Obama, The Clintons Turn Selma Marches Into Campaign Event

Sunday, March 4th 2007, 3:17 pm
By: News On 6

SELMA, Ala. (AP) _ Barack Obama reached out to the civil rights generation Sunday on the anniversary of the Bloody Sunday march, saying the protesters helped pave the way for his campaign to become the first black president. He also urged blacks to take more personal responsibility.

``I stand on the shoulders of giants,'' the Democratic senator from Illinois told hundreds at a breakfast to commemorate the 42nd anniversary of the clash between voting rights demonstrators and police.

He was just 3 when police with billy clubs bloodied blacks who tried to cross the bridge out of Selma on the way to Montgomery, the capital. On his first visit to Selma, Obama was coming face-to-face with Democratic rival Hillary Rodham Clinton as the candidates seek support from the party's loyal black constituency.

At the First Baptist Church, a gathering place for protesters during the civil rights movement, Clinton urged the crowd of about 500 not to forget the sacrifices of Bloody Sunday.

``I come to share the memories of a troubled past and the hope of a better tomorrow,'' Clinton said. ``It is our responsibility to make clear it is just as relevant today as was 42 years ago. We all know we have to finish the march. That is the call to our generation.''

Obama and Clinton, joined by the former president, spoke at the same time from pulpits three blocks apart. They also were to appear together at a rally before making the ceremonial walk to the Edmund Pettus Bridge to honor the Selma-to-Montgomery marches.

In a call to action perhaps politically unfeasible for his white rivals to make, Obama said the current generation needs to honor the civil rights movement by taking responsibility for rejecting violence; cleaning up ``40-ounce bottles'' and other trash that litters urban neighborhoods; and voting in elections.

``How can it be that our voting rates dropped down to 30, 40, 50 percent when people shed their blood to allow us to vote?'' Obama asked.

He criticized the Bush administration for opposing affirmative action and said blacks must fight for banks to reinvest in their communities and for more spending in their schools.

But, he added, parents also have to ``turn off the television set and put away the Game Boy and make sure that you're talking to your teacher and that we get over the anti-intellectualism that exists in some of our communities where if you conjugate your verbs and if you read a book that somehow means you are acting white,'' he said.

The Selma civil rights demonstrations, Obama said, reverberated across the globe and helped inspire his father growing up in Kenya to aspire to something beyond his job herding goats. His father came to Hawaii to get an education under a program for African students and met Obama's mother, a fellow student from Kansas.

Obama said he was not surprised when it was reported this week that his white ancestors on his mother's side owned slaves. ``That's no surprise in America,'' he said and added that his mother's family was inspired by the unity in the Selma marches.

``If it hasn't been for Selma, I wouldn't be here,'' Obama said. ``This is the site of my conception. I am the fruits of your labor. I am the offspring of the movement. When people ask me if I've been to Selma before, I tell them I'm coming home.''

At the breakfast, Obama got a key to the city and another to the county from a probate judge, Kim Ballard. ``Forty-two years ago he might would have needed it because I understand it would open the jail cells,'' Ballard said. ``But not today.''

Other Democratic candidates are not leaving the black vote to Obama and Clinton.

John Edwards, the 2004 vice presidential nominee, was speaking about Selma and civil rights at the University of California, Berkeley.

``The fight for civil rights and equal rights and economic and social justice is more than just going to celebrations, even as wonderful as the one in Selma,'' Edwards said in remarks prepared for delivery later Sunday as he referred to Berkeley janitors' fight for a wage increase. ``The fight is going on right here, right now.''

Clinton's appeal among blacks is largely due to the popularity of her husband Bill _ author Toni Morrisson once famously named him the ``first black president.''

Early Sunday, Hillary Clinton spoke to about 100 current and former public officials, ministers, lobbyists and party stalwarts at a private, invitation-only breakfast in Montgomery.

``She doesn't sound like she's from the South, and she doesn't necessarily have that good ol' gal persona. But she came across today as a very warm, compassionate person,'' said one state party leader, Nancy Worley, a former secretary of state.

``You can't turn somebody into a Southerner who didn't grow up in the South like he (Bill Clinton) did. But she certainly did a good job showing her interest in people and her concern for people,'' Worley said.

Bill Clinton was being inducted Sunday afternoon into Selma's Voting Rights Hall of Fame. Hillary Clinton originally had intended to appear on his behalf.

But as plans were being finalized late Thursday for the dueling Obama-Clinton appearances, the Clinton campaign announced the former president would make the ceremony after all. His spotlight-stealing attendance marked the first time the couple campaigned together since Hillary Clinton announced she was running for president.

The former president's induction was to take place at the foot of bridge where police attacked the protesters on March 7, 1965. On that day, hundreds of marchers had begun to walk from the Brown Chapel AME Church _ where Obama was to deliver the keynote address Sunday _ despite a ban on protest marches by then-Gov. George Wallace.

The protesters made it six blocks before mounted troopers attacked them with billy clubs, tear gas and bullwhips while white onlookers cheered. U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., who at the time was an activist who helped organized the mark, suffered a fractured skull.

Thousands flocked to Selma in support of the marchers. Martin Luther King Jr. led a separate march to the bridge two days later. On March 21, 1965, after a federal court overturned Wallace's ban, King led the five-day march to the capital.

President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law on Aug. 6, 1965. President Bush extended it last summer.