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Norward Roussell, Leader of Selma Schools in Turbulent Time, Dies at 80

As superintendent for Selma, Ala., Norward Roussell tried to reform the process of “tracking” students by ability, and was fired amid animosity that recalled the city’s racially divided past. (Tom Giles/Black Star)
As superintendent for Selma, Ala., Norward Roussell tried to reform the process of “tracking” students by ability, and was fired amid animosity that recalled the city’s racially divided past. (Tom Giles/Black Star)

(New York Times) – Norward Roussell, who in 1987 arrived in Selma, Ala., as the city’s first black superintendent of schools with aspirations to equalize educational opportunity — only to be fired three years later amid racial animosities, protests and a school boycott that recalled the historic Selma-to-Montgomery civil rights march of 1965 — died on Monday in Selma. He was 80.

The cause was myelodysplastic syndrome, a type of bone marrow cancer, his daughter, Melanie Newman, said.

By the time Dr. Roussell came to Selma, blacks owned businesses and held administrative positions like postmaster, and many whites hoped that the bloody attack on demonstrators by club-wielding state troopers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge that had horrified the nation was distant, shameful history.

“We were wrong,” Joe Smitherman, who was first elected mayor of Selma in 1964 as a supporter of George C. Wallace, Alabama’s segregationist governor, and served for 38 years, said in an interview with The Los Angeles Times in 1990. “And I don’t know how to say it better than that. And I was part of that wrong.”

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