Selma, Alabama: Obama Pays Tribute 50 Years On

On March 7, 1965 in Selma, Alabama, 600 people headed out on a protest March and walked into one of the most shameful incidents in American Civil Rights History. 50 years on, at the site on the Selma Bridge, Barack Obama paid tribute to those early campaigners who fought so hard for equal rights

According to History, the original Selma march took place in response to the shooting of Jimmie Lee Jackson, a young African American taking part in a peaceful demonstration in Marion, also in Alabama. Martin Luther King Jr. planned the protest march from Selma to Montgomery, the state capitol; the first attempt on March 7 was met with violent resistance by Alabama state troopers, who beat the protesters back to the Selma bridge using nightsticks and whips as well as deploying tear gas. These events were shown on television, leading to widespread shock and condemnation and encouraging many Americans to join the Civil Rights movement.

The brutal attack took place on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, which became an iconic symbol of racial oppression. A second attempt to complete the march, led by King himself, led to more violent resistance and another death, this time a young white protestor, James Reeb. The March from Selma to Montgomery was finally completed over March 21 and 25 with the support of President Lyndon Johnson and with the protection of the U.S Army and Alabama National Guard, as ordered by the president. The events in Selma were a catalyst that contributed to the passage of the Voting Rights Act through Congress in August, 1965, which gave all African Americans the right to vote.

It is particularly appropriate that Barack Obama should lead a tribute in Selma to these equal rights pioneers as the first African American to hold the office of President of the United States. Obama’s speech, as reported on the BBC News, credited the original Selma protestors with giving courage and hope to minority communities across the United States and for opening “the doors of opportunity” for all Americans. Obama also referred to recent incidents, including the shooting of Michael Brown through to the shooting of Tony Robinson on the very day before his speech.

“This nation’s long racial history still casts its long shadow upon us. We know the march is not yet over, the race is not yet won.”

A KKK sign on the Selma bridge was evidence of that truth. Obama went on to speak about continued attempts to restrict voting rights in some parts of the country.

Barack Obama led a symbolic March across part of the Selma bridge, accompanied by his wife Michelle, members of Congress, and survivors of the original Selma march.

[Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]