Obama credits Selma with impacting world

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 7, 2007

The Selma Times-Journal

Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., knows he stood on sacred ground as he delivered the keynote message at Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church Sunday morning. He knows he stands on the shoulders of those who marched on the Edmund Pettus Bridge 42 years ago – and he is eternally grateful.

“It is because they marched that I stand here before you today,” Obama said. “My debt is even greater than that because not only is my career the result of the work of the men and women who gathered here today. My very existence might not been possible had it not been for some of the folks here today.

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“I’m here because somebody marched for our freedom. I’m here because you all sacrificed for me. I stand on the shoulders of giants.”

The Brown Chapel sanctuary roared with applause when Obama said younger generations must continue the “enormous legacy” paved by those involved the voting rights movement.

“What do we do in order to fulfill that legacy, to fulfill the obligation and the debt that we owe to those who allowed us to be here today?” he said.

While he doesn’t “think we can every full repay that debt,” Obama divulged a few suggestions. “The first is to recognize our history,” he said. “I worry sometimes that we got Black History Month, we come down and march every year, we occasionally celebrate the various events of the civil rights movement, we celebrate Dr. King’s birthday, but it strikes me that understanding our history and knowing what it means is an everyday activity.”

Secondly, Obama said the principles of equality that were set forth and battled for have to be fought each and every day, citing “it is not a one time thing.”

“We still have a lot of work to do,” he said. “The disparity in terms of how people are treated in this country continues. It has gotten better and we should never deny that it’s gotten better, but we shouldn’t forget better is not good enough.”

The third thing, Obama said, is recognizing the fight for economic rights still exists. Obama quoted 26 million people in the U.S. are uninsured – mostly African Americans and Hispanics. He also noted an achievement gap and empathy gap that exists between the current administration and the people as a result of Hurricane Katrina.

Obama said the government alone can’t solve all these problems, but the government can help, adding it’s up to younger generations to make sure that the government is responsive to the needs of the people.

“It’s not enough to ask what the government can do for us,” he said. “It’s important for us to ask what we can do for ourselves.”

Obama said parents, particularly in the black community, should instill in their children that educational achievement is nothing to be ashamed of.

“I don’t know who taught that reading and writing and conjugating your verbs was acting white,” Obama said. We’ve got to get a hold on that mentality.”

Lastly, Obama said people must “remind ourselves that we do what we do because God is with us,” later quoting a specific scripture from the Bible.

“Be strong and have courage for I am with you wherever you go,” Obama said. “That prayer kept a woman in her seat when a bus driver told her to get up. A prayer that led nine children through the door of a Little Rock School. A prayer that carried our brothers and sisters over a bridge right here in Selma, Alabama. Be strong and have courage …”