Selma Preach Off: Obama vs. Clinton

Selma, Alabama, is home to just over 20,000 residents and a storied history of racial strife.  Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton spoke to commemorate the 42nd anniversary of “Bloody Sunday.”  On March 7, 1965, about 600 demonstrators marched east from Selma along Highway 80 heading to Montgomery.  They traveled less than a mile, reaching the Edmund Pettus Bridge, when state and local law enforcement officers attacked, beating them with Billy clubs and firing tear gas to force them back to Selma.

Forty-two years later, Selma, Alabama, serves again as the backdrop of a different kind of struggle.  Instead of African-Americans fighting for the right to vote, the two presidential hopefuls came to Selma as part of a fight for the votes of African-Americans in the race for the White House.While Obama announced weeks ago that he would speak to commemorate the anniversary of the famed March, Clinton responded this week by scheduling a speech of her own, with former President Bill Clinton in tow.

According to a recent Washington Post-ABC News Poll, Obama has been gaining the support of black voters, largely at the expense of Clinton.

Obama spoke first from the pulpit of Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church, noting that the great strides made by the Civil Rights movement have made his run for president possible.  Obama also discussed his personal troubles as a youth, commenting:

“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’ve got too many daddies not acting like daddies; who think that fatherhood ends at conception.  I know something about that, because my father wasn’t around when I was young.”

Clinton spoke at the First Baptist Church, only three block away from Obama, from the church where organizers of the march had their headquarters.  Her remarks were laced with strong Biblical tones, as she opened saying, “This is the day the Lord has made.  Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

Clinton also commented that while her speech marks that 42nd anniversary of the Bloody Sunday march, it also marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the 50th Anniversary of the integration of Central High by the Little Rock Nine.

This fight for the votes of African-Americans has also reached Colorado, with Rep. Terrance Carroll frequently wearing an Obama sticker at Democratic Party events.  The question remains, though, if voters will view these speeches as legitimate efforts to reach out to a key Democratic constituency, or as hollow political postering.

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