Living Democracy

Selma Connections Continue for McNeal

Lowery McNealWhile most college students return to campus after summer breaks with stories about earning extra cash and vacations, Lowery McNeal, a senior history major at Auburn University, returned with an Oscar-nominated memory of her summer.

The Trussville native worked as an extra in the film “Selma” when it was being filmed in Selma and Montgomery in the summer of 2014. In January, she was proud to see the finished film when it opened in Alabama theaters. “It’s so good. Take some tissues, but it is so good,” McNeal said after viewing the blockbuster film released in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the historic “Bloody Sunday” march.

McNeal, who lived and worked in Selma as a 2014 Living Democracy student, spent several sweltering days on the Edmund Pettus Bridge alongside hundreds of others during the filming.

Reflecting on her experience, McNeal said, “It was neat to be in such an historic and beautiful place in our costumes. Knowing that we were there to help make this important movie was good, but being able to just hang around with others who had been in the original march was even better.”

Lowery McNeal and Old Cahawba signWorking as an extra for “Selma” was only a small part of McNeal’s Living Democracy summer.  The College of Liberal Arts initiative provides selected students with living-learning experiences in Alabama communities.

McNeal spent the majority of her time working to help start a canoe trail at the Old Cahawba Archaeological Park. Working with her community partner, Old Cahawba site director Linda Derry, McNeal built on efforts started by 2013 Living Democracy student Taryn Wilson’s work to add value to the historic site.

McNeal said Selma was an ideal place to live and work for a history major. She enjoyed living in the John Tyler Morgan home in Selma’s historic district. Living in the home built in 1859, McNeal said, gave her time to appreciate the town that played a pivotal role both in the Civil War and the Civil Rights era.

 “Some evenings I would sit on the front balcony and read and think how cool it was to be in this old house in Selma. I never would have imagined I would have that experience, “ McNeal said.

Outside of working with the Old Cahawba staff, McNeal also had opportunities to work with leaders in the community like Callie Nelson, the Dallas County Extension Coordinator

Lowery McNeal at forumAs a Living Democracy student, McNeal’s primary mission was to develop projects in line with local citizens’ goals to improve their community. “I had a lot of time to think about things, and so I think my understanding of Living Democracy as a program and my understanding of Selma is much richer now,” she said.

Now back at Auburn University for her last semester before graduating in May, McNeal is continuing her work of celebrating and learning about Selma’s history. For her senior thesis, she is diving into the story of Selma native Kathryn Tucker Windham, the late author of “13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey” and other ghost story collections.

 “History is powerful and can be a force for progress, or it can sometimes slow people down. It can anchor us and give people a real sense of place and identity, but it can also anchor people to their traditions and make it hard to see new perspectives,” McNeal said.

Now contemplating how to continue community service and civic action beyond graduation, McNeal said she is sure that she will never forget her summer in Selma.

Last Updated: March 18, 2015