Walking in the footsteps of the Selma marchers, President Obama said that America’s racial history still casts a long shadow.
Two hundred and thirty-nine years after this nation's founding our union is not yet perfect, but we are getting closer.
Fifty years on from the civil rights rally in Alabama, he alluded to the recent shootings of unarmed black men in Ferguson and New York at the hands of police but also paid tribute to those who risked their lives for change back in 1965.
“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. (…)
“Fifty years from Bloody Sunday, our march is not yet finished, but we’re getting closer. Two hundred and thirty-nine years after this nation’s founding our union is not yet perfect, but we are getting closer.”
President Obama walks across The Edmund Pettus Bridge, in Selma, Alabama on the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday pic.twitter.com/rtIlVRgW0W— Doug Mills (@dougmillsnyt) March 7, 2015
His words came amid a time of heightened racial tensions in the country. On Friday a Wisconsin teen became the latest unarmed black man to be shot dead by police. It was just one of a string of high profile shootings which has led to increased scrutiny of police violence against minorities. It has sparked the movement Black Lives Matter which has seen protests take place across the country.
In New York, Brooklyn Bridge saw 250 people take part in a ‘Selma is everywhere march’.
A report into the civil rights violations by police in Ferguson released by the Justice Department on Wednesday, detailed several racist emails sent by law enforcement officers. One email sent in 2011 depicted the president as a chimpanzee. The Ferguson police department has been subject to scrutiny over the shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teen by officer Darren Wilson in August 2014.
The report states:
“The racial animus and stereotypes expressed by these supervisors suggest that they are unlikely to hold an officer accountable for discriminatory conduct or take any steps to discourage the development or perpetuation of racial stereotypes among officers.”
At the Selma commemoration president addressed the report’s findings saying:
“The report’s narrative was woefully 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, or sanctioned by law and custom; and before the Civil Rights Movement, it most surely was.”
Selma, 7 March 1965
The president gave his rousing speech on the very spot where Alabama state troopers launched an assault on the peaceful protest. The scenes broadcast on TV shocked America.
That day became known as Bloody Sunday and prompted a follow-up march led by Martin Luther King Junior.
As a result President Johnson passed the Voting Rights Act that aimed to prevent racist officials from excluding African Americans from the ballot.