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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER
Obama, Clinton Speeches in Selma, Alabama
Aired March 4, 2007 - 13:15 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. We want to go to Selma, Alabama. There he is, Senator Barack Obama, Democrat of Illinois. This on the 42nd anniversary of the Selma March, the civil rights movement, a major moment in American history. Senator Barack Obama speaking at the Brown Chapel right now. Hillary Clinton only a few hundred yards away at the First Baptist Church. She'll be speaking shortly, as well.
Let's listen in first to Senator Barack Obama.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I must begin because at the Unity Breakfast this morning, I was saving him for last, the list of acknowledgements was so long, I left him out after that introduction, so I'm going to start by saying how much I appreciate the friendship and the support and the outstanding work that he does each and every day, not just in Capitol Hill but also back here in the district. Please give a warm round of applause for your own congressman, Artur Davis.
(APPLAUSE & CHEERING)
OBAMA: It is a great honor to be here, Reverend Jackson. Thank you so much, to the family of Brown AME, to the good bishop, Kirkland (ph), thank you for your wonderful message and your leadership. I want to acknowledge one of the great heroes of American history and American life, somebody who captures the essence of decency and courage, somebody who I have admired all my life and were it not for him I'm not sure I would be here today, Congressman John Lewis, I'm thankful to him.
OBAMA: To all the distinguished guests and clergy, I'm not sure I'm going to thank Reverend Lowery (ph) because he stole the show.
OBAMA: I was mentioning earlier, I know we've got C.T. Vivian in the audience, and when you have to speak in front of somebody who Martin Luther King said was the greatest preacher he ever heard, then you have got some problems, and I'm a little nervous about following so many great preachers.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (OFF-MIKE)
(LAUGHTER) OBAMA: But I am hoping that the spirit moves me. To all my congressional colleagues and other elected officials who are here, to all of you who have given me such a warm welcome, thank you very much for allowing me to speak to you here today.
You know, several weeks ago, after I had announced that I was running for the presidency of the United States, I stood in front of the Old State Capitol in Springfield, Illinois, where Abraham Lincoln delivered his speech declaring, drawing from scripture that a house divided against itself could not stand.
And I stood and I announced that I was running for the presidency, and there were a lot of commentators, as they are prone to do, who questioned the audacity of a young man like myself, hadn't been in Washington too long (INAUDIBLE). And I acknowledge that there is a certain presumptuousness about this, but I got a letter from a friend of some of yours named Reverend Otis Moss Jr., in Cleveland, Illinois -- and his son, Otis Moss III is now pastoring at my church, Trinity United Church of Christ, and I must send greetings from our senior pastor, Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.
But I got a letter from Reverend Otis Moss Jr. giving me encouragement and saying how proud he was that I had announced, and encouraging me to stay true to my ideals and my values and not to be fearful.
And he said if there are some folks out there who are questioning whether or not you should run, just tell them to look at the story of Joshua. Because you're part of the Joshua generation.
And so I just want to talk a little about Moses and Aaron and Joshua, because we are in the presence today of a lot of Moses. We're in the presence today of giants whose shoulders we stand on, people who battled on behalf, not just of African-Americans, but on behalf of all of America, that battled for America's soul, that shed blood, that endured taunts and torment and in some cases gave the full measure of their devotion.
Like Moses, they challenged pharaoh, the princes, the powers who said that some are atop and others are at the bottom, and that is how it's always going to be. There were people like Annie Cooper and Marie Foster and Jimmy Lee Jackson and Maurice Oullet, C.T. Vivian, Reverend Lowery, John Lewis, who said we can imagine something different, that we know that there's something out there for us too.
That God has made us in his image, and that we reject the notion that we will for the rest of our lives be confined to a station of inferiority, that we can aspire to the highest of heights, that our talents can be expressed to their fullest.
And so because of what they endured, because of what they marched, they led a people out of bondage. They took them across a sea that folks thought could not be parted. They wandered through a desert, but always knowing that God was with them and that if they maintained that trust in God, that they would be all right. And it's because they marched that the next generation hasn't been bloodied so much. It's because they marched that we elected councilmen and congressmen. It's because they marched that we have Artur Davis and Keith Ellison.
