In researching Selma, Alabama before my trip there, I discovered that most travel writers only focus on the city’s importance to the African American civil rights movement of the 1960s. But Selma, known as the Queen City of the Black Belt, has a long and vibrant history dating to 1815. Although poor today, with a median household income of just $21,261, Alabama’s Dallas County once had the fourth highest per capita wealth in the entire United States.
Since the 1960s, Selma has experienced what locals call a “brain drain,” with the most promising youth leaving for college and failing to return. Over that period, the population has steadily declined, with an approximate 30% reduction since the 1960 Census was taken. This has made economic recovery difficult, and many residents struggle with unemployment and poverty.
With 2017 deemed the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development by the United Nations, now is the time to visit the city and contribute to its local economy. Tourism could change the face of Selma and improve life for its residents.
On this page, I’ll share what I learned about wheelchair accessibility in Selma, Alabama. Despite the fact that the city is a road trip destination, I am confident you’ll find the trip worthwhile. I encourage you to spend a night in Selma, eat at the local restaurants and visit the city’s museums and attractions.
Wheelchair Accessible Hotels in Selma, Alabama
When I am deciding on an accessibility rating score for this particular element, I consider the types of accessible accommodations offered across multiple price points. As of this time, I know of only three wheelchair accessible Selma hotels that offer rooms with ADA accessibility features.
The first, pictured above, is the recently remodeled Quality Inn on North Broad Street, where I stayed during this trip to Selma. While the room did not have a roll-in shower, the bathtub was accessible and fitted with grab bars. My king size bed was accessible to my wheelchair on both sides, and the room featured a modern flat panel television. Power outlets built-in to the alarm clock and situated on the bedside nightstand were adequate for charging my wheelchair and mobile phone. Room rates at the Quality start at about $70 per night, and the hotel offers a free continental breakfast to all guests.
Two hotels in the city offer ADA rooms with roll-in showers – the Holiday Inn Express & Suites and the Hampton Inn, which are located just across from one another on Lincoln Way in Selma, Alabama. Rates at the Holiday Inn are typically around $100 per night, while the Hampton Inn rates are usually $109 per night. I found the Holiday Inn to be the most modern of the three, but you’ll have to choose the appropriate hotel based on your accessibility needs and budget.
It is my hope that the number of hotels offering accessible accommodation in Selma will increase as the accessible tourism market grows. If you learn about any other accessible hotels in the area, please share in the comments below.
Attractions & Sights – Wheelchair Accessible Things to Do in Selma, Alabama
If you are interested in history – specifically historical events that affect us to this day – you’ll enjoy spending a weekend in Selma, Alabama. But the destination is also great for families and wheelchair users, as you will learn here. Because my tour of Selma lasted only three days, I only had time to seek out the most popular tourist spots. I am sure there is a lot more to do in Selma than that you’ll read below, but I left the city profoundly changed (and emotionally touched) by what I learned in visiting these attractions.
Edmund Pettus Bridge
On March 7, 1965, a group of some 600 civil rights marchers departed from Selma, Alabama, bound for the state capitol in Montgomery. After crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge, which straddles the Alabama River and marks the boundary of Selma’s city limits, the marchers were stopped by a line of police and possemen, led by Dallas County Sheriff Jim Clark.
The violence that followed hospitalized more than 50, and the day has since been known as “Bloody Sunday.” That day turned the eyes of the nation to this small Alabama town and attracted the attention of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Selma proved to be the flashpoint for a movement that would guarantee the right to vote to all African Americans in the nation.
If you’d like to read more about the Edmund Pettus Bridge and Selma’s importance to the civil rights movement (past and present), read my article, 3 Civil Rights Lessons from Selma, Alabama.
Wheelchair users will have no difficulty crossing the bridge, as the walkway on the left side is wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs of all sizes. Because there are no guard rails separating the elevated sidewalk from the roadway itself, you’ll need to be careful. I never worried of cars hitting me (they’d have to jump a curb), but I did not want to be distracted in operating my powered wheelchair.
You’ll have an opportunity to take fantastic photographs like the one above, so don’t pass on seeing the city’s most popular attraction. I strongly recommend that you hire a local travel guide to walk with you, as you’ll learn much more than any book can provide.
Selma Interpretive Center
The Selma Interpretive Center, located at the corner of Water and Broad Streets in Downtown Selma (steps from the Pettus Bridge), is an institution of the National Park Service. It is the official start of the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail. The center provides background information on race relations in Alabama, with special focus on Dallas County.
