By: April Ryan, aprildryan.com
50 years to the day, the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama was the backdrop of a country racially divided. For this historic anniversary, the bridge stands as a beacon of hope for the scores of people who waited to hear President Obama’s reflections of the past, present, and the hope for tomorrow pertaining to healing racial divides in this nation.
One of the most poignant moments of the occasion came during the introduction of President Obama when civil rights icon, Congressman John Lewis, with high emotion, told the crowd of thousands he could have never imagined 50 years ago that he would be back on this bridge introducing the first black President.
50 years ago on Bloody Sunday, Congressman John Lewis was brutally beaten on that bridge as marchers non violently pushed for the right to vote.
Understanding the Civil Rights movement was the most successful movement in this nation, President Obama told the crowd that the movement was the blueprint for women rights, gay rights and so much more. At times the President sounded like a black minister quoting scripture, speaking of the past of all peoples in this country and describing the power of the word “we;” “We the people, We shall overcome, and Yes we can!”
Unfortunately, Selma continues to reflect the inequities 50 years ago. It is still a city struggling economically. Pennsylvania State Senator Vincent Hughes wants Americans to do better understanding that the “crew” who marched 50 years ago made an impact, but more work is needed. Hughes attended the event with his wife actress Sheryl Lee Ralph. Senator Hughes says, “That’s what are we fighting for when we vote. The same poverty that exists in Selma 50 years ago is the same poverty that exists in this same city today.”
Just hours before the his speech, President Obama held a historic interview with five black reporters in a conference room on board Air Force One. During this roundtable with the President, I asked the first question about his presidential legacy possibly becoming a marker as a new era in civil rights being called Post-Obama.
President Obama said, “There is no doubt my election was a significant moment in the countries racial history. If it hadn’t been me it would have been somebody else. I say it with all humility…a barrier was broken that legacy will continue in the minds of children who are growing up never having known to this point a president who was not black. I think that shapes attitudes…”
But, the President was clear saying, “I wouldn’t equate my election with seminal moments like the Emancipation Proclamation, or the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 64, or the Voting Rights Act of 65, those were massive changes in legal status that represented fundamental brakes with America’s tragic history, and, that were the the pillars of the 13th amendment, 14th amendment a Civil Rights Act of the 60s those represented the dismantling of formal discrimination in this country. There is nothing that will compare to that. Moving forward, our work is to build on that work, to fine tune that work where you see formal discrimination or state sponsored discrimination still occurring. But, increasingly our work has to do with dealing with ongoing legacy of a divided society closing the opportunity gaps, closing the achievement gaps, closing wealth gaps and inevitably that have been passed on from generation to generation because the gaps are so wide. And that involves no one piece of legislation. it requires a host of different efforts…”
Each of the five black journalists got one question with long answers. After the interview, all the reporters aboard Air Force One helicoptered out of Montgomery, Alabama and then traveled by motorcade to Selma. One of the most moving moments on the ride over was seeing the spontaneous crowds gathering on the sides of the street waving at the motorcade and then later, driving over the Edmund Pettus Bridge and seeing the crowds before us who were waiting to hear from President Obama.
Those of note attending yesterdays event, included President George W. Bush and Laura Bush, many members of the Congressional Black Caucus, Reverend Al Sharpton, Martin Luther King III, Bernice King, Former Clinton Labor Secretary Alexis Herman, Kevin Liles, Actress Sheryl Lee Ralph, and Danny Glover.