SELMA, Ala.– In four minutes, President Barack Obama gave his daughters a living history lesson on the civil rights movement.
Obama paid tribute Saturday to civil rights legends sung and unsung by leading a symbolic march across an Alabama bridge where throngs who protested their lack of voting rights 50 years ago were beaten by police on what is known as “Bloody Sunday.”
Clasping hands with “one of my heroes,” Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., and Amelia Boynton Robinson, who was badly beaten on Bloody Sunday, Obama led several dozen people across the infamous Edmund Pettus Bridge in his shirtsleeves underneath Alabama’s bright sun.
Malia and Sasha, his teenage daughters, marched along with first lady Michelle Obama, her mother, Marian Robinson, and former President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura.
Lewis, an original Bloody Sunday participant whose head was cracked open by police as he led a group across the bridge, held court when Saturday’s group stopped after about four minutes, just after passing beneath the bridge awning bearing the name of Pettus, a brigadier general in the Confederate army.
“I want to say what an extraordinary honor this has been, especially to have Sasha and Malia,” Obama said of his 13-year-old and 16-year-old.
Obama had said he was taking his daughters to Selma to “remind them of their own obligations.”
“There are going to be marches for them to march, and struggles for them to fight. And if we’ve done our job, then that next generation is going to be picking up the torch, as well,” Obama said at a Black History Month observance at the White House last month.
Earlier this week, in a radio interview with host Tom Joyner, Obama said he thinks his daughters appreciate that people made sacrifices so that life would be easier for them. He noted that they live in the White House with their grandmother, who he said remembers what it was like living in a segregated setting on the South Side of Chicago.
“Part of what I want Malia and Sasha to understand is that this is an unfinished project,” he said, referring to simmering racial tensions that flared up following the police-involved killings last year of black men in Ferguson, Missouri, and Staten Island, New York. Neither of the officers involved was charged with committing any crimes.
“There is, you know, work to be done right now. And I say to my daughters the same thing I say to the young people who work for me, and that is it is a glorious task that we are given to continually try to improve this great country of ours,” he said. “And we shouldn’t shy away from that work and we shouldn’t be complacent about it. And everybody’s got to find their own way to do it.”
Asked how he would like to see his daughters accomplish that, Obama said he doubted they would do it from a public perch.
“I am very doubtful that they will want to run for public office … partly because they’ve been listening to their mother,” he said.