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Broken Racial Barriers Pave the Way for Obama Presidency

On January 20th, Barack Obama will make history when he becomes the first African American President of the United States. It has been only 45 years since forced segregation was outlawed amid the racial tension of the 1960's.

Since then, racial barriers have been broken down, paving the way for President-elect Obama and other black politicians to hold power.

We look at key moments in the civil rights movement that led to Mr. Obama's successful run for the White House.

November 2008, Barack Obama is elected as the first African American president, a monumental moment in the country's history.

For many who celebrated his election victory, it was a dream come true. Especially for African Americans and others who lived and protested during the tumultuous years of the civil rights movement.

March 1965, blacks in Selma, Alabama were violently attacked by police as they marched to demand the right to register to vote. Images of the incident known as "Bloody Sunday" outraged many around the country. On this day, the future president was only two years old, living in a very different America, where segregation was enforced by law in many communities.

This day in Selma helped galvanize support for the civil rights movement led by Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."

In August 1963, a quarter of a million people watched Reverend King deliver his famous "I Have a Dream" speech. The March on Washington was widely credited with pressuring Congress to pass key civil rights legislation that would outlaw racial discrimination. Over the next two years Congress passed and President Lyndon Johnson signed two laws governing civil rights and voting.

"Through hard work and sacrifices each of us can pursue our individual dreams but still come together as one American family," Mr. Obama said.
Forty-three years later many believe the 1965 Voting Rights Act paved the way for Mr. Obama and other black politicians.

Barbara Arnwine is Executive Director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights under Law in Washington. "Once that (Voting Rights) Act was passed, it opened the gateways for people of color especially African Americans to start bursting down barriers," Arnwine said. "Barriers to every level of elected office."

Seventy-six-year old civil rights leader Roger Wilkins remembers the sacrifices he and many others made in the push for equal rights. "That movement and everybody who put a foot to the road, have had a hand in this astonishing and wonderful moment that we are about to have the inauguration of an African American President of the United States," he recalled.

Barbara Arnwine says Mr. Obama's historic rise to become the nation's first black president will encourage other minorities. "They see a new possibility in politics and they see a rejuvenation of the concept of democracy -- that democracy no longer is just for one race," she added.

As President-elect Obama prepares to take office, it will be an especially uplifting moment for a generation of Americans, who witnessed the struggle for civil rights, and now some four decades later will see a dream fulfilled