In a forceful speech in Selma, Alabama on Saturday on the 50th anniversary of the brutal repression of a peaceful protest, America's first black president denounced new attempts to restrict voting rights.

And he paid stirring tribute to the sacrifice of a generation of activists who marched so that black Americans could enjoy civil rights and opened the road that eventually led him to the White House.

"We gather here to celebrate them," he declared, standing on the spot where Alabama state troopers confronted the marchers in scenes that shocked America.
"We gather here to honor the courage of ordinary Americans willing to endure billy clubs and the chastening rod, tear gas and the trampling hoof, men and women who despite the gush of blood and splintered bone would stay true to their North Star and keep marching toward justice."
After the Selma march and others like it, then President Lyndon Johnson passed the Voting Rights Act that sought to prevent racist officials from excluding African Americans from the ballot.
That law, Obama said, is again under threat from state governments seeking to tighten voter registration rules in a bit to restrict the size of the franchise.
"How can that be?" he asked, noting that previous Republican presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush – who was present for the speech -- had renewed it.
"One hundred members of Congress have come here today to honor people who were willing to die for the right to protect it," he declared.
"If we want to honor this day, let those hundred go back to Washington and gather four hundred more and together pledge to make it their mission to restore the law this year.
"That is how we honor this bridge," he said, in front of a crowd estimated at 40,000, more than twice the population of what is still a very poor and mainly black town.
Obama also addressed recent incidents in which police killings of unarmed black men and teenagers had triggered protests and accusations of deep-seated official racism.

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