It's because they marched that I got the kind of education I got, that I got a law degree and a seat in the Illinois Senate and ultimately in the United States Senate is because they marched that I stand before you here today.
(APPLAUSE & CHEERING)
OBAMA: And I was mentioning at the Unity Breakfast this important, my debt is even greater than that, because not only is my career the result of the work of the men and women who we honor here today, my very existence might not have been possible had it not been for some of the folks here today.
I mentioned at the Unity Breakfast that a lot of people have been asking, well, you know, your father was from Africa, your mother, she's a white woman from Kansas, I'm not sure that you have the same experience, and I tried to explain it. You don't understand.
OBAMAN: You see, my grandfather was a cook to the British in Kenya, grew up in a small village, and all of his life that's all he was, was a cook and a houseboy. And that's what they called him even when he was 60 years old, they called him a houseboy.
Wouldn't call him by his last name. Called him by his first name. Sound familiar? And he had to carry a passbook around, because Africans in their own land in their own country at that time, because it was a British colony, could not move about freely.
They could only go where they were told to go. They could only work where they were told to work. And yet something happened back here in Selma, Alabama, something happened in Birmingham that sent out what Bobby Kennedy called "ripples of hope" all around the world.
Something happened when a bunch of women decided we're going to walk instead of ride the bus after a long day of doing somebody else's laundry and looking after somebody else's children, when men who had Ph.D.s were working as Pullman porters decided, that's enough, and we're going to stand up despite the risks for our dignity and our respect.
And that sent a shout across oceans so that my grandfather began to imagine something different for his son. And his son who grew up herding goats in a small village in Africa could suddenly set his sights a little higher and suddenly believe that maybe a black man in this world had a chance.
And what happened in Selma, Alabama and Birmingham also stirred the conscience of a nation and it worried folks in the White House who said, you know, we're battling communism, how are we going to win the hearts and minds all across the world if right here in our own country, John, we're not observing the ideals that are set forth in our Constitution?
We might be accused of being hypocrites. So the Kennedys decided, we're going to do an airlift. We're going to go out to Africa. And we're going to start bringing young Africans over to this country and bring them scholarships to study so that they can learn what a wonderful country America is. And this young man named Barack Obama got one of those tickets and came over to this country.
OBAMA: And he met this woman, whose great-, great-, great-, great-grandfather had owned slaves, but she had a different idea. There's some good craziness going on because they looked at each other and they decided, we know that in the world as it has been it might not be possible for us to get together and have a child.
But something stirred across the country because of what happened in Selma, Alabama, because some folks were willing to march across a bridge. And so they got together, Barack Obama Jr. was born.
OBAMA: So don't tell me I don't have a claim on Selma, Alabama. Don't tell me I'm not coming home when I come to Selma, Alabama. I'm here because somebody marched for our freedom. I'm here because y'all sacrificed for me. I stand on the shoulders of giants. I thank the Moses generation.
But we have got to remember now that Joshua still had a job to do. As great as Moses was, despite all that he did, leading a people out of bondage, he didn't cross over the river to see the promised land. God told him, your job is done, you'll see it. You'll be at the mountaintop, and you can see what I've promised, what I promised to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and I promised to you, you can see that I will fulfill that promise.
But you won't go there. We're going to leave it to the Joshua generation to make sure it happens. There's still some battles that need to be fought, some rivers that need to be crossed. Like Moses, the task was passed on to those who might not have been as deserving, might not have been as courageous, find themselves in front of the risks that their parents and their grandparents and great grandparents had taken.
But that doesn't mean they still don't have a burden that they have to shoulder, that they don't have some responsibilities the previous generation, the Moses generation pointed the way. They took us 90 percent of the way there, but we still got that 10 percent in order to cross over to the other side.
And so the question, I guess, that I have today is, what's called of us in this Joshua generation? What do we do in order to fulfill that legacy, to fulfill the obligations and the debt that we owe to those who allowed us to be here today? Now, I don't think we can ever fully repay that debt. I think that we're always going to be looking back, but there are at least a few suggestions that I would have in terms of how we might fulfill that enormous legacy.
The first is to recognize our history. John Lewis talked about why we're here today, but I worry sometimes we've got Black History Month. We come down to march every year once a 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.
