard working, tough folks and both will survive with the help of good people. My heart aches for both.

  7. Priscilla Rodgers - January 22, 2023 1:42 pm

    These wonderful people are always on the front lines of a devastated community but you will never hear or see them unless a white shirt in Washington decides it’s picture time. God bless our wonderful volunteers and let’s get rid of politicians and news people who have no heart for Americans!

  8. Gordon - January 22, 2023 1:47 pm

    Thank you Sean for writing about our beloved Selma. It truly is amazing how many wonderful volunteers from out of town and within our city have come to the aid of so, so many effected by this tornado; my family included. We had damage to homes in our neighborhood; my daughter and family have literally be picking up the pieces of their demolished home of 20 years. Luckily, our home was left intact so they could come to stay with us. We are grateful to God that He watched over this city and that no one was hurt or no deaths occurred. God is SO good!!!

  9. Vicki Sweeney - January 22, 2023 1:51 pm

    Your posts each day are something I can’t wait to read. So touching or uplifting – heartfelt stories of hard times and good times. Miracles happen every day around us and I read about those miracles you are experiencing. I feel like you are one of my miracles and each day after reading my heart is open and the day starts with an appreciation greater than it would on my own. Thank you so much for sharing!

  10. Al - January 22, 2023 1:59 pm

    I’m glad we have the media… photographers, writers, TV reporters and especially you, Sean. There are so many good people in our little communities and major metros doing good to help their neighbors. Each person has a choice for what is shown and written. Each person should make the choice for goodness and light. Not to ignore the mayhem, murders, robberies and such. This will always be with us. Let’s balance the picture and the words to show the basic goodness and decency of people out doing for others because it’s the right thing to do.

    This is what you do Sean. Please continue even though some days may cause you to wonder.. “Am I making a difference?” A resounding YES is my answer. I suspect there is a chorus of YES’S to the rhetorical question.

  11. Lynn - January 22, 2023 2:08 pm

    Sean, thank you for introducing a bit of humanity into this tragedy. People helping each other through tough times should always be our focus, even in the midst of reporting the news.

  12. Louise - January 22, 2023 2:15 pm

    I hope that Samaritans Purse from Boone N C showed up. When tragedy strikes, they are usually there

  13. Diane Pitts - January 22, 2023 2:24 pm

    I was born and raised in Selma. Last year our Selma High School class had a 50th reunion. We came from “all over.” We planned to reconvene in 2023 for our “70th birthdays.”
    Selma’s stories resonate. Thank you for telling the truth.

  14. Wendy Jo - January 22, 2023 2:38 pm

    I absolutely agree! Country folk like me are alway the first trying to help and lend a hand whenever destruction hits and other folk be rubbernecking! I think the world needs to stop and see the beauty in folks helping each other when something bad happens and it just focus on the bad! Of course I’m still one the few that will fix a meal and carry to a family when someone passes or away or has a new baby! Crazy ain’t it?

  15. Elizabeth Douthit - January 22, 2023 2:39 pm

    To quote Jane Fonda’s character in Hurry Sundown, “I was twelve years old before I knew da*# Yankee was two words. People making money off of other people’s grief….

  16. Stacey Wallace - January 22, 2023 2:48 pm

    May God bless the people of Alabama and Georgia who were affected by tornados. Thanks. Sean. Love to you, Jamie, Marigold, Otis Campbell, and Thelma Lou.

  17. Al Boggs - January 22, 2023 3:02 pm

    Thanks Sean, for writing a very good article about the real American people.

  18. susanmac123 - January 22, 2023 3:45 pm

    It was heartening to hear about the outpouring of love and generosity that Selma residents have received. I appreciate today’s entry about Selma — it may spur more people to make contributions. But, was it fair to feed into the narrative of the-media-only-sensationalizes/celebrates-the-bad? Do you know for a fact how the man with the expensive camera used the photos he took? Perhaps his photos and the story it accompanied also motivated readers to donate. How do you know the woman with the PA plates was a journalist? I think your piece would have been stronger if you hadn’t included the assumptions your new friend made.

  19. Patricia Gibson - January 22, 2023 4:24 pm

    My friend lives in Selma. Praying for all of them. They will get thru this🙏❤️

  20. pattymack43 - January 22, 2023 5:04 pm

    The “news media” wouldn’t know real news even if it bit them on the nose! Thank you for sharing your views of Selma. Perhaps a few more blessings will come to Selma because of what you have written. I pray so. May God continue to assist the good citizens of Selma as the city recovers. Blessings!

  21. Lonna Pierce - January 22, 2023 5:32 pm

    Sean, I heard JoAnne Bland, a Selma tour guide who witnessed Bloody Sunday on NPR a few weeks ago, and again this morning sharing about the devastation in her beloved hometown after the tornado. Both she & you moved me deeply, and I want to help. Could you please let me know the best place(s) to send donations for Selma residents? Thanks for all you write!
    -Lonna Pierce

    • Brad Smith - January 23, 2023 1:51 pm

      Certainly not speaking for Sean, but the Dallas County Family Resource Center is an excellent place for donations. Their work is 100% to help those in need. See all the needed info below!
      Dallas County Family Resource Center
      PO Box 2142
      Selma, AL 36702
      Phone 334-874-7785
      Fax 334-874-7787
      Point of Contact – Thomas Frazer
      Cell (334) 313-8589
      Website –
      EIN 45-3609242

  22. Cindy Gallop - January 22, 2023 5:41 pm

    Sean, you are the thread than links us to what’s good out there……which typical reporting won’t do. Thanks for sharing the hearts that are working hard for the love of fellow man!!!! God bless the heartstrings of the “get it done” people! Prayers over all.