While it may make sense to start your tour of Selma here, I recommend crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge first. This will give you a reference point for what you will learn/read at the Interpretive Center. The first floor contains text-heavy displays that provide valuable information on Bloody Sunday, Turnaround Tuesday and the eventual march to Montgomery. The second floor features a display honoring the “Courageous Eight,” the Dallas County Voters League committee members who organized groups of protesters in defiance of a court ruling barring meetings of 3 or more people in Selma. The top floor is home to a screening room, where visitors can watch a short video introduction to Selma and the historic trail. An elevator makes each floor accessible to wheelchair users.
For more information on the interpretive center, visit www.nps.gov. Admission is free of charge to all visitors.
National Voting Rights Museum
After you’ve crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge, tour the National Voting Rights Museum. The museum, located feet from the site of Bloody Sunday, is a repository for the history of the voting rights movement and is filled with original and primary sources.
Exhibits at the museum each offer a brief history and general understanding of Reconstruction, the principles of nonviolence, the KKK, Martin Luther King, the local movement in Selma, Sheriff Jim Clark and more. For the more detailed researcher, access to the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute Archive is available with a prior application.
Admission to the museum is $6.50 for adults. For more information, visit www.nvrmi.com.
Old Depot Museum
The Old Depot Museum, located inside the former L&N train station, is the Selma museum with a little bit of everything. The building, constructed in 1891,contains two floors and a basement. Each floor is filled with treasures from Selma’s historic past.
Unlike other museums in the city, the Old Depot is not dedicated to a particular time or era. Some of the museum’s oldest artifacts date back to the early Native American cultures that existed in modern day Alabama, before the area was settled by Europeans. Displays also touch on the Civil War, Reconstruction, industrialization, World War I, World War II, the voting rights movement and more.
It’s easy to find yourself lost in the varied exhibits, which are not organized in any particular way. The odds and ends are completely random, including a couple turn of the century wheelchairs and an early dentist’s office.
If you’re looking to explore neat artifacts from more than 200 years of Selma’s history, the Old Depot Museum is the place to go. Admission to the museum is $5 for adults, $4 for seniors (age 65+) and $2 for students.
Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church
Built in 1908, the Brown Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church is one of Selma’s many National Historic Landmarks. It was from this church that the marchers set out for Montgomery on “Bloody Sunday,” when they were stopped at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave numerous speeches from the pulpit of this historic church. It still operates today and, as its congregation has aged, the church has made investments in accessibility. A ramp and a wheelchair lift have made the sanctuary wheelchair accessible.
The interior of the church is mostly original, with few changes having been made since the marches in 1965. The pews, lighted cross and the ceiling designs are all original to the structure. The building’s architecture is magnificent, and the credited architect was A.J. Farley, a sharecropper whom we know little about,
If you’d like to visit this historic church, you’ll need to make an appointment. Contact information is available on the Brown Chapel Facebook page.
Built from 1852-1856, Sturdivant Hall has long been considered one of the finest examples of Greek Revival architecture in the United States. The two-story brick home was originally built for Colonel Edward T. Watts, who lived there until 1864. The home changed hands multiple times, until it was purchased by the City of Selma in 1957 for $75,000.
Sturdivant Hall is a revealing portrait of what life was like for rich slaveholders before the Civil War. Today, visitors can tour this magnificent home for an admission fee of just $5.00. Visitors receive a guided tour of the property, which has been expertly restored and contains a great majority of pieces original to the home or from the period. There is even an 1820 George Washington golden clock – one of just six such clocks, and a sibling to the clock that resides in the White House in Washington, D.C.
A ramp alongside the house makes the ground floor accessible, but access to the second floor and the rooftop cupola is only possible by climbing stairs. Despite the lack of accessibility on the upper levels, you may still find value in touring this property as a wheelchair user. You can be in and out in under an hour, so it won’t require a significant time investment.
Old Cahawba Archaeological Park
Located about 20 minutes outside of Selma is the Old Cahawba Archaeological Park, a “ghost town” that served as the State of Alabama’s first capital, from 1820-1825. The archaeological park that remains today is led by a non-profit group that seeks to maintain the former city’s history, documenting its rise and fall, while protecting the few structures that remain.
The town extends south from the confluence of the Alabama and Cahaba Rivers. Alabama’s first governor, William Wyatt Bibb, saw many benefits in having the capital at this intersection of waterways, particularly in trade, travel and connectivity. But a string of bad luck brought a quick end to Bibb’s Cahawba dreams, with the state assembly voting to relocate the capitol in 1825 to Tuscaloosa.
Today, only a few buildings remain, as the city was abandoned by many after the Civil War. The first photo above is of the St. Luke’s Episcopal Church Building, which is more than 150 years old. The church was built in 1854, but was moved to a nearby town only 20 years later, due to the population decline in Cahawba.
