That's what makes us unique, and cements

What they did here will reverberate through the ages. But we are getting closer.In one afternoon fifty years ago, 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. 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. Their lives were threatened.Because of what they did, the doors of opportunity swung open not just for African-Americans, but for every American. Young folks with bedrolls and backpacks were milling about.

I understand the question, for the report's narrative was woefully familiar. Latinos marched through those doors."This is work for all Americans, and not just some. It meant risking your dignity, and sometimes, your life. We know America is what we make of it. Americans don't accept a free ride for anyone, nor do we believe in equality of outcomes.Selma teaches us, too, that action requires that we shed our cynicism. It is instead the manifestation of a creed written into our founding documents:"We the People…in order to form a more perfect union. They marched as Americans who had endured hundreds of years of brutal violence, and countless daily indignities — but they didn't seek special treatment, just the equal treatment promised to them almost a century before. That's why we argue and fight with so much passion and conviction, because we know our efforts matter.May He bless those warriors of justice no longer with us, and bless the United States of America. If every new voter suppression law was struck down today, we'd still have one of the lowest voting rates among free peoples. What happened in Ferguson may not be unique, but it's no longer endemic, or sanctioned by law and custom; and before the Civil Rights Movement, it most surely was. Together, we can raise the level of mutual trust that policing is built on — the idea that police officers are members of the communities they risk their lives to protect, and citizens in Ferguson and New York and Cleveland just want the same thing young people here marched for — the protection of the law.Which leads us to ask, just how might we repay that debt?First and foremost, we have to recognize that one day's commemoration, no matter how special, is not enough.Fifty years from Bloody Sunday, our march is not yet finished. Not just whites. Young people in Burma went to prison rather than submit to military rule.

If you think nothing's changed in the past fifty years, ask somebody who lived through the Selma or Chicago or L.What a glorious thing, Dr. And it is you, the young and fearless at heart, the most diverse and educated generation in our history, who the nation is waiting to follow. That's what it means when we say America is exceptional. That's our spirit.We're the fresh-faced GIs who fought to liberate a continent, and we're the Tuskeegee Airmen, Navajo code-talkers, and Japanese-Americans who fought for this country even as their own liberty had been denied. Asian-Americans, gay Americans, and Americans with disabilities came through those doors..They saw that idea made real in Selma, Alabama. For we believe in the power of an awesome God, and we believe in this country's sacred promise. We are the hopeful strivers who cross the Rio Grande because they want their kids to know a better life.We gather here to celebrate them. Their faith was questioned."We honor those who walked so we could run. We broke the old aristocracies, declaring ourselves entitled not by bloodline, but endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights. We're the ranch hands and cowboys who opened the West, and countless laborers who laid rail, and raised skyscrapers, and organized for workers' rights. Asian-Americans, gay Americans, and Americans with disabilities came through those doors.com."He added, "What a glorious thing, Dr. A day like this was not on his mind. Ask your gay friend if it's easier to be out and proud in America now than it was thirty years ago. 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.

With effort, we can roll back poverty and the roadblocks to opportunity. That's why it's not a museum or static monument to behold from a distance.We're the immigrants who stowed away on ships to reach these shores, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free — Holocaust survivors, Soviet defectors, the Lost Boys of Sudan. And if we make such effort, no matter how hard it may seem, laws can be passed, and consciences can be stirred, and consensus can be built. They held no elected office." And in the days to come, they went back again and again.Of course, a more common mistake is to suggest that racism is banished, that the work that drew men and women to Selma is complete, and that whatever racial tensions remain are a consequence of those seeking to play the "race card" for their own purposes.As we commemorate their achievement, we are well-served to remember that at the time of the marches, many in power condemned rather than praised them.Because of campaigns like this, a Voting Rights Act was passed. Two hundred and thirty-nine years after this nation's founding, our union is not yet perfect. 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. America is not some fragile thing; we are large, in the words of Whitman, containing multitudes. All of us will need to feel, as they did, the fierce urgency of now. Their patriotism was challenged."That's what America is. The air was thick with doubt, anticipation, and fear.Because Selma shows us that America is not the project of any one person.We are storytellers, writers, poets, and artists who abhor unfairness, and despise hypocrisy, and give voice to the voiceless, and tell truths that need to be told. We don't need the Ferguson report to know that's not true.In remarks provided in advance to the media, Obama said at the bridge, "Because of what they did, the doors of opportunity swung open not just for African-Americans, but for every American. That's what we celebrate here in Selma. The march on Selma was part of a broader campaign that spanned generations; the leaders that day part of a long line of heroes.