OBAMA: You notice when Moses spoke to the people of Israel, telling them that he wasn't going to be going with them, he laid out what they should be doing. And one of the first things he said, Bishop, was he said, know your past. Know where you come from. Know how you were led out of bondage. Know how pharaoh refused to let you go, and that God came down and visited all manner of plague and pestilence until finally a people were freed.
Moses told the Joshua generation, don't forget where you came from. And I worry sometimes that the Joshua generation in its success forgets where it came from. Thinks it doesn't have to make as many sacrifices, thinks that the very height of ambition is to make as much money as you can, to drive the biggest car and have the biggest house and wear a Rolex watch and get your own private jet, get some of that Oprah money.
OBAMA: And I think that's a good thing. There's nothing wrong with making money, but if you know your history, then you know that there's a certain poverty of ambition involved in simply striving just for money, materialism alone will not fulfill the possibilities of your existence.
You have to fill that with something else. You have to fill it with the golden rule. You have got to fill it with thinking about others. And if we know our history, then we will understand that that is the highest mark of service.
Second thing that the Joshua generation needs to understand is that the principles of equality that were set forth and were battled for have to be fought each and every day, it is not a one-time thing.
I was remarking at the Unity Breakfast on the fact that the single most significant concern that this Justice Department under this administration has had with respect to discrimination has to do with affirmative action.
That they have basically spent all their time worrying about colleges and universities around the country that are giving a little break to young African-Americans and Hispanics to make sure they can go to college too.
I had a school in southern Illinois that it set up a program for Ph.D.s in math and science for African-Americans, and the reason they had set it up is because we only had less than 1 percent of the Ph.D.s, Doctor, in science and math go to African-Americans.
And at a time when we are competing in a global economy, when we're not competing just against folks in North Carolina or Florida or California, we're competing against folks in China and India and we need math and science majors, this university thought that this might be a nice thing to do.
And the Justice Department wrote them a letter saying, we are going to threaten to sue you for reverse discrimination unless you cease this program. And it reminds us that we still have got a lot of work to do, and that the basic enforcement of anti-discrimination laws, the injustice that still exists within our criminal justice system, the disparity in terms of how people are treated in this country continues.
It has gotten better, and we should never deny that it has gotten better, but we shouldn't forget that better is not good enough, that until we've got absolute equality in this country in terms of people being treated on the basis of their color or their gender that that is something that we've got to continue to work on. And the Joshua generation has a significant task in making that happen.
Third thing, we've got to recognize that we fought for civil rights, but we've still got a lot of economic rights that have to be dealt with.
OBAMA: We've got 46 million people uninsured in this country despite spending more money on health care than any nation on Earth. Makes no sense. As consequence we've got what's known as a health care disparity in this nation because many of the uninsured are African-American or Latino.
Life expectancy is lower, almost every disease is higher within minority communities, the health care gap. Blacks are less likely in their schools to have adequate funding. We have less qualified teachers in those schools. We have fewer textbooks in those schools. We have got in some schools rats outnumbering computers. That's called the achievement gap.
You have got a health care gap. You have got an achievement gap. You have got Katrina still undone. Went down to New Orleans three weeks ago. Still looks bombed out. Still not rebuilt. When 9/11 happened, the federal government has a special program of grants to help rebuild. They waived any requirement that Manhattan would have to pay 10 percent of the cost of rebuilding.
When Hurricane Florida -- Hurricane Andrew happened in Florida, 10 percent requirement, they waived it because they understood that some disasters are so devastating that we can't expect a community to rebuild.
New Orleans, the largest natural catastrophe in our history, the federal government says, where is your 10 percent? There's an empathy gap. There's a gap in terms of sympathizing for those folks in New Orleans as bad as sympathizing with folks elsewhere.
It's not a gap that the American people felt because we saw how they responded. But somehow our government didn't respond with that same sense of compassion and that same sense of kindness.
And here's the worst part, the tragedy in New Orleans happened well before the hurricane struck, because many of those communities, there were so many young men in prison, so many kids dropping out, so little hope, a hope gap, a hope gap that still pervades too many communities all across the country and right here in Alabama.
So the question is then, what are we, the Joshua generation, doing to close those gaps? Are we doing every single thing that we can do in Congress in order to make sure that early education is adequately funded and making sure that we are raising the minimum wage so if somebody works each and every day that they can have some dignity and some respect?