The park has been preserved as best as possible, with the original streets marked by cement posts and some restored. The park’s staff are extremely knowledgeable and offer detailed tours of the property.
The park’s main visitor center and gift shop are wheelchair accessible, with ADA compliant bathroom facilities. Wheelchair users can tour the grounds in their own vehicle, or roll the dirt and gravel streets. Since you’ll already have a vehicle at the park, I recommend saving time and using that to tour – stopping to take in some of the most interesting sights and structures. If you’re interested in taking a tour of Old Cahawba, visit www.cahawba.com.
Food & Dining
Southern cooking is no joke, and Selma, Alabama is definitely a part of the Deep South. During my visit to the city, I had the opportunity to dine at multiple restaurants – allegedly the favorite spots for locals and travelers alike.
Pictured above from left to right (or top to bottom on mobile) are meals from three of Selma’s most popular restaurants — The Downtowner, Tally Ho and Golden Ranch. The Downtowner is a fantastic (and affordable) lunch spot in — you guessed it — downtown. This is a great spot to order a meat & three meal, which offers your choice of one meat and three sides.
Tally Ho is the city’s finest restaurant, offering a touch of luxury in Selma, Alabama. The menu is diverse and the food tasty, but the highlight is definitely the homemade Zucchini Muffins. You won’t be able to stop eating those tasty pastries! Be aware that this restaurant does not have accessible bathrooms.
Golden Ranch BBQ & Grill is an “everyday” restaurant, resembling affordable chains like Texas Roadhouse and Miller’s Ale House. You won’t spend a ton of money at Golden Ranch, but you’ll get access to a diverse menu at a reasonable price.
Another truly local establishment to check out is Lannie’s Bar-B-Q Spot, which has been serving delicious smoked ribs since 1942! Locals say it is the city’s best BBQ offering, and the original restaurant served as the setting for many important gatherings during the civil rights movement.
Sidewalks & “Roll-ability”
Because the attractions in Selma are spread out, the city isn’t one you’re likely to do a lot of walking/rolling in. During my tour, I did take a walking tour, and found the sidewalks to be accessible, although some were in disrepair.
Even though the sidewalks aren’t brand new, they have stood the test of time. There are some uneven pavements and many cracks/bumpy spots, but nearly all feature curb cuts and are passable. Naturally, I did not roll through strictly residential neighborhoods (where footpaths tend to be of lower quality, regardless of city), but instead focused on downtown and the areas surrounding tourist attractions.
I should note that there were numerous streets lacking sidewalks altogether (including on Broad Street, in front of the Quality Inn).
The photograph above was taken during one of my walking tours with the fantastic Dianne Harris of Selma Walking Tours. Most of the city’s sidewalks are the typical cement type, but Water Street in downtown has brick on numerous blocks. These have been well cared for, and it was easy to explore the heart of the city.
Although Selma does not have a commercial airport of its own, there are two modern airports within two hours drive of the city. The closest, about 45 minutes away, is Montgomery Regional Airport. Although I have not used this airport, it is served by two major carriers – American Airlines and Delta. You can read more about the Montgomery airport at www.flymgm.com.
The second, about two hours from Selma, is the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport (BHM). American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines all offer flights to/from Birmingham. The airport is newly renovated, clean and modern.
Staff at the airport were exceedingly friendly, and traveling through Birmingham Airport with a wheelchair was easy and hassle-free. For travelers with Global Entry and/or TSA PreCheck, expedited security is available and wheelchair users can skip the airport security pat down.
The terminal was easily accessible with wide hallways and wheelchair accessible bathroom facilities. There were no issues with gate-checking a wheelchair, and the American Airlines gate agent made sure that I was given the option to pre-board the aircraft. For more information about the Birmingham, Alabama airport, visit www.flybirmingham.com.
Wheelchair Accessible Transportation in Selma, Alabama
As I wrote in the introduction, Selma is a road trip destination. In order to get between the city’s many historic sites, travelers will need a vehicle. Wheelchair users are slightly disadvantaged, in that no ADA taxi service is available in the area. The city also lacks a public transportation system.
Selma’s Chamber of Commerce, with the support of Alabama Black Belt Adventures, rented a wheelchair accessible MV-1 vehicle to make my exploration of the city possible. We traveled in the van from Huntsville, Alabama to Selma and, ultimately, to the airport in Birmingham.
Pictured above is the “boxy” MV-1, which has an electric ramp that slides out from under the floor at the rear passenger-side door. The front passenger seat was removed, and the space converted to a wheelchair securement location. Securement straps kept my wheelchair safely in place, and the van was extremely roomy.
The MV-1 was rented from Gulf States Mobility in Wetumpka, Alabama, just north of Montgomery. For more information, you can visit the company’s website at www.gulfstatesmobility.com.