Obamaselmaarticle
 
America’s racial history “still casts its long shadow upon us,” President Barack Obama said Saturday as he stood in solidarity and remembrance with civil rights activists whose beatings by police a half-century ago galvanized much of the nation against racial oppression and hastened passage of historic voting rights for minorities.
  
Tens of thousands of people joined to commemorate the “Bloody Sunday” march of 1965 and take stock of the struggle for equality, as Obama invoked the modern day struggles for gay rights in his speech.
 
Because of what they did, the doors of opportunity swung open not just for black folks, but for every American. Women marched through those doors. Latinos marched through those doors. Asian Americans, gay Americans, Americans with disabilities – they all came through those doors. Their endeavors gave the entire South the chance to rise again, not by reasserting the past, but by transcending the past.
 
Under a bright sun, the first black U.S. president praised the figures of a civil rights era that he was too young to know but that helped him break the ultimate racial barrier in political history with his ascension to the highest office. He called them “warriors of justice” who pushed America closer to a more perfect union.
 
“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,” Obama told the crowd before taking a symbolic walk across part of the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where the 1965 march erupted into police violence.
 
 “It was not a clash of armies, but a clash of wills, a contest to determine the meaning of America,” Obama said. He was 3 years old at the time of the march.
 
Two years after King’s historic “I have a dream” speech in Washington, the Bloody Sunday march became the first of three aiming to reach Montgomery, Alabama, to demand an end to discrimination against black voters and all such victims of segregation. Scenes of troopers beating marchers on the bridge shocked the nation, emboldening leaders in Washington to pass the Voting Rights Act five months later.
 
Obama said America “cannot examine this moment in isolation,” and that the march on Selma “was part of a broader campaign that spanned generations; the leaders that day part of a long line of heroes.”
 
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.
 
Obama also drew a direct comparison of Selma to demonstrations by gay Americans, recalling the Stonewall riots of 1969 and the uprising in San Francisco following the assassination of openly gay supervisor Harvey Milk.
 
“We’re the gay Americans whose blood ran in the streets of San Francisco and New York, just as blood ran down this bridge.”
 
Obama’s remarks came a day after Vice President Joe Biden also drew parallels between LGBT rights and civil rights in a speech Friday at a Human Rights Campaign convention in Washington.
 
Just as he could never have imagined serving alongside a black president, Biden said, he never anticipated seeing a time when gays would serve in the military openly, the Supreme Court would strike down anti-sodomy laws and a majority of U.S. states would legalize same-sex marriage.
 
“Selma and Stonewall were basically the same movement,” Biden said, invoking the New York riots that marked the symbolic start of the modern gay rights movement.
 
Associated Press contributed to this report.
 
 

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