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US First Family Marks Civil Rights Milestones

  • VOA News

A large crowd forms near a stage where President Barack Obama will speak in Selma, Alabama.

A large crowd forms near a stage where President Barack Obama will speak in Selma, Alabama.

U.S. President Barack Obama and his family travel to the southern U.S. town of Selma, Alabama Saturday to mark two milestones of America's civil rights movement: the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery marches and the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Obama, the country's first African-American president, will speak at the Edmund Pettus Bridge where a large group of civil rights activists were brutally beaten on March 7, 1965 during a peaceful march in what became known as "Bloody Sunday."

Later, the first family will tour the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute.

Fifty years ago it would have been hard to believe, if not impossible to imagine, that an African American would someday be the U.S. president, as civil rights workers seeking full rights for the country's black citizens were routinely beaten.

Former President George W. Bush and his wife Laura are set to attend the commemorative events in Selma.

Congressman John Lewis, who was severely beaten as a young man when he participated in the 1965 march with civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. will attend and has expressed his disappointment that Republican congressional leaders are not attending the events celebrating the work and workers of America's civil rights movement.

Five months after the violence in Selma, President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits racial discrimination in voting.

Obama's election led many Americans to believe the country had slipped into a post-racial age where race no longer matter. However, the Selma celebrations come after the announcement this past week by the U.S. Justice Department that the police department in Ferguson, Missouri routinely has violated the constitutional rights of its black citizens by using excessive force against them and often making arrests without probable cause.

The report is the result of a six-month investigation launched after last year's shooting death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by a white police officer during a street confrontation.

Last November, a Missouri grand jury cleared the officer charged in Brown's death, a decision that triggered heated protests in the small, majority-black community, as well as across the country.

Brown's case, coupled with other high-profile incidents, including the police chokehold death of a black man in New York, led to a nationwide outcry over aggressive police tactics against African Americans and other minorities.