The St. James Hotel resumed business this week as part of the Hilton chain. The focal point of downtown Selma, overlooking the Alabama River, reopened following a $5 million dollar renovation. The refurbishment updates the old building in the heart of Selma, where the hotel first opened in 1836. That was when the city was a hub of Alabama's plantation region. The Selma Times-Journal reports that it took two years of planning, negotiations with the city of Selma and extensive refurbishments to return the hotel to its former glory. Local attorney Harry Gamble handled the negotiations between the Selma and Hilton.
“The whole focus of the St. James was to have a solid downtown facility that would attract people stop stay here but also be a focal point for other business to develop around it," Gamble told APR last year.
The St. James is considered synonymous with Selma and its place in voting rights history. African American marchers were attacked by a police posse in 1965 as they tried to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge on their way to Montgomery. This incident helped pave the way for the signing of the U.S. Voting Rights Act.
APR student reporter Tina Turner, now an inaugural "Jim Lehrer journalism fellow" with PBS News Hour in Washington, D.C., reported on the renovations of the St. James during her time in the APR newsroom. APR newsroom intern Sarah Sherill produced a radio feature on Selma from a young person's perspection, which was part of APR's international award-winning documentary "More Bridges to Cross." You can listen to all of that content by clicking below.