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The ‘Real Congresswoman From Selma’ Has Her Say

Sewell likes to kid that her mother is the "real congresswoman" from the district. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Sewell likes to kid that her mother is the "real congresswoman" from the district. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Rep. Terri A. Sewell has her constituents in Alabama. Then she has “the” constituent.  

“Everyone knows [who] the real congresswoman from the 7th District is,” the Alabama Democrat said. Her staff backs her up, almost in unison: “Nancy Sewell.” One of the more recent examples of this dynamic at work happened as the movie “Selma,” about the March 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery march, was prepping for national release. Nancy Sewell thought it would be a shame if it didn’t open in the city.  

“My congresswoman is not worth her salt if she cannot get ‘Selma’ on the day it opens nationwide to play in Selma, Ala.,” Sewell recalled her mother telling her. “She was right. It should open in Selma,” she added.  

The only problem? There’s no operational movie theater in Selma. So the congresswoman worked with the city and Paramount Pictures to make sure the red carpet would come, and the old city-owned Walton Theater opened to show the Academy Award-nominated film on Jan. 9.  

The congresswoman said her mother isn’t shy about letting her know how she feels about her votes, either. Sewell, for instance, voted in favor of construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which her mother pointed out was not exactly in line with the Democratic Party or President Barack Obama.  

The lawmaker said she voted the way she did because it would be good for the steel industry in the state, primarily based in Birmingham. “I may vote with my party 90 percent of the time … but I vote my district 100 percent of the time,” Sewell said.  

Nancy Sewell is circumspect about her role. “Used to be ‘Mama.’ Now it’s just ‘the real congresswoman,'” she said. Politics isn’t new for the elder Sewell. She was the first African-American woman elected to the Selma City Council, serving from 1993 to 2004. She also worked several years for Selma City Schools as a librarian media specialist until retiring in 2003.  

Asked what she would like visitors to take away from their visit to Selma, Nancy Sewell said, “Selma is a very hospitable city. A typical, warm, hospitable city. … We welcome people to our city. But our city has needs. We need jobs.”  

Nancy Sewell said the 1977 closure of Craig Air Force Base was a turning point, leaving a void in the workforce that’s never been replaced. “We’re hurting,” she said, adding “I’m not doom and gloom” but “Selma got stuck on the bridge, regrettably” and needs more industry.  

There is at least one set of jobs that will be returning. The Walton Theater will reopen, to be operated by the nonprofit All Things Are Possible Corporation, in March. John Grayson, the nonprofit’s CEO, said it will eventually employ between four and eight people. “I think Selma needs a theater,” he told the Selma Times-Journal.  


What to See and Do in Selma

The Selma to Montgomery Bicycle Ride: Civil Rights and Bamas

Terri Sewell Proves You Can Come Home Again

The Democrats’ Lost Opportunity in Birmingham

Native Son Bidding For a Sweet Return to Montgomery

Newseum Books John Lewis For More ‘March’ Talk

The 114th: CQ Roll Call’s Guide to the New Congress

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