President Barack Obama was in Selma, Alabama, yesterday to cross the historic Edmund Pettus Bridge alongside tens of thousands of others. There, he made a speech that looked back on the 50th anniversary of the historic “Bloody Sunday” civil rights march and discussed the issue of race in America today.
“There are places, and moments in America where this nation’s destiny has been decided. . . . Selma is such a place,” President Obama said. “If Selma taught us anything, it’s that our work is never done—the American experiment in self-government gives work and purpose to each generation.”
Remembering the Past
On March 7, 1965, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led 600 protestors on a 54-mile march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, to take a stand for African American voting rights. At the time, laws in southern states made it difficult for blacks to vote, despite the fact that the Fifteenth Amendment, ratified in 1870, gave African-American men the right to vote.
Tens of thousands marched on Sunday to mark the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday.”
While crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the peaceful protestors were attacked by Alabama state troopers with tear gas and batons. The event became known as “Bloody Sunday.” Later that year, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which guaranteed all African Americans the right to vote by strengthening the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. (The Fourteenth Amendment, ratified in 1868, granted citizenship to people who had once been held as slaves.)
Luci Baines Johnson, daughter of President Lyndon B. Johnson, also attended yesterday’s march. She was 18 when her father signed the legislation. She remembered his words to her that day. “He said, ‘Luci Baines, we are going to Congress today and there are going to be many brave and extraordinary men and women there.’”
A Legacy That Lives On
In his speech, President Obama acknowledged the progress that has been made in the fifty years since the historic march.
“Because of campaigns like this, a Voting Rights Act was passed,” Obama said. “Political, economic, and social barriers came down, and the change these men and women wrought is visible here today in the presence of African-Americans who run boardrooms, who sit on the bench, who serve in elected office from small towns to big cities; from the Congressional Black Caucus to the Oval Office.”
He added, “Because of what they did, the doors of opportunity swung open not just for African-Americans, but for every American.”
President Obama reminded Americans that the fight for equality continues. He explained that people must work together to combat “roadblocks to opportunity” that many Americans face. With him at the march were his daughters Malia, 16, and Sasha, 13.
President Barack Obama leads a symbolic walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge along with First Lady Michelle Obama and daughters Malia and Sasha, civil rights leaders, Congress members, and others.
William Baldwin, 69, of Montgomery, brought his two grandsons, ages 11 and 15, to Sunday’s anniversary event. He said he wanted them to understand the importance of the historic march he took part in half a century earlier.
“They’re going to take this struggle on and we have to understand the price that was paid for them to have what they have now,” Baldwin said. “It wasn’t granted to them, it was earned by blood, sweat, and tears.”