But we are getting closer.We're the slaves who built the White House and the economy of the South. We respect the past, but we don't pine for it. Their endeavors gave the entire South the chance to rise again, not by reasserting the past, but by transcending the past."These are not just words. Fifty years ago, registering to vote here in Selma and much of the South meant guessing the number of jellybeans in a jar or bubbles on a bar of soap. They will run and not grow weary. Oh, what a glorious task we are given, to continually try to improve this great nation of ours."A more common mistake is to suggest that racism is banished, that the work that drew men and women to Selma is complete, and that whatever racial tensions remain are a consequence of those seeking to play the 'race card' for their own purposes. Young people in Soweto would hear Bobby Kennedy talk about ripples of hope and eventually banish the scourge of apartheid. But they led a nation.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.As is true across the landscape of American history, we cannot examine this moment in isolation. But I rejected the notion that nothing's changed. And he would send them protection, echoing their call for the nation and the world to hear:"We shall overcome. To those who marched, though, those old gospel songs must have never sounded so sweet. King might say.That's what it means to love America.For we were born of change."His full remarks:Remarks of President Barack ObamaSelma, AlabamaMarch 7, 2015As Prepared for Delivery —It is a rare honor in this life to follow one of your heroes. We're the firefighters who rushed into those buildings on 9/11, and the volunteers who signed up to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq.We are the people Langston Hughes wrote of, who "build our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how.

Many are sites of war — Concord and Lexington, Appomattox and Gettysburg. It's the same instinct that drew immigrants from across oceans and the Rio Grande; the same instinct that led women to reach for the ballot and workers to organize against an unjust status quo; the same instinct that led us to plant a flag at Iwo Jima and on the surface of the Moon. They saw it made real in America. A white newsman, Bill Plante, who covered the marches then and who is with us here today, quipped that the growing number of white people lowered the quality of the singing. When it feels the road's too hard, when the torch we've been passed feels too heavy, we will remember these early travelers, and draw strength from their example, and hold firmly the words of the prophet Isaiah:"Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at pbedard@washingtonexaminer. And we will not grow weary.Selma is such a place. One hundred Members of Congress have come here today to honor people who were willing to die for the right it protects.It was not a clash of armies, but a clash of wills; a contest to determine the meaning of America. For when it comes to the pursuit of justice, we can afford neither complacency nor despair. But they gave courage to millions.And because of men and women like John Lewis, Joseph Lowery, Hosea Williams, Amelia Boynton, Diane Nash, Ralph Abernathy, C. That's how we came to be. Our job's easier because somebody already got us through that first mile. Their endeavors gave the entire South the chance to rise again, not by reasserting the past, but by transcending the past.President Obama said that the black-white struggle that came to a head 50 years ago in Selma, Ala. King might say. of the Fifties.And with effort, we can protect the foundation stone of our democracy for which so many marched across this bridge — and that is the right to vote. We Shall Overcome. That's why someone like John Lewis at the ripe age of 25 could lead a mighty march.

And yet, what could be more American than what happened in this place?What could more profoundly vindicate the idea of America than plain and humble people—the unsung, the downtrodden, the dreamers not of high station, not born to wealth or privilege, not of one religious tradition but many—coming together to shape their country's course?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?That's why Selma is not some outlier in the American experience.We are Jackie Robinson, enduring scorn and spiked cleats and pitches coming straight to his head, and stealing home in the World Series anyway. All of us need to recognize, as they did, that change depends on our actions, our attitudes, the things we teach our children. And John Lewis is one of my heroes. Vivian, Andrew Young, Fred Shuttlesworth, Dr. 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. We just need to open our eyes, and ears, and hearts, to know that this nation's racial history still casts its long shadow upon us. We secure our rights and responsibilities through a system of self-government, of and by and for the people." We The People. Meanwhile, the Voting Rights Act, the culmination of so much blood and sweat and tears, the product of so much sacrifice in the face of wanton violence, stands weakened, its future subject to partisan rancor. It evoked the kind of abuse and disregard for citizens that spawned the Civil Rights Movement.They did as Scripture instructed: "Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Not just blacks. Women marched through those doors."We are the people Emerson wrote of, "who for truth and honor's sake stand fast and suffer long;" who are "never tired, so long as we can see far enough. If we want to honor the courage of those who marched that day, then all of us are called to possess their moral imagination. Anthony, who shook the system until the law reflected that truth.T.

That's what makes us unique, and cements our reputation as a beacon of opportunity. Back then, they were called Communists, half-breeds, outside agitators, sexual and moral degenerates, and worse — erything but the name their parents gave them. For everywhere in this country, there are first steps to be taken, and new ground to cover, and bridges to be crossed.Because the single most powerful word in our democracy is the word "We.We are the inventors of gospel and jazz and the blues, bluegrass and country, hip-hop and rock and roll, our very own sounds with all the sweet sorrow and reckless joy of freedom.A. It is owned by no one. King, and so many more, the idea of a just America, a fair America, an inclusive America, a generous America — that idea ultimately triumphed. Not stock photos or airbrushed history or feeble attempts to define some of us as more American as others. 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. Unconstrained by habits and convention.How can that be? The Voting Rights Act was one of the crowning achievements of our democracy, the result of Republican and Democratic effort. That's what it means to believe in America. 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. Others are sites that symbolize the daring of America's character — Independence Hall and Seneca Falls, Kitty Hawk and Cape Canaveral.We are Sojourner Truth and Fannie Lou Hamer, women who could do as much as any man and then some; and we're Susan B.The American instinct that led these young men and women to pick up the torch and cross this bridge is the same instinct that moved patriots to choose revolution over tyranny.And that's what the young people here today and listening all across the country must take away from this day. Somebody already got us over that bridge. As we speak, more of such laws are being proposed.

