A Ghost Town, near Selma
Cahawba was the State Capital of Alabama between 1820 and 1826. Today, it is a ghost town, with only a few structures remaining. It is possible that Old Cahawba is of more interest to serious archeologists than Rodney in Mississippi, but Rodney definitely has more to see, and more spook factor as well.
All the same, Old Cahawba is worth a couple of hours of your time. Just be aware that most of the buildings in Cahawba are simply gone: the bricks were recycled elsewhere. Today, Cahawba is mostly a collection of markers: here was the capitol, there was the courthouse and so on.
If you are a disaster connoisseur, you might be interested to know that the horrendous Sultana fire and shipwreck near Memphis killed scores of Union soldiers being transferred back home from the huge Cahawba Confederate prison camp.
A Place of Pain, a Place of Hope: Selma
Selma is a town which, at first glance, is indistinguishable from many others. During my trip, I drove through several places, such as Hattiesburg and Aberdeen (in Mississippi), with a similar "feel."
However, one of the most inspiring movements in the history of mankind started in Selma. Back in 1965, Selma was a segregated town, more than half black, but where only 1% of registered voters were black. This untenable situation had been simmering for many years, and coming to a full boil.
On March 7, 1965, "Bloody Sunday," a few hundred peaceful protesters left from the Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church in Selma on their way to Montgomery, the State Capital. At the Edmund Pettus Bridge, they were attacked by state troopers using tear gas, high pressure water hoses and billy clubs. Images from the brutal attack appalled the whole country and the world.
Two days later, Martin Luther King led a symbolic march to the bridge, to demonstrate that such an action was, indeed, legal.
On March 21, 3,000 marchers left Selma, and there were 25,000 of them by the time they reached Montgomery four days later. This was one of the key events that led to the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Of course, a town cannot market itself around its history of violence, intolerance and division. Selma offers overwhelming memories, the iconic Edmund Pettus Bridge - which can appear like the ugliest or like the most beautiful structure at a moment's notice - a couple of significant churches, and a few historical markers. Not much else. In order to truly grasp the scope of the 1965 events, you need to visit the Lowndes County Interpretive Center, halfway between Selma and Montgomery.