Selma, Alabama

SELMA, Ala.—I am covering the arrival of December today, in one of my favorite towns. 

The whole downtown is done up for Christmas. Pinery everywhere. Lights. Jingle bells. Little reindeer, tinkling in the snow.

Nobody does Christmas like small-town Alabama. The main drag is a Norman Rockwell. Saint Paul’s Episcopal church is a Monet. December looks good in Selma.

“The problem with Selma,” says one local woman, “is that the news always uses us as a scapegoat. They make us evil. If people would just visit this town, if they’d just meet us, they’d realize that we’re okay. We are not the Selma you see on TV.”

I see a few things while I am here.

When I am walking into a gas station, for example, an elderly woman trots ahead to hold the door open. I am 40 years younger than this woman, and yet she holds the door for me.

I thank her.

She says, “Okay, baby,” and she rubs my shoulder.

She has skin the color of mahogany. Blazing white hair. She wears scrubs. And she is just getting warmed up with her goodwill.

Because when the old woman walks inside the gas station, she is immediately confronted with an elderly man standing at the counter. He is gaunt, missing his teeth, dressed in faded rags. The man is hitting up customers for money.

“Ahwan baahasuh frussa,” he mutters.

I can smell liquor on his breath. He has a hard time standing upright without toppling over.

The old lady knows exactly what he’s saying. She translates: “He’s trying to buy some gas-station chicken, but he is a dollar short. He says he’s hungry, but he just needs four quarters.”

Before I can reach into my wallet, the old woman has already taken care of the man’s bill. She digs into her purse, and pays the cashier a lot more than one dollar. She places a wad of bills on the counter. She tells the clerk to put more breasts and short thighs into the old man’s to-go bag.

The toothless man mumbles something to her. I hear a “thank you” in there somewhere. I also see a few tears.

Then the old woman answers him, “And also with you.”

Before I leave, I ask the old woman why she just paid for this man’s food. Why would a perfect stranger give cash to an old man who smells like a distillery?

“Because he’s hungry,” says the old woman. “That’s reason enough.”

Later, I am surprised again. I am walking into the Winn-Dixie. At the door, I’m greeted by a man ringing the bell for the local Salvation Army.

Astoundingly, there are actually people standing in line, waiting to put money in his bucket. People are clambering to give.

“We’ve had a banner year,” says the bell-ringer. “People have been so unbelievably generous. Donations have been through the roof.”

I stand in line to donate. There, I meet a woman. Her hair is in cornrows. She wears a fast-food uniform. I ask why she is donating today. The woman just gives a smile. “Why not?”

I talk to another woman in line.

“I grew up with a mama who couldn’t work ‘cause she was sick all the time. Year after she died, everyone showed up on our porch, few days before Christmas, brought us presents and toys and food and stuff. We never did without, even though we should’ve starved. That always left an impression on me.”

Another man in line says, “I give because I’ve been on the receiving end before.”

And another. “I give because I can.”

All in all, I have a beautiful day in Selma. As I am driving out of town, I’m thinking about how the Hollywood portrayal of this city is all wrong.

Believe me, I’m not saying the Queen City is without its problems. I don’t know enough to say anything. So I’m not saying this place is flawless. But then, neither is your town.

What I am saying is that, despite what you might have heard, this is a community. For better for worse. For richer for poorer. There are real people here, stalwart people, with large hearts. There are folks. There are artists. There are writers. Poets. Singers. Saints. Angels.

“We’re a town of good people,” says one local woman, as she cheerfully places her money into the bucket. “Stick around. You’ll see. This is Selma. We gotchoo, baby.”

And also with you.


  1. Charlotte Decker - December 2, 2022 6:19 am


  2. Shannon Hastings - December 2, 2022 7:01 am

    Thank you. That was a beautiful message.

  3. Steve Winfield (lifer) - December 2, 2022 7:23 am

    Because good friendly giving people flourish in small town Alabama. The givers and receivers both are blessed.
    God loves us all.
    God bless you Sean. Jamie too.
    Ain’t we all so very lucky?
    Ain’t we?

  4. Leigh Amiot - December 2, 2022 10:15 am

    “Because he’s hungry,” says the old woman. “That’s reason enough.”

    This is the spirit of Christmas, which I strongly suspect “the old woman” in Selma practices year ‘round.

  5. Mike Greene - December 2, 2022 10:33 am

    You are so right with this article. Born and raised in Selma and that’s the way we are. Thanks Sean!

  6. Susan Poole - December 2, 2022 11:59 am

    What a delightful “upper” of a true story! Thanks, Sean🙂

  7. Alan Martin - December 2, 2022 12:06 pm

    Sean, what a blessing—both your God given skills and that you landed in Alabama …not a perfect place but a wonderful, kind and loving place. Like Selma. May God continue to bless you and let you spread goodness and restore kindness.
    Alan Martin, a devoted fan…

  8. Julie - December 2, 2022 12:13 pm

    Sean, you help us all see the good “on purpose”. It is easy to see the bad and to become fixated on that one perspective. You have once again reminded us to turn our eyes toward the good – because it really is there. Thank you!!

  9. Sandy from "South Alabama" - December 2, 2022 12:22 pm

    The residents’ generosity and compassion has moved me to tears! I want to visit Selma now. Good people make a good place.

  10. Nazem Nassar - December 2, 2022 12:22 pm

    Yup we are! God bless ya Sean and bless ya’All.. Nice and generous
    folks always a crown of small communities like Selma!!

