Yesterday thousands of people gathered in Selma, Alabama, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday --- the first attempt Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his fellow organizers made to march from Selma to Montgomery to protest for voting rights.
Representative John Lewis, who marched alongside Dr. King back in 1965, was in attendance, as was President Obama and his family. Obama, who was only three years old at the time of the original march, took the stage yesterday afternoon to remark on the difference 50 years has made in terms of progress toward equality. He was also quick to note that in a time of much unrest around race relations in the country, we still have a long way to go.
Here are some highlights from Obama's speech:
"...There are places and moments in America where this nation’s destiny has been decided. Many are sites of war -- Concord and Lexington, Appomattox and Gettysburg. Others are sites that symbolize the daring of America’s character -- Independence Hall and Seneca Falls, Kitty Hawk and Cape Canaveral.
Selma is such a place."
"...We gather here to honor the courage of ordinary Americans willing to endure billy clubs and the chastening rod -- tear gas and the trampling hoof -- men and women who despite the gush of blood and splintered bone would stay true to their North Star and keep marching toward justice."
"...What they did here will reverberate through the ages. Not because the change they won was preordained, not because their victory was complete, but because they proved that nonviolent change is possible -- that love and hope can conquer hate."
"...What greater expression of faith in the American experiment than this -- what greater form of patriotism is there -- than the belief that America is not yet finished, that we are strong enough to be self-critical, that each successive generation can look upon our imperfections and decide that it is in our power to remake this nation to more closely align with our highest ideals?"
"...It’s the idea held by generations of citizens who believed that America is a constant work in progress -- who believed that loving this country requires more than singing its praises or avoiding uncomfortable truths. It requires the occasional disruption, the willingness to speak out for what’s right and shake up the status quo."
"...Because of what they did, the doors of opportunity swung open not just for African-Americans, but for every American. Women marched through those doors. Latinos marched through those doors. Asian-Americans, gay Americans, and Americans with disabilities 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."
"...First and foremost, we have to recognize that one day’s commemoration, no matter how special, is not enough. 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."
"...We do a disservice to the cause of justice by intimating that bias and discrimination are immutable, or that racial division is inherent to America. If you think nothing’s changed in the past 50 years, ask somebody who lived through the Selma or Chicago or L.A. of the '50s. Ask the female CEO who once might have been assigned to the secretarial pool if nothing’s changed. Ask your gay friend if it’s easier to be out and proud in America now than it was 30 years ago. To deny this progress -- our progress -- would be to rob us of our own agency, our responsibility to do what we can to make America better."
"...We know the march is not yet over, the race is not yet won, and that reaching that blessed destination where we are judged by the content of our character requires admitting as much."
"...Together, we can address unfair sentencing, and overcrowded prisons, and the stunted circumstances that rob too many boys of the chance to become men, and rob the nation of too many men who could be good dads, and workers and neighbors."
"...Fellow marchers, so much has changed in 50 years. We’ve endured war and fashioned peace. We’ve seen technological wonders that touch every aspect of our lives, and take for granted convenience our parents might scarcely imagine. But what has not changed is the imperative of citizenship, that willingness of a 26-year-old deacon, or a Unitarian minister, or a young mother of five, to decide they loved this country so much that they’d risk everything to realize its promise."
"...We respect the past, but we don’t pine for it. We don’t fear the future; we grab for it. America is not some fragile thing; we are large, in the words of Whitman, containing multitudes. We are boisterous and diverse and full of energy, perpetually young in spirit. That’s why someone like John Lewis at the ripe age of 25 could lead a mighty march."