President Obama Speaks At Selma Commemoration 50 Years After "Bloody Sunday"
Saturday marks the 50-year anniversary of a historic day in the American civil rights movement. The infamous Bloody Sunday of 1965 Alabama, when civil rights protesters were beaten and teargassed while attempting to march from Selma to Montgomery. It's a chapter in America's legacy of racism, activism, and progress, and it's rightly getting its due attention this afternoon — President Obama is speaking at the Selma commemoration, the first black President standing at the site of one of the civil rights movement's most crucial events.
Obama wasn't the only politico at the event, most notably joined by Georgia Democratic Representative John Lewis. Now 75 years old, Lewis was one of the youngest civil rights leaders of the 1960s, and was serving as chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1965 when the Selma march took place. Like so many others, he faced beatings at the hands of a white law enforcement cabal determined to keep the activists from crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Now, in the same place just 50 years later, he introduces the first black American to win the nation's highest office.
It comes as little surprise that this would be a deeply personal speech for Obama, considering the incredible weight of America's civil rights history that sits atop that bridge. While he's always been a stirring orator, his remarks before the assembled crowd in Selma are thick with emotion and moral force. He ran the gamut, from memorializing the human cost of the civil rights struggle, to reflecting on how things have improved and some haven't, to launching a full-throated, fiery defense of the Voting Rights Act, the landmark law spurred by the events of Bloody Sunday. Here are some of the highlights, per a transcript at TIME:
While Obama doesn't have the prominent reputation as a person of faith that more overtly religious politicos do (like former President George W. Bush, who was in attendance with his wife Laura), he's never been shy about invoking scripture when it suits him, especially in his deeply felt, more personal speeches. And while memorializing the struggle of Selma, he did just that.
One of the major strengths of the speech, and a very welcome one at that, was how Obama framed the fight against anti-black racism in a broad context, drawing parallels to historical oppressions faced by Asians, Latinos, gays and lesbians, and people with disabilities.
And on the topic of the keystone legislation that emerged from the bloodshed in Selma, Obama couldn't have spoken with more ardor or intensity. Referencing the history of bipartisan action on renewing the Voting Rights Act, Obama gave a withering condemnation of so-called "voter suppression" laws, the voter ID initiatives being pushed by GOP-led states across the country.
By all means, if you have the time, watch the President's speech in full yourself. You could very well go the whole rest of your life without seeing one quite as meaningful as this, and if I had to bet, I'd reckon it'll go down as one of his best ever. Thanks very much, Mr. President — and everyone who gave or risked their lives for this noble cause.