Back in 1964 the young and ambitious Joe  T. Smitherman had orches-
trated a contentious overthrow of Selma’s old guard when he unseated
Chris Heinz as mayor. For three de­cades afterward, Mayor Smitherman
masterfully tended and cultivated his position as Selma’s po­liti­cal kingpin. As
one reporter put it, he “wound up redefining ‘po­liti­cal establishment’ in
Selma.” Smitherman renounced his segregationist past when black voters
became an increasingly impor­tant part of the electorate. He made much
to-do about paving all of the city’s streets and appointing African Ameri-
cans as city department heads. He held barbecues in black neighborhoods
and made regular appearances at the black Elks Club, cultivating relation-
ships.1 Throughout the years, black candidates had attempted to unseat the
mayor but came up short owing to a combination of Smitherman’s politick-
ing and low turnout among black voters.
James Perkins  Jr., a businessman and Selma native, emerged as the
mayor’s most formidable and determined challenger. Perkins had cut his
teeth in politics as campaign man­ag­er for F. D. ­Reese in the latter’s run
for mayor in 1984. Perkins decided ­ to run for the position himself in 1991
Joe Gotta Go
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