Are we ensuring if somebody loses a job that they're getting retrained and that if they've lost their health care and their pension that somebody is there to help them get back on their feet?
Are we making sure that we're giving a second chance to those who have strayed and gone to prison but want to start a new life? Government alone can't solve all those problems, but government can help, and it's the responsibility of the Joshua generation to make sure we have a government that is as responsive as the need that exists all across America.
But that brings me to one other point though, Joshua generation, and that is this, that, you know, it's not enough just to ask what the government can do for us, it's important for us to ask what we can do for ourselves.
Yet one of the signature aspects of the civil rights movement was the degree of discipline and fortitude that was instilled in all of the people who participated. Imagine young people, 16, 17, 20, 21, back straight, eyes clear, suit and tie, sitting down at a lunch counter know be somebody is going to spill milk on you but you have the discipline to understand that you are not going to retaliate because in showing the world how disciplined we were as a people, we were able to win over the conscience of a nation.
I can't say for certain that we have instilled that same sense of moral clarity and purpose in this generation. Bishop, sometimes I feel like we've lost it a little bit. You know, I'm fighting to make sure that our schools are adequately funded. All across the country we have inequities in how schools are funded because it has relied on property taxes and people who happen to be born in wealthy districts, somehow they get better schools than folks who are born in poor districts. And that's not how it's supposed to be. That's not the American way.
OBAMA: But I tell you what, even as I fight on behalf of more education funding, more equity, I have to also say that if parents don't turn off the television set when the child comes home from school...
OBAMA: ... and make sure that they sit down and do their homework and go talk to the teachers and find out how they're doing, and if we don't start instilling a sense in our young children that there is nothing to be ashamed about in educational achievement, I don't know who taught them that reading and writing and conjugating your verbs was acting white, we've got to get over that mentality.
OBAMA: We've got to do for ourselves. That's part of what the Moses generation teaches us, not saying to ourselves, we can't do something, but telling ourselves that we can achieve. We can do that.
(APPLAUSE & CHEERING)
OBAMA: We've got power in our hands. Folks complaining about the quality of our government. I understand there's something to be complaining about.
OBAMA: I'm in Washington. I see what's going on. I see those powers and principalities have snuck back in there. That they're writing the energy bills and the drug laws. We understand that. But I tell you what, I also know that if cousin Pookie would vote...
(APPLAUSE & CHEERING)
OBAMA: ... if uncle Jethro would get off the couch and stop watching "Sportscenter" and go register some folks and go to the polls, we might have a different kind of politics. That's what the Moses generation teaches us.
Kick off your bedroom slippers, put on your marching shoes, go do some politics, change this country.
(APPLAUSE & CHEERING)
OBAMA: That's what they teach us.
We've got too many children in poverty in this country, and everybody should be ashamed. But don't tell me it doesn't have a little to do with the fact that we have got too many daddies not acting like daddies, who I think that fatherhood ends at conception. I know something about that because my father wasn't around when I was young and I struggled. Those of you who read my book know. I went through some difficult times. I know what it means when you don't have a strong male figure in the house, which is why the hardest thing about me being in politics sometimes is not being home as much as I'd like.
And I'm just blessed that I've got such a wonderful wife at home to hold things together.
(APPLAUSE & CHEERING)
OBAMA: But don't tell me that we can't do better by our children, that we can't take more responsibility for making sure we're instilling in them the values and the ideas that the Moses generation taught us about sacrifice and dignity and honesty and hard work and discipline and self-sacrifice.
That comes from us. We've got to transmit that to the next generation and I guess the point that I'm making is that that the civil rights movement wasn't just a fight against the oppressor, it was also a fight against the oppressor in each of us.
You know, sometimes it's easy to just point at somebody else and say, it's there their fault but oppression has a way of creeping into you, Reverend. It has a way of stunting yourself. You start telling yourself, Bishop, I can't do something. I can't read, I can't -- I can't go to college. I can't start a business. I can't run for Congress. I can't run for the presidency, people start telling you can't do something, after a while, you start believing it.
