Yesterday, President Obama spoke at the Edmund Pettus Bridge (named for a former Grand Dragon of the Klu Klux Klan) to mark the anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery marches. Thousands of people gathered to hear him and others speak to commemorate the occasion the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday”. I’m a little ashamed to admit that before I saw the amazing film Selma last month, I didn’t know the specifics of the horrible events that took place there. I now have a better understanding of the history and the depth of the courage it took to cross the bridge that hot, summer day and it has given me an acute appreciation for the President’s stirring words.
You can read the entire transcript of the text online, but simply reading it doesn’t do it justice. Take 30 minutes and watch the video of the President’s remarks, they are some of the most poignant Barack’s ever spoken during his presidency. Some people in this country prefer to think that racism is dead and buried, that we shouldn’t look back in order to move forward. They couldn’t be further from the truth, as the recent events in Ferguson and other places around this nation prove. The President was careful to note that we have indeed made progress, yet there is still much work left to be done.
If you think nothing’s changed in the past 50 years, ask somebody who lived through the Selma or Chicago or Los Angeles of the 1950s. 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 thirty years ago. To deny this progress, this hard-won progress -– our progress –- would be to rob us of our own agency, our own capacity, our responsibility to do what we can to make America better.
Of course, a more common mistake is to suggest that Ferguson is an isolated incident; that racism is banished; that the work that drew men and women to Selma is now complete, and that whatever racial tensions remain are a consequence of those seeking to play the “race card” for their own purposes. We don’t need the Ferguson report to know that’s not true. We just need to open our eyes, and our ears, and our hearts to know that this nation’s racial history still casts its long shadow upon us.
His words remind me why I voted for him and why I still believe he’s the best President we’ve had in the past 25 years. He reminds us of where we’ve been, all the better to see the bright, shining future in front of us. After all, without the darkness, there can be no light. Selma’s anniversary is a bright, shining moment when people stood up against hate and brutality and changed this country, indeed the world, for the better. I’m glad I took the time to learn more about it.