Obama invokes gay rights struggle in marking Selma civil rights milestone

Staff and Wire Reports

President Barack Obama speaks near the Edmund Pettus Bridge, Saturday, March 7, 2015, in Selma, Ala. This weekend marks the 50th anniversary of "Bloody Sunday," a civil rights march in which protestors were beaten, trampled and tear-gassed by police at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, in Selma. Bill Frakes, AP

President Barack Obama speaks near the Edmund Pettus Bridge, Saturday, March 7, 2015, in Selma, Ala. This weekend marks the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday,” a civil rights march in which protestors were beaten, trampled and tear-gassed by police at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, in Selma.

America’s racial history “still casts its long shadow upon us,” President Barack Obama said Saturday as he stood in solidarity and remembrance with civil rights activists whose beatings by police a half-century ago galvanized much of the nation against racial oppression and hastened passage of historic voting rights for minorities.

Tens of thousands of people joined to commemorate the “Bloody Sunday” march of 1965 and take stock of the struggle for equality, as Obama invoked the modern day struggles for gay rights in his speech.

Because of what they did, the doors of opportunity swung open not just for black folks, but for every American. Women marched through those doors. Latinos marched through those doors. Asian Americans, gay Americans, Americans with disabilities – they all came through those doors. Their endeavors gave the entire South the chance to rise again, not by reasserting the past, but by transcending the past.

Under a bright sun, the first black U.S. president praised the figures of a civil rights era that he was too young to know but that helped him break the ultimate racial barrier in political history with his ascension to the highest office. He called them “warriors of justice” who pushed America closer to a more perfect union.

“So much of our turbulent history – the stain of slavery and anguish of civil war, the yoke of segregation and tyranny of Jim Crow, the death of four little girls in Birmingham, and the dream of a Baptist preacher – met on this bridge,” Obama told the crowd before taking a symbolic walk across part of the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where the 1965 march erupted into police violence.

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“It was not a clash of armies, but a clash of wills, a contest to determine the meaning of America,” Obama said. He was 3 years old at the time of the march.

Two years after King’s historic “I have a dream” speech in Washington, the Bloody Sunday march became the first of three aiming to reach Montgomery, Alabama, to demand an end to discrimination against black voters and all such victims of segregation. Scenes of troopers beating marchers on the bridge shocked the nation, emboldening leaders in Washington to pass the Voting Rights Act five months later.

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