And part of what the civil rights movement was about was recognizing that we have to transform ourselves in order to transform the world. Mahatma Gandhi, the great hero of Dr. King and the person who helped create the nonviolent movement around the world, he once said that, You can't change the world if you haven't changed. If you want to change the world, the change has to happen with you first. And that is something that the greatest and most honorable of generations has taught us.
But the final thing that I think the Moses generation teaches us is to remind ourselves that we do what we do because God is with us. You know, when Moses was first called to lead people out of the Promised Land, he said, I don't think I can do it, Lord. I don't speak like Reverend Lowery. I don't -- I don't feel brave and courageous. And the Lord said, I will be with you. Throw down that rod, pick it back up. I will show you what you need to do.
And the same thing happened with the Joshua generation. They said, Joshua said, you know, I'm scared. I'm not sure that I am up to the challenge, and the Lord said to him, Every place that the soul of your foot will tread upon, I have given you. Be strong and have courage for I am with you wherever you go. Be strong and have courage.
That's a prayer for a journey, a prayer that kept a woman in her seat when the bus driver told her to get up, a prayer that led nine children through the doors 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 when you see row and row of state trooper facing you, you see the horses and the tear gas, how else can you walk towards them unarmed and unafraid?
When they come after you and start beating your friends and your neighbors, how else can you simply kneel down, bow your head and ask the Lord for salvation when you see heads gashed open and eyes burning and little children lying hurt on the side of the road. When you're John Lewis and you've been beaten within an inch of your life on Sunday how do you wake up on Monday and keep on marching? Be strong, and have courage for I am with you wherever you go.
We've come a long way in this journey, but we still have a long way to travel. We travel because God was with us. It's not how far we've come this far on our journey. That bridge outside was crossed by blacks and whites, northerners and southerners, teenagers and children, shopkeepers and janitors, a beloved community of God's children willing to take those steps together.
But it was left to the Joshuas to finish the journey Moses had begun and today we're called to be the Joshuas of our time, to be the generation that finds our way across this river. There will be days when the water seems wide and the journey too far, but in those moments we must remember that throughout our history, there has been a running thread of ideals that have guided our travels and pushed us forward even when they're just beyond our reach, liberty in the face of tyranny, equality against bitter injustice, opportunity where there was none and hope over the most crushing despair. Those ideals, those values, they beckon us still. And when we have our doubts and our fears, just like Joshua did, when the road looks too long and it seems like we may lose our way, remember what these people did on that bridge, keeping your hear heart, the prayer of that journey, the prayer that God gave to Joshua.
Be strong and have courage in the face of injustice, be strong and have courage in the face of prejudice and hatred, in the face of joblessness and helplessness and hopelessness, be strong and have courage.
Brothers and sisters, those who are gathered today in the face of our doubts and fears, in the face of skepticism, in the face of cynicism, in the face of a mighty river, be strong and have courage and let us cross over that Promised Land together. Thank you so much, everybody. God bless you.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Senator Barack Obama, Democratic Presidential candidate speaking at the Brown Chapel in Selma, Alabama, on this, the 42nd anniversary of that Selma demonstration that ended so bloody, a remarkable day in American history.
We're standing by. We're waiting to hear from the other Democratic presidential front-runner, Senator Hillary Clinton. She's speaking at the First Baptist Church only a few hundred yards away from this church, both of these presidential candidates addressing predominantly African American communities on this historic day.
Let's get some quick analysis, Jill Zuckman is of "The Chicago Tribune." You've heard a lot of speeches by Senator Barack Obama. What did you make of his message today?
JILL ZUCKMAN, "CHICAGO TRIBUNE": I think Senator Obama directly addressed the question that has been on the minds of some black voters which is do you understand the African American experience? And he said to them, because you marched, I stand before you today. He explained where he came from and how that allowed him to be there and he looked ahead to the future about what need to be built on from that struggle.
BLITZER: All right, Ron Brownstein of "The Los Angeles Times."
RON BROWNSTEIN, "LOS ANGELES TIMES": I thought what he did well, though, was he also looked beyond the black community. The heart of his message today was that substantive and politically we can only expand opportunity for people who accept personal responsibility for themselves.
There is another Democratic politician who did pretty well with that message, and that was Bill Clinton. What Obama has, he added this other message of infusing it with his own story. He presented his family history, his political ascent and his campaign this year as the fulfillment, the culmination of that civil rights movement. And that is a very powerful message in the African American community.