  23. Susie - January 22, 2023 5:43 pm

    There are people of the media with a heart and not so with others. Just like anything else. At times, I hate the media, but they have a job to do and that is to report the news, good and bad. There are reporters that tend to sensationalize and others that don’t. Without the media, we would be kept in the dark ages more than we are now.

  24. Melissa Brown - January 22, 2023 5:47 pm

    Your story today sent chills all over my body. There are still good people in the world today. I do hope some of those reporters will write about the good people and the good things about Selma. Maybe it will bring them more help and donations. I do pray that our good Lord will continue to Bless the people of Selma.♥️🙏

    • Susie - January 22, 2023 6:30 pm

      Yes, God really blessed them with the storm. God is good….ALL THE TIME!! 🤔

  25. Starr R Hudson - January 22, 2023 10:40 pm

    Hi all. I grew up just out of town on Highway 80 near Southside. Selma has suffered a lot economically and surely did not need the destruction from the tornado. Selma has so much history and so many historical treasured sites and buildings. I can envision a great tourist business with dinners, hotels, shops and a tour bus. Maybe this is a chance for a fresh start. I hope some Selma success stories can donate and encourage these wonderful people as they start again to make this city great.

  26. Bettye - January 23, 2023 12:23 am

    You hit the nail right in the head. I’m from Selma and there is a whole lot more to my home town than Edmond Pettus Bridge.

  27. David Britnell - January 23, 2023 2:08 am

    Another great story of the kindness and goodness of at least a big part of humanity. Thank you Lord for people that still have a big heart.!

  28. smellincoffee - January 23, 2023 3:02 am

    I’ve become a fan of your writing since your visit to Selma in December. It means a lot that you came back to share this next chapter in our story.

  29. George Robert Leach - January 23, 2023 4:54 am

    It sure is a mess. Glad some people care. It is nice to have kindness around.

  30. Connie - January 23, 2023 12:46 pm

    Selma is my hometown. My immediate family, aunts and cousins still reside there. The real beauty of Selma was spared by God and God alone. The people. When you look at the damage, you can’t help but wonder how anyone survived. No deaths. We are all so thankful. God placed everyone in the right place at the right time. The resident’s stories can validate God’s amazing grace and His mercy. Shout out to James Spann for fanatically insisting everyone take shelter! Thank you for bringing attention to the good. The gentleman was right, Selma is never put in the news for the good of Selma.

    Sadly, the “well knowns” who visit here once a year, come for one thing. Photo opportunities and/or their personal gains. Still, they will be welcomed with kindness and hospitality from the residents because that is who they are and what they do.

  31. Mike Sellers - January 23, 2023 2:21 pm

    There’s a lot to be proud of if you’re from the South(I’m a lifelong Tennessean). Sure there are problems but that’s true of any place. Wouldn’t ever want to be anywhere but the South!!!

  32. Brenda - January 23, 2023 2:29 pm

    This, This very thing has caused me some head shaking. I have a friend who is a friend to 2 of the people who lost their lives in Selma. She was gathering things here in Georgia to take there, I gave but my heart was heavy thinking of the loss of things and then to loose family–unimaginable! We are near the devastation in Georgia, the out pouring here has been inspiring. I am very much a senior, but to see the young men and women volunteering to help has given me hope for this world. They are the ones I chose to look out for me as I age more–not the lookers in the Suvs and Lord knows there have been plenty of those. Thank you for bringing light on the good people of the earth–the doers and not the lookers!!

  33. kingswaydaughter - January 24, 2023 9:24 pm

    It’s not just reporters that went to Selma…..a grateful heart and thanks to an organization that always responds to disaster. Perhaps a story of those who come to help and not gawk would be more meaningful. The headline reads: “Samaritan’s Purse quickly deployed two disaster relief units—tractor-trailers filled with relief supplies and tools: one to to Selma and one to Griffin, Georgia. Nearly 300 volunteers have been tarping roofs, clearing debris and removing trees in the name of Jesus across both states since Sunday, Jan. 15.”

  34. Donna - January 25, 2023 12:52 pm

    Have lived in Selma since 1970…married and raised sins here…and grands too! The people make Selma…we are Selma Strong! She has had her set backs…but has prevailed in spite of them…Come visit and keep your eyes open…do not look at the negative…good things are in Selma!

  35. 404NaN - January 26, 2023 4:43 am

    ⅂⍑ᒷ ⅂੭∷⧶ɾ⟍̅੭ ∴ɾᓭ ᶖ¦ᶖɾ⟍̅ɾ ꖎᒷɾ⍊¦⧶˧.₋.

  36. 404NaN - January 26, 2023 4:48 am

    Oh my.


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