Ahead of his trip to Selma, Alabama to recognize the 50th anniversary of the 1965 Voting Rights March, President Obama explained that Americans are failing to fully live up to the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.’s fight for civil rights.
In an interview with radio show host Joe Madison, Obama recalled a 2007 speech he gave in Selma, where he called on the “Joshua Generation” to lead America forward in the fight for civil rights.
“The point was that Moses may never have gotten to the Promised Land, but he saw it and he gave us a sense of direction,” Obama recalled. “And those who follow them have a responsibility to grab the torch and move it forward.”
Obama said that although there were “great strides” in opportunities for African-Americans in public life there still were some challenges that require action.
The Ferguson report, he explained, was proof that communities were still battling some of the same issues faced by African-Americans of the past.
“I think that there are circumstances in which trust between communities and law enforcement have broken down and individuals or entire departments may not have the training or the accountability to make sure that they are protecting and serving all people and not just some,” he said.
But Obama also pointed out that African-Americans were failing the legacy of the movement by failing to vote.
“But we also disempower ourselves by not voting,” Obama said, suggesting that the “Joshua Generation” had “fallen short” in that regard.
“When you think about the mighty battles that were fought, the notion that you’d only have a third or a half of African Americans voting at this stage, you know, that is not living up to the legacy that has been presented,” he said.
Obama also pointed to the “structural legacies of slavery and Jim Crow” that were keeping African-Americans in poverty, asserting that the United States “still had more work to do.”
Obama said that it was still “recent” history that should be remembered, which was part of the reason he planned to bring his daughters to the ceremony.
“This is something that happened within my lifetime,” Obama said. “So I want them to get that sense that enormous change can happen just because a group of people decide that they’re going to take risks on behalf of justice.”