BLITZER: John Fund of "The Wall Street Journal."
JOHN FUND, "WALL STREET JOURNAL": There are very few people who can take a religious message, and the black community is very religious, and infuse it also with a political message and make both of them work together. He did that. In addition, I think that he showed that he is capable of real oratorical flair and flavor, now, of course, Hillary Clinton who has many fine qualities, but is not known as a fine orator, is going to have to follow this act.
BLITZER: We're going to be hearing from Hillary Clinton. She is going to be speaking momentarily. Candy Crowley, you've heard Senator Barack Obama give several important speeches. This was a very important speech for him today.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And this was a really good speech. He rises to the occasion well. This reminded me in part of his speech that he gave to the Democratic National Convention that time that got him so much attention. It was, I hate to sound like an English teacher, but such a well constructed speech starting out with here's what they did, here's how it affected me. Here's what our job is to do now and here's what your job is to do now so it just flowed really well and he had powerful points in all of those various sections.
BLITZER: And all those references to the Old Testament. This is a church, after all, in the South, and referring to himself as the Joshua, the Joshua generation after Moses who could not go into the Promised Land.
Hillary Clinton is now going to be delivering her speech. She's speaking at the First Baptist Church, not that far away. Let's listen in to Senator Clinton. She's speaking on this, the 42nd anniversary of Selma.
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) NY: Thank you. This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it. And I want to begin by giving praise to the Almighty for the blessings he has bestowed upon us as a congregation, as a people and a nation.
And I thank you so much, Reverend Armstrong for welcoming me to this historic church and I thank the First Baptist Church family for opening your hearts and your home to me and to so many visitors today.
And I have to confess that I did seek dispensation from Reverend Armstrong to come because you know I'm a Methodist. And I'm in one of those mixed marriages and my husband who sends greetings to all of you today felt it necessary to call the reverend to make sure that was all right.
And thank you, Reverend, for being so broadminded and understanding. It is also a great honor to be here with so many distinguished members of the clergy, elected officials, leaders of the civil rights movement today, tomorrow and yesterday. And President Steele (ph), I could have listened all afternoon. That pulse that you found so faint, you have brought back to life. And all of us owe you and SCLC a great debt of gratitude.
I think everybody in the sanctuary has been introduced but I want to just say a word of recognition to some of my colleagues in government who have traveled a long way to be here with us today. Congressman Rahm Emanuel from Illinois and his son Zach. Congressman Anthony Wiener from New York, Congresswoman Gwendolyn Moore from Wisconsin and Congresswoman Linda Sanchez from California and the chair of all the mayors in the country, Mayor Palmer from Trenton, New Jersey, and I thank them for coming to join with us.
And I have to say Chairman Chestnut, thank you for the history lesson and for the welcome, and I thank all of the board of deacons, the board of trustees and the deaconesses and I appreciate that we are gathered here for another commemoration that is important for us once again to re-enact so we never forget.
I also want to ask for our prayers on behalf of all those who lost their lives in the terrible tornadoes that swept through this state and others and particularly for those young people, those eight students of Enterprise High School would lost their lives and for their families and on behalf of all those who may still be missing.
I come here this morning as a sister in worship, a grateful friend and beneficiary of what happened in Selma 42 years ago. I come to share the memories of a troubled past and a hope for a better tomorrow. One that is worthy of the sacrifices that were made here.
Today marks that 42nd anniversary, but it also marks, as we have heard, the 50th anniversary of SCLC and the 50th anniversary of the integration of Central High by the Little Rock Nine, and I have friends with me today from Arkansas who have been with my husband and me for all those years.
We know, as President Steele reminded, us that America's march to freedom, equality and opportunity has been marked by milestones, milestones like the creation of SCLC and the integration of Central High and that fateful Sunday with that march across the Pettis Bridge.
But those are just milestones. They do not mark the end of the journey. In fact, it is not over yet, and I believe that for many people today, who are mistaken that bloody Sunday is a subject for the history books, it is our responsibility to make it clear to them it is just as relevant today as it was 42 years ago.
