Obama, who hopes to become the nation's first black president, won a standing ovation as he paid homage to the "giants" who led the civil rights movement and called for a younger generation to carry on the cause. The son of a Kenyan father and a white American mother, Obama sought to answer sceptics who doubt that he understands the experience of African-Americans. Obama said the civil rights struggle had had a direct impact on his life, saying it created the circumstances to allow his parents to meet and flout racist conventions.
"Not only is my career the result of the work of the men and women who we honour here today, my very existence might not have been possible had it not been for some of the folks here today," he said at a service at Brown A.M.E. church attended by major figures from the civil rights era. "So don't tell me I don't have a claim on Selma, Alabama. I'm here because somebody marched. I'm here because you all sacrificed for me. I stand on the shoulders of giants," said Obama, as an overflow crowd listened outside.
Clinton earned a similarly enthusiastic reception at the First Baptist Church nearby, where she delivered one of the more rousing speeches of her career. Recalling the courage of those who marched in Selma in 1965 for voting rights, Clinton said that America still faced injustice and that "we have a march to finish". "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?" she said. "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?"
With the battle for African-American support heating up, a new poll showed Clinton's lead over Obama among Democratic voters slipping and Obama surging ahead of the former first lady among blacks for the first time. The ABC/Washington Post poll released on Friday showed that Clinton's once-commanding lead had narrowed to 36 percent support against 24 percent for Obama. And the poll had Obama now leading among African-Americans, 44 percent to 33 percent. Obama, who hopes to become the nation's first black president, poses a serious challenge to Clinton's front-runner status and Alabama is one of several states with large black populations that could shape the Democrats' nomination race.
Clinton chose to travel to Alabama after Obama's plans were announced, US media reported, apparently unwilling to cede ground to the Illinois senator at an event full of symbolism. To aid her cause, Clinton enlisted the last-minute help of her husband, former president Bill Clinton, who was so popular among African-Americans during his tenure at the White House that he was dubbed affectionately as the "first black president". Initially, Hillary Clinton intended to accept an award on behalf of her husband but later the ex-president changed his plans and announced he would travel to Selma to be inducted into the Voting Rights Hall of Fame. The move fed speculation in US media that the New York senator felt threatened by Obama's candidacy and was anxiously turning to her husband for political assistance.
Sunday is the anniversary of "Bloody Sunday", when state troops and police in 1965 brutally beat hundreds of demonstrators marching for voting rights for disenfranchised blacks. Nationally broadcast television footage of mounted troops attacking the peaceful demonstrators with clubs and tear gas at Selma's Edmund Pettus Bridge helped rally support for the civil rights cause. Later that year, President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Voting Rights Act to ensure blacks were no longer prevented from voting.
The maternal ancestors of Barack Obama, the Democrat who hopes to become America’s first black president, once owned slaves, genealogists have revealed. As the son of a white woman from Kansas and a black man from Kenya, the background of Obama, who went to a school in Indonesia, was already considered exotic. According to the genealogists, George Washington Overall, Obama’s great-great-great-great grandfather, owned two slaves, a 15-year-old girl and 25-year-old man, who were listed in the 1850 Kentucky census. Another maternal ancestor owned two older slaves.
In his autobiography, Dreams from My Father, Obama referred to family rumours that his relatives had links to both sides during the civil war, but he did not know he had slaveholding ancestors. Bill Burton, a spokesman for the Illinois senator, said it showed his relatives were “representative of America”. “It is a true measure of progress that the descendant of a slave owner would come to marry a student from Kenya and produce a son who would grow up to be a candidate for president of the United States,” Burton said.
Obama’s relationship with the black community got off to a rocky start when he launched his campaign for president amid grumbling that he was not “black enough”. Debra Dickerson, a writer, commented recently that, “Blacks’, in our political and social reality, mean those descended from West African slaves,” and said Obama had acquired the “benefits of black progress” without having borne any of the burden. But, as Obama has pointed out, “If you look African-American in this society, you’re treated as an African-American.”
(Sources: Independent Online, Times Online & Parkdale Pictures)
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