The annual march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, a memorial to "Bloody Sunday" in 1965, was held Sunday. A week after the first march, President Lyndon B. Johnson introduced the Voting Rights Act with a speech to Congress. Some excerpts:
At times, history and fate meet at a single time in a single place to shape a turning point in man's unending search for freedom. So it was at Lexington and Concord. So it was a century ago at Appomattox. So it was last week in Selma, Alabama. There, long-suffering men and women peacefully protested the denial of their rights as Americans. Many of them were brutally assaulted. One good man — a man of God — was killed. ...
Many of the issues of civil rights are very complex and most difficult. But about this there can and should be no argument: Every American citizen must have an equal right to vote. ...
There is no Constitutional issue here. The command of the Constitution is plain. There is no moral issue. It is wrong — deadly wrong — to deny any of your fellow Americans the right to vote in this country.
There is no issue of state's rights or national rights. There is only the struggle for human rights. ...
What happened in Selma is part of a far larger movement which reaches into every section and state of America. It is the effort of American Negroes to secure for themselves the full blessings of American life. Their cause must be our cause, too. Because it's not just Negroes, but really it's all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice.
And we shall overcome.
As a man whose roots go deeply into Southern soil, I know how agonizing racial feelings are. ... But a century has passed — more than 100 years — since the Negro was freed. ...
A century has passed — more than 100 years — since equality was promised, and yet the Negro is not equal. A century has passed since the day of promise, and the promise is unkept. ...
This great rich, restless country can offer opportunity and education and hope to all — all, black and white, North and South, sharecropper and city dweller.
These are the enemies: poverty, ignorance, disease. They are our enemies, not our fellow man, not our neighbor.
And these enemies too — poverty, disease and ignorance — we shall overcome. ...
All Americans must have the privileges of citizenship, regardless of race, and they are going to have those privileges of citizenship regardless of race.
But I would like to caution you and remind you that to exercise these privileges takes much more than just legal rights. It requires a trained mind and a healthy body.
It requires a decent home and the chance to find a job and the opportunity to escape from the clutches of poverty.
Of course people cannot contribute to the nation if they are never taught to read or write; if their bodies are stunted from hunger; if their sickness goes untended; if their life is spent in hopeless poverty, just drawing a welfare check.
So we want to open the gates to opportunity. ...
I want to be the President who educated young children to the wonders of their world. I want to be the President who helped to feed the hungry and to prepare them to be taxpayers instead of tax eaters.
I want to be the President who helped the poor to find their own way and who protected the right of every citizen to vote in every election. ...
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