Historic Selma Church Building Destroyed by Tornado

Historic Selma Church Building Destroyed by Tornado

When  [Rev.] Williams…returned to the church basement to gather his belongings, he could look up and see nothing but air where a tall church structure had once stood. When he entered the area of the basement that had protected him and two others, he found the Bible he had been using still open to the same page in First John that they had been studying when the EF2 tornado blew through.

There’s nothing left standing of the Selma Reformed Presbyterian Church building except a portion of the basement. That’s where three people were studying the Bible and praying on Jan. 12 when a tornado struck.

Rev. Winston Williams, a supply preacher for the congregation for the past five years, had heard a forecast for severe weather but decided not to cancel the prayer meeting because a new couple had come the previous week, and he knew they would be there at 11:30 a.m. on Thursday looking for him. Some members of the church decided not to leave their houses after hearing the forecast.

So it was just the three of them, and they opened the Bibles to the book of First John. Just after noon, there was a sudden quiet that was quickly followed by a sound like a rushing train. Rev. Williams’ first impulse was to lead the group to a room he thought would be safer. “We tried to get into the room and couldn’t. The suction wouldn’t let me open the door.” It all happened fast, he said.

They hit the floor as the building rumbled. Dust circulated in the air, and papers flew around. But their senses didn’t fathom the gravity of the tornado’s impact.

Before long, they heard voices outside, and the sound of chain saws. They left the building and saw for the first time that the building above them had been flattened. “I was shocked when I went outside and saw the destruction.”

“At no time did I ever feel any fear or that I would die,” Williams said. “I put that to our confidence in Christ.”

The woman who had been in the church building injured her leg as she hit the floor, but otherwise the three were OK.

Rev. Williams’ next thought was for the children at the school next door—the school that the Reformed Presbyterian Church had founded to provide education for children of freed slaves. Later, Knox Academy became a public school and is now known as School of Discovery. Williams said there were over 300 children in the building when the tornado struck.

He found the children all safe, but scared. Some cried. Three trees had been toppled, and large air conditioning units had been picked up by the storm, but the classrooms were intact. Williams and the other adults stayed with the children a long time until parents came for them.

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