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Smith: Obama Speech Consecrates Selma

President Obama’s speech in Alabama two weeks ago properly elevated Selma to the status of defining moment in the history of our nation – and urged us to make it a touchstone for the future. WYPR’s Senior News Analyst Fraser Smith comments in his weekly essay.

"There are places," the President said, "and moments in America where this nation’s destiny has been decided."
Such a place, he said, is Selma. 
Well known to most Americans as a flash point in the civil rights era,  Selma and its story was consecrated by the President’s speech.
Selma and the Edmund Pettus Bridge. 
How powerful and fitting. Obama stood there with Cong. John Lewis who was savagely beaten there. Thousands of Americans, black and white, stood behind them, symbolic of how far we have come in the 50 years since the historic march. 
The President spoke of the bridge as a living symbol in the struggle toward our goal of a more perfect union committed to justice.  
 The resonant line from our history, he said, is "a living thing, a call to action, a roadmap for citizenship and insistence on the capacity of free men and women to shape our own destiny." 
And to continue shaping it.
Every day a new challenge arises – from police brutality to the residue of racial segregation.  Consider the neighborhoods of this city, how they continue to separate by racial and economic class. 
"We do a disservice to the cause of justice by intimating that bias and discrimination are immutable, or that racial division is inherent to America," the President said. "If you think nothing’s changed in the past fifty years, ask somebody who lived through the Selma or Chicago or L.A. of the Fifties."
There is work to be done, he said.   
"Everywhere in this country, there are first steps to be taken, and new ground to cover, and bridges to be crossed."
  Selma shows us we can overcome.