The Americans who crossed this bridge were not physically imposing. We can make sure every person willing to work has the dignity of a job, and a fair wage, and a real voice, and sturdier rungs on that ladder into the middle class. Women marched through those doors.Of course, our democracy is not the task of Congress alone, or the courts alone, or the President alone. A doctor described what tear gas does to the body, while marchers scribbled down instructions for contacting their loved ones. Yes We Can.Just this week, I was asked whether I thought the Department of Justice's Ferguson report shows that, with respect to race, little has changed in this country. When the trumpet call sounded for more to join, the people came — black and white, young and old, Christian and Jew, waving the American flag and singing the same anthems full of faith and hope.We are the gay Americans whose blood ran on the streets of San Francisco and New York, just as blood ran down this bridge.President Bush and Mrs. Right now, in 2015, fifty years after Selma, there are laws across this country designed to make it harder for people to vote. It belongs to everyone. They will walk and not be faint. President Bush signed its renewal when he was in office. Bush, Governor Bentley, Members of Congress, Mayor Evans, Reverend Strong, friends and fellow Americans:There are places, and moments in America where this nation's destiny has been decided. 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."In his remarks to commemorate the"Bloody Sunday"march that led to passage of the Civil Rights Act, Obama added that racism still exists. Latinos marched through those doors. President Reagan signed its renewal when he was in office. Unencumbered by what is, and ready to seize what ought to be. That's what this movement was all about, one leg in our long journey toward freedom. We don't need the Ferguson report to know that's not true. That's our character."What enormous faith these men and women had. We've endured war, and fashioned peace.Now, I have to imagine that when a younger John Lewis woke up that morning fifty years ago and made his way to Brown Chapel, heroics were not on his mind. It requires the occasional disruption, the willingness to speak out for what's right and shake up the status quo."We are capable of bearing a great burden," James Baldwin wrote, "once we discover that the burden is reality and arrive where reality is. They are a living thing, a call to action, a roadmap for citizenship and an insistence in the capacity of free men and women to shape our own destiny. They will soar on wings like eagles.We are Lewis and Clark and Sacajawea — pioneers who braved the unfamiliar, followed by a stampede of farmers and miners, entrepreneurs and hucksters.What a solemn debt we owe.""We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. We just need to open our eyes, and ears, and hearts, to know that this nation's racial history still casts its long shadow upon us.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. We don't fear the future; we grab for it. You are America. 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. If we want to honor this day, let these hundred go back to Washington, and gather four hundred more, and together, pledge to make it their mission to restore the law this year., continues, but the civil rights march over the Edmund Pettus Bridge opened the door for advancements by blacks, Hispanics, women and gays. Ask the female CEO who once might have been assigned to the secretarial pool if nothing's changed. Faith in God — but also faith in America.

They comforted themselves with the final verse of the final hymn they sung:No matter what may be the test, God will take care of you;Lean, weary one, upon His breast, God will take care of you. 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. For founders like Franklin and Jefferson, for leaders like Lincoln and FDR, the success of our experiment in self-government rested on engaging all our citizens in this work.With such effort, we can make sure our criminal justice system serves all and not just some. We've seen technological wonders that touch every aspect of our lives, and take for granted convenience our parents might scarcely imagine.In time, their chorus would reach President Johnson. What is our excuse today for not voting? How do we so casually discard the right for which so many fought? How do we so fully give away our power, our voice, in shaping America's future?Fellow marchers, so much has changed in fifty years. From the streets of Tunis to the Maidan Led street light in Ukraine, this generation of young people can draw strength from this place, where the powerless could change the world's greatest superpower, and push their leaders to expand the boundaries of freedom.Then, his knapsack stocked with an apple, a toothbrush, a book on government — all you need for a night behind bars — John Lewis led them out of the church on a mission to change America. Veterans of the movement trained newcomers in the tactics of non-violence; the right way to protect yourself when attacked. We must run so our children soar. We are boisterous and diverse and full of energy, perpetually young in spirit. Young people behind the Iron Curtain would see Selma and eventually tear down a wall. But we do expect equal opportunity, and if we really mean it, if we're willing to sacrifice for it, then we can make sure every child gets an education suitable to this new century, one that expands imaginations and lifts their sights and gives them skills.

To leave a comment, please sign in with
or or

Comments (0)