War of words commences after Selma Jubilee organizers get bill from mayor

SELMA, Ala. (WIAT) — As people in Selma get ready for the biggest event of the year for the city, a letter from city hall is igniting controversy.

Less than two weeks ahead of the annual Bridge Crossing Jubilee, Mayor Darrio Melton’s chief of staff sent a letter to organizers of the event asking for $23,882.02.

The Bridge Crossing Jubilee is a nonprofit organization that plans a four-day event every year to commemorate the anniversary of Bloody Sunday. According to Melton, organizers have never paid the city for the event.

“We will not pay to march in Selma,” said State Senator Hank Sanders, who represents people in Dallas County. “That’s a principle I cannot compromise, and I intend to fight it with every bone in my body.”

Sanders called the fee unconstitutional, saying it interferes with the First Amendment right to assemble.

“We will not pay to march in Selma,” Sanders said. “Selma paid for the right to march with blood in 1965. We will not pay to march in 2017.”

While Sanders argued that Melton’s request was political, Melton said it’s not.

According to the letter sent to event organizers, it costs the Selma Police Department $17,565.60 to provide manpower and equipment for the Jubilee. The letter also says that the Jubilee costs the Selma Fire Department $4007.76 and the Public Services department $2308.66.

Melton said those costs are not a part of the city’s annual operating budget, although he said the city contributes $5,000 to the nonprofit.

“We can’t continue to allow the taxpayers to subsidize these private events,” Melton said.

Melton’s critics say that the Jubilee brings thousands of people to Selma every year, who generate large amounts of revenue for the city and its businesses.

“Local businesses do not profit that much from those events,” Melton said. “Because what happens is, vendors come in, and the vendors, they profit and they leave town.”

Melton said he still wants the march to take place, but he believes the pageantry surrounding it has turned an important moment in civil rights history into an opportunity to cash in at Selma’s expense.

“My grandmother, she’s a foot soldier,” Melton said. “The ones who are putting on this event? They didn’t suffer anything in 1965. So for them to say that we’re not concerned about that? I think it’s ludicrous.”

Melton, who just began his first term as mayor, asked for a similar event fee of roughly $22,000 from organizers of a Battle of Selma reenactment that was scheduled in April.

As a result, organizers canceled the event.

The Bridge Crossing Jubilee is still scheduled to take place from March 2-5.

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