Yes, that long march to freedom that began here has carried us a mighty long way. But we all know we have to finish the march. That is the call to our generation, to our young people.
As a young girl I had the great privilege of hearing Dr. King speak in Chicago. The year was 1963. My youth minister from our church took a few of us down on a cold January night to hear someone that we had read about, that we had watched on television, we had seen with our own eyes from a distance. This phenomenon known as Dr. King.
He titled the sermon he gave that night "Remaining awake through a great revolution." And some of you may have heard it because he gave it more than once. He described how the literary character Rip Van Winkle had slept through the American Revolution and called on us, he challenged us that evening to stake awake during the great revolution that the civil rights pioneers were waging on behalf of a more perfect union. It was sweeping our country and we would sleep through it at our risk and detriment.
Now, I know we have been at this a long time. And after all of the hard work, getting rid of the literacy tests and the poll taxes, fighting for the right to vote, bringing more people into the economic mainstream, a body does get tired. But we've got to stay wake. We have got to stay awake because we have a march to finish. A march toward one America that should be all America was meant to be.
That too many people before us have given of themselves time and again to make real. How can we rest while poverty and inequality continue to rise? How can we sleep while 46 million of our fellow Americans do not have health insurance? How can we be satisfied when the current economy brings too few jobs and too few wage increases and too much debt?
How can we shrug our shoulders and say this is not about me when too many of our children are ill-prepared in school for college and unable to afford it if they wish to attend? How can we say everything is fine when we have an energy policy whose prices are too high, make us dependent on foreign governments that do not wish us well, and when we face the real threat of climate change which is tinkering with God's creation? How do we refuse to march when we have our young men and women in uniform in harm's way? And when they come back, their government does not take care of them the way they deserve.
And how do we say that everything is fine, bloody Sunday is for the history books, when over 96,000 of our citizens, the victims of Hurricane Katrina, are still living in trailers and mobile homes which is a national disgrace to everything that we stand for in America?
You know, Dr. King told us -- Dr. King told us, our lives begin to end when we are silent about things that matter. Well, I'm here to tell you poverty and growing inequality matters. Health care matters. The people of the Gulf Coast and New Orleans matter. Our soldiers matter. Our standing in the world matters. Our future matters. And it is up to us to take it back. Put it into our hands and start marching toward a better tomorrow!
Forty-two years ago, from this church and from Brown, brave men and women first tried to march. Two days later, Dr. King tried again. Getting as far as the bridge. Then on the third day, armed with Judge Frank Johnson's order, more than 3,000 people crossed the Pettis Bridge. And by the time that they got to Montgomery, they were 25,000 strong.
Now, my friends, we must never forget the blows they took. Let's never forget the dogs and the horses and the hoses that were turned on them, driving them back, treating them not as human beings.
But also don't forget about the dignity with which they bore it all. They understood the right to vote matters. Now, five months later, the Voting Rights Act was enacted by Congress and signed by President Johnson. But we all know it was written on the march from Selma to Montgomery.
It was written by men and women with tired feet and swollen ankles. And it was first signed with their blood, sweat, and tears. We cherished the few, including my good friend Congressman John Lewis who still remained with us today to cross the Edmund Pettis Bridge again. But let us not forget those that have passed on.
Dr. King and Coretta. Viola Liousa (ph), Ralph Abernathy, Hosea Williams and all the others. We remember, too, Jimmy Lee Jackson whose killing near here was one of the events that ignited the march.
And we remember the support of this great church and of Reverend Fred Chuttlesworth (ph) who helped to lead people forward into justice for all.
So many prayed and stood up for the rights to vote. Dr. King said that equality for African-Americans would also free white Americans of the staining legacy of slavery. And so it has.
In 2000 my husband said here that those who walked across the bridge made it possible for the South to grow and prosper. And for two sons of the South, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, to be elected presidents of the United States. The Voting Rights Act gave more Americans from every corner of our nation the chance to live out their dreams. And it is the gift that keeps on giving. Today it is giving Senator Obama the chance to run for president of the United States.
And by its logic and spirit it is giving the same chance to Governor Bill Richardson, a Hispanic, and, yes, it is giving me that chance, too.
You know, this may be interesting for the legislators here but before Selma and the Voting Rights Act put equality front and center it was illegal under Alabama law to serve on juries.