  11. Debbie g - December 2, 2022 12:24 pm

    Always try to see the good
    Thanks for helping us to keep looking up
    Love you Sean and Jamie
    And to us all

    • The Selma Guy - December 4, 2022 5:32 am

      The fact that Selma is the center of Alabama criminal statistics, and the economy is in the bedpan and when they built a $30 million new school, the ACT/SAT scores went DOWN….none of that gets mentioned….

  12. Edward Willis - December 2, 2022 1:17 pm

    God Bless those Selma folks!

  13. David - December 2, 2022 1:30 pm

    I grew up in a small “community” that helped each other. I still think most small towns will help each other when they know there is a need.

  14. Nazem Nassar - December 2, 2022 2:20 pm

    Mi quote the Songs of Selma
    ” My tears, O Ryno! are for the dead; my voice for those that have passed away. Tall thou art on the hill; fair among the sons of the vale. But thou shalt fall like Morar; the mourner shall sit on thy tomb. The hills shall know thee no more; thy bow shall lie in thy hall, unstrung”.!

  15. Barry - December 2, 2022 2:21 pm

    You may not be able to find as many good people in Hollywood as there are in Selma, but I bet you could find some. The smaller the town, the more people know each other, know personally the needy and their needs and reach out to help. In larger cities, the needy and their needs are easier to get lost in the crowds.

  16. Stacey Wallace - December 2, 2022 2:37 pm

    Thanks, Sean. My sweet Daddy once told me, “The Lord has blessed your Mama and me so much. We should help people whenever we can.” May God bless the sweet people of Selma. Love to you, Jamie, and Marigold.

  17. Sandra Jones - December 2, 2022 2:42 pm

    Kindness grows ! Sharing makes our hearts grow

  18. Patrick wolfe - December 2, 2022 2:50 pm

    Why not?

  19. Karen - December 2, 2022 3:03 pm

    This is so true of towns everywhere. Thank you for continuing to reinforce the good of towns and people in our country.

  20. Terry - December 2, 2022 3:04 pm

    Well said. Unfortunately, people often judge by the prejudices others portray instead of seeking the truth. And, quite often people think they are perfect and everyone else is not. If you don’t believe that, just read posts on FaceBook. It’s unbelievable how people denigrate others without knowing what others are truly about. There is good and bad everywhere. Again, unfortunately, we, as a society, look for the bad too much. How often do you thank a restaurant manager for the good service you got from an individual? I appreciate Sean and his seeking to better our world.

  21. Jeanie Morelock - December 2, 2022 3:08 pm

    I love this SO much! You painted a lovely picture of humanity with your words (of course, you ALWAYS do). For years I attended the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesville, TN (it’s gotten too big now and I don’t enjoy it like I used to). there was a very special lady named, Katherine Tucker Windham, from Selma, AL (I used to love the way she said it with several more syllables) I can still her precious voice as she would regal us with tales from Selma. Thanks for reminding me of wonderful Sa-ale-maaaa, AL!

  22. Dawnie B - December 2, 2022 3:09 pm

    What a lovely description of Selma ❤️ Merry Christmas to y’all!

  23. Dawnie B - December 2, 2022 3:11 pm

    What a lovely description of Selma! Merry Christmas to y’all!

  24. Joann Thompson - December 2, 2022 3:33 pm

    Thank you for letting your readers know that there is so much more to Selma (indeed all of the small town South) than its history. I’ve lived in Texas for nearly 30 years, and when I tell people where I grew up, I can say “50 miles west of Selma” and they can always place it. We would shop in Selma and had friends and relatives there, but after the bad events of the 60’s and the closing of Craig Air Force Base, the city is a shadow of its former self. I’m glad to know there is still a thriving community there.

  25. Peggy M. Windham - December 2, 2022 4:35 pm

    Isn’t it nice to know what the media says about a town or city isn’t necessarily true! God bless you Sean and the good people of Selma Alabama!

  26. Kareb Miller - December 2, 2022 7:05 pm

    The comments made about Selma could be made about any southern town, We are loyal, giving and fine folks.

  27. Wanda - December 2, 2022 9:05 pm

    Hey 👋 I’m from Selma alabama and I say if you are from out of town you better make sure that you have a gun or security guard cause they will robbed you or shot to robbed you, so please stop making Selma seems so great and it’s not.

  28. George Robert Leach - December 3, 2022 3:44 am


  29. suzi - December 3, 2022 5:33 pm

    I am always a better person after reading your posts, thank you for seeing “the good”🙏🏼

  30. Joan Mitchell - December 3, 2022 6:29 pm

    So true about Selma! Lots of good people there. Thanks for telling it like it is, Sean! Merry Christmas!

  31. Jessie Johnson - December 4, 2022 3:19 am

    Great inspiring story about Selma, Alabama. It’s warms my heart to read stories like this. Thank you. Merry Christmas! Jessie Johnson

  32. Bettye - December 4, 2022 4:43 am

    Thank you Sean. I grew up in Selma in the 50s and 60s . We were blessed then and are blessed now. Selma is beautiful.

  33. Thames Robinson - December 4, 2022 6:58 pm

    And also with you, dear one.

  34. Charles Duckett - December 6, 2022 2:12 pm

    Right you are! There are many, many good people here, both black and white. As everywhere else, we have a few, and I really do mean a few, who still have problems accepting the other race. If we encounter one of those, we just kill them with kindness.

  35. lesliehanson411hotmailcom - December 11, 2022 11:56 am

    Your stories and commentaries always bring a smile to my face and a warm feeling in my heart. You continually remind me of the good in people and to be thankful everyday for everything. Thank you! Merry Christmas


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