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Residents in Selma, Ala., commemorate MLK day while recovering from tornadoes

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Selma, Ala., is hosting its annual march to remember Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. today. This year's parade comes as the city recovers from a strong tornado that struck it last week. Here's Troy Public Radio's Kyle Gassiott.

KYLE GASSIOTT, BYLINE: Utility crews are still working to restore power to the parts of Selma devastated by Thursday's tornado. Large trees, hundreds of years old, brought lines down when they fell. Selma has experienced hurricane damage in the past. But Mary Margaret Mims says it's nothing like this storm, which launched debris 15,000 feet in the air.

MARY MARGARET MIMS: We saw it coming, and it was just amazing, you know, how quickly it came upon you and stayed on the ground.

GASSIOTT: Mims is the director of Sturdivant Hall, one of the oldest buildings in Selma that took a direct hit. Sturdivant Hall's structure held. Other homes in this older neighborhood we're not as lucky. The families that have been displaced are on the minds of Sadie Moss and coach Ivory Williams, who are buying supplies at a grocery store. Both are in groups that have volunteered to help those in need.

IVORY WILLIAMS: We'll be serving food. Got water. We got tents. And we got different things to help. And we got brothers that are coming from all parts of the state to help with debris, stuff like that.

GASSIOTT: Moss, who runs a local learning center for children, says this storm has changed things, as Selma is usually racially divided.

SADIE MOSS: And we still are, to a certain extent. But I do think that this is one thing that has come together to bring us together.

GASSIOTT: One of those dividing moments came in 1965, when protesters in Selma attempted to march to the state capitol across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. They were marching for voting rights and were beaten badly by Alabama State Troopers. That day became known as Bloody Sunday. Eventually, they made it to Montgomery, led by Martin Luther King Jr.

GEORGE SALLIE: In the beginning with me, he had a problem.

GASSIOTT: Ninety-three-year-old George Sallie points to a scar on his forehead where he was beaten by one of those troopers. Sallie says he had just returned from serving in the Korean War when he met King. At that time, Sallie was full of hate and trained to kill, and King, through nonviolence, was able to rid him of the anger he felt.

SALLIE: And it’s the problem he had with me, getting it out of me.

GASSIOTT: Now Sallie comes daily to sit at the foot of the Pettus Bridge to tell his story. He shows me one of his prized possessions, a local ballot in a frame with his name on it.

SALLIE: I’m one of the first after the voting rights act had passed to run in a general election in Dallas County.

GASSIOTT: This week's storm briefly kept Sallie from his post, but now he's back again. He says it's important to keep coming no matter what happens. For NPR News, I'm Kyle Gassiott in Selma, Ala.

(SOUNDBITE OF DUSTY DECKS' "INLAY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.