Clinton urges citizens to ‘stay awake’

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 7, 2007


Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., joined a packed house Sunday at First Baptist Church in Selma for its morning service, then was joined by her famous husband for the annual re-enactment of the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge that drew an estimated 20,000 observers.

This weekend commemorated the 42nd anniversary of Bloody Sunday, when in 1965 peaceful demonstrators were met with violence seeking to march to Montgomery to demand voting rights.

Email newsletter signup

Former President Bill Clinton joined Sen. Clinton at historic Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church and marched the same route the protesters took when Alabama State Troopers beat and cattle prodded nonviolent marchers seeking social change, images Sen. Clinton said she recalled.

She also recalled seeing a young minister speak who helped change a nation – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“In 1963 our youth minister took a few of us, on a cold January night, to hear a man we’d read about and seen on television,” Sen. Clinton recalled. “He challenged us to stay awake.”

Joined in the pulpit King once frequented by some of the same men who played integral parts in challenging the conscious of America, Sen. Clinton issued a challenge of her own. “How can we sleep when there’s 40 million fellow Americans that don’t have health insurance,” she said.

She received several rousing ovations, in a church service that featured Charles Steele, national president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. The SCLC, founded by King, was celebrating its 50th anniversary. Clinton lauded the SCLC, saying “we should not forget the blows they took.”

“We have a march to finish,” she said. “Not until the Count Every Vote Act is passed, where every vote is counted and you can verify your vote … we have to stay awake.”

Attorney J.L. Chestnut, chairman of the First Baptist deacon board, who served as one of King’s lawyers, was pleased his hometown was in the national spotlight.

“It was impressive, even for Selma, to have two presidential candidates speaking within a couple of blocks of each other,” Chestnut said.

U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., was speaking at historic Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church less than 200 yards away. After both services, the two joined for a rally outside Brown Chapel before retracing the steps marchers took in 1965. Both candidates said they stood “on the shoulders” of the voting rights demonstrators.

Jenise Hampton, 30, an assistant school principal in Selma, said she felt Sen. Clinton “was great.”

“She’s a great speaker, and she’s willing to make a change,” Hampton said. “She connected with her audience, and connected with me.”

Following the march, Former President Clinton was inducted into the Voting Rights Hall of Fame, sponsored by the National Voting Rights Museum & Institute.