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Selma, Alabama is in recovery after devastating storms earlier this month


Let's check back in on a place and a person we recently got to know very well on this show.


JOANNE BLAND: Selma gave so much. This history is so rich that it's sort of like Mecca coming to America.

RASCOE: JoAnne Bland is a veteran of the civil rights movement and Bloody Sunday in Selma, Ala. She's been giving tours of her hometown for over 30 years, making sure that time is never forgotten. She took us on a tour recently for WEEKEND EDITION's series on the civil rights generation. So we wanted to check on her now that Selma is hurting, hit by devastating storms and a tornado that recently swept across the region. JoAnne Bland joins us now. And I just want to say, like, I am so sorry, and we are all so sorry to hear about what's happened to Selma.

BLAND: Well, it's devastating. It hurts so bad to see my beloved home look like it is. In all my years, I've not experienced this, but it's bad.

RASCOE: Can you give us a sense of what the damage is like? I saw some videos, and I'm - the thing about being in - when we were down in Selma, it was so historic. And I know you knew every inch of it. I can't imagine being in your position, seeing the damage.

BLAND: Yeah. The neighborhoods are the ones that are hurt the most, not to mention the loss of businesses and stuff. But the neighborhoods where I grew up walking those streets and seeing those same houses that are now gone or flattened or have no roofs. The only consolation we have is that God saw fit to spare us the loss of life.

RASCOE: Thankfully, there was no loss of life, but I know people have lost homes. How are people coping?

BLAND: Well, when you start off being one of the poorest places in America, any devastation throws us for a loop. It's hard to come back from any tragedy, and this has to be the worst we've ever had. Most of the houses that were destroyed a lot of people owned. Some had insurance, but the majority of the people were renting. And most didn't have insurance, and most didn't have - frankly, didn't have anywhere to go when this hit with no funds to get there. It reminded me so much of Katrina that even though people were alive, they still had nowhere to go. It broke my heart to find families, families living in cars that some - that had been destroyed in the tornado.

RASCOE: And how are you doing? How are you holding up? Because it's clear just in the time that I was with you that your heart is tied up in Selma.

BLAND: Don't make me cry. My hometown - I love it. And I've spent my life trying to make it a better place. And it seems as though you make one step forward, and you get knocked back two. But I'm up to the challenge. I'm up to the challenge. And I have thousands of friends who will help to support us here. But those of you hearing the sound of my voice who can - who know me know I love Selma and that I'm going to do everything I can. But I need your help. We need hands. We need - just think of Selma in what it's given the world. And please give something back.

RASCOE: I know that you always do the ceremony and the march on the anniversary of Bloody Sunday. Is that still going to happen? Is that still the plan?

BLAND: Yes, it is. We can't let it stop. First of all, from the bridge down about three blocks down Broad Street, nothing happened.


BLAND: And Brown Chapel's intact, so there's no reason we should not continue the jubilee. This would be a chance for people to come and support us and give something back to Selma.

RASCOE: That's JoAnne Bland, who runs Journeys for the Soul tours in Selma, Ala. Thank you so very much.

BLAND: No, thank you for having me.

RASCOE: Yeah. And God bless you. And God bless Selma.

BLAND: Pray for Selma, please.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.