I know where my chance came from and I am grateful to all of you who gave it to me.
But in the last two presidential electrics, we have seen the right to vote tampered with. And outright denied to too many of our citizens, especially the poor and people of color. Not just in Florida, Ohio and Maryland. But in state after state.
The very idea that in the 21st century, African Americans would wait in line for 10 hours while whites in an affluent precinct next to theirs waited in line for 10 minutes. Or that African Americans would receive fliers telling them the wrong time and day to exercise their constitutional right to vote.
That's wrong. It is simply unconscionable that today young Americans are putting their lives at risk to protect democracy half a world away when here at home their precious right to vote is under siege.
My friends, we have a march to finish. I will be reintroducing the Count Every Vote Act to ensure every voter is given the opportunity to vote, that every vote is counted, and each voter is given the chance to verify his or her vote before it is cast and made permanent.
We have to stay awake. We have a march to finish. On this Lord's Day, let us say with one voice the words of James Cleveland's great freedom hymn - "I don't feel no ways tired. I've come too far from where I started from. Nobody told me that the road would be easy. I don't believe he brought me this far, to leave me."
And we know -- we know -- we know if we finish the march what awaits us. St. Paul told us in the Letter to the Galatians, "Let us not grow weary in doing good for in due season we will shall reap if we do not lose heart."
The brave men and women of Bloody Sunday did not lose heart. We can do no less. We have a march to finish. Let us join together and complete that march for freedom, justice, opportunity, and everything America should be. Thank you and God bless you.
BLITZER: Senator Hillary Clinton speaking at the First Baptist Church in Selma, Alabama, just moments after Senator Barack Obama spoke at a similar venue. Only a few hundred yards away at the Brown Chapel in Selma, Alabama.
The two Democratic presidential frontrunners speaking on this, the 42nd anniversary of the Selma marches, the marches from Selma to Montgomery in 1965. Both of them using this occasion to reach out to the African American community, seeking support in that important constituency of the Democratic Party.
Jill Zuckman covers politics for the "Chicago Tribune" and she is here with us. We heard earlier from Senator Barack Obama. Now we heard from Senator Clinton. Both of them making similar points. But, obviously, their style somewhat different.
ZUCKMAN: Senator Clinton, just like Senator Obama, was trying to justify why she was there and how she was the beneficiary of the march in Selma, of the civil rights struggle, and she noted that women weren't allowed on juries in Alabama before the Voting Rights Act. She was very clear that Senator Obama was getting to run for president because of the civil rights struggle and so was she.
BLITZER: John Fund of the "Wall Street Journal."
You heard both of these speeches. Your assessment of Senator Clinton's address?
FUND: Well, if you read it on the printed text I think the speech would be equal or even better than Barack Obama's. But her style, unfortunately, she is in a setting where obviously Barack Obama had a natural advantage. Her style at times is a little hectoring. And she's not a naturally gifted speaker.
Bill Clinton would have blown the walls out of the room. Also, I just have to add, she's clearly trying to play some racial cards. She's raising the canards about vote suppression that the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights didn't find any evidence for in 2000, 2004. And I know, I wrote a book on the whole subject.
She's clearly trying to make a direct appeal. Because I think this shows she really feels threatened by Barack Obama's appeal to the black community.
BLITZER: Candy Crowley, you have watched her delivery a lot of speeches. We heard from Senator Barack Obama earlier. What do you make of this?
CROWLEY: Well, what I make of it is we have an iconic moment in civil rights history, Bloody Sunday. The 42-year anniversary. We have two titans of the political universe at this point battling it out for what is a massive part of the core constituency of the Democratic Party, that is the black vote. Both of them giving it their all and both of them talking about the path and what the future is about.
She used the phrase, We have to finish this march. We have to march ask do these other things. He took it otherwise. Both essentially bringing the same message in their varying ways to a very, very important Democratic constituency. BLITZER: All part of our continuing coverage here on CNN of this presidential campaign. We are going to not waste any time. We are going to be making sure that all of you get the best political coverage available.
That's going to be it for our special coverage right now. When we come back, we are going to go back to CNN SPECIAL INVESTIGATIVE UNIT, "Chasing Angelina."
Until then, thanks very much for joining us. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.
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