The Edmund Pettus Bridge revealed the nature of racism in its most gruesome form. Fifty years after “Blood Sunday,” America’s first Black President made a trip to Selma, Alabama to discuss the progress of race relations while also touching on how the nation must confront ongoing racist attitudes.
“In one afternoon 50 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, all that history met on this bridge,” Obama said.
President Obama also touched on the racist attitudes found to be prevalent in the Ferguson Police Department.
“I understood the question; the report’s narrative was sadly familiar. It evoked the kind of abuse and disregard for citizens that spawned the Civil Rights Movement. But I rejected the notion that nothing’s changed. What happened in Ferguson may not be unique, but it’s no longer endemic. It’s no longer sanctioned by law or by custom. And before the Civil Rights Movement, it most surely was,” he said.
He also spoke about police brutality and the high incarceration rates of young Black males.
“With such an effort, we can make sure our criminal justice system serves all and not just some,” President Obama said. “Together, we can raise the level of mutual trust that policing is built on –- the idea that police officers are members of the community they risk their lives to protect, and citizens in Ferguson and New York and Cleveland, they just want the same thing young people here marched for 50 years ago -– the protection of the law. (Applause.) 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 good workers, and good neighbors.”
In closing, President Obama paid homage to those who risked their life and freedom to push for the right to vote.
“We honor those who walked so we could run,” he said. “We must run so our children soar. And we will not grow weary. For we believe in the power of an awesome God, and we believe in this country’s sacred promise.”
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Photos: A.R. Shaw