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Archive for Monday, July 10, 2000

Fight rages over dump near civil rights trail

July 10, 2000

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— The historic Selma-to-Montgomery voting rights trail, U.S. Highway 80, runs through rural Lowndes County, meandering past tracts of dusty farmland, boarded-up gas stations and sacred civil rights-era ground.

Now plans are under way for a solid-waste landfill near the highway where civil rights marchers demanded black suffrage and where Detroit housewife Viola Liuzzo was slain by Ku Klux Klansmen after the 1965 march.

A racially mixed group of developers and county officials, including some who hold office thanks to the voting rights crusade, feel the 670-acre landfill is just the thing to jump-start the economy of one of the state's poorest counties.

But landfill opponents, also a mix of blacks and whites, say a dump near U.S. 80 would be an affront to the memory of the marchers and hurt both the environment and a fledgling tourist industry.

They're trying to stop the landfill before it receives state approval, which could come within a month.

"We've got too many people here who don't want this thing," said Lowndesboro Mayor J.H. Nichols, who is white. "This might not ruin the community in five years or 10 years, but what about 40 years down the road? I might be gone, but what about my great-grandkids and this big pile of trash?"

The proposed landfill, which could handle 1,500 tons of household waste a day, is just outside the town's boundaries.

Bob Mants, a nearby black resident and chairman of the Lowndes County Friends of the Trail, was among marchers attempting to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge on U.S. 80 in Selma on March 7, 1965.

On that day, Alabama state troopers attacked marchers in a confrontation which later became known as "Bloody Sunday." The violence led to the Selma-to-Montgomery march two weeks later, and culminated in the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The highway was designated a national historic trail in 1997.

"All those people, everyone who was with us, it's a direct insult to their memory and what they stood for," Mants said. "No one would put a dump near Arlington Cemetery or the Washington Monument."

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