Obama’s Selma Speech Edits Revealed – What Was Changed

AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

A lot goes into a speech that we never hear. But thanks to the Washington Post, we are finally getting a look at a personal copy of President Obama’s markup notes for his speech marking the anniversary of the Selma marches in March.

As the Post reveals, Obama took time to specifically address former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s remarks accusing him of not loving America, writing his thoughts on the matter into the margins of a speech draft.

“Even today, we continue to debate about what it means to love this country, to be a true patriot…” Obama wrote, explaining his struggle with an imperfect America that he still loved.

According to his speechwriter Cody Keenan’s notes, Obama explained what he wanted to say about American exceptionalism.

“Those who only understand exceptionalism as preserving the past; who deny our faults or inequality; who say love it or leave it; those are the people who are afraid,” Obama said to Keenan. “Those are the people who think America is some fragile thing.”

“I’m big and full of contradictions,” Obama told Keenan, according to the Post, paraphrasing Whitman’s epic poem “Song of Myself.”

According to the Post, Obama “wanted a speech that felt as consequential as Reagan’s farewell.”

Other notes in the margins show that Obama edited the phrase “But God took care of them,” describing the Selma marchers in an early draft of the speech. He eventually eliminated the phrase entirely, and reworked the entire paragraph.

“They did as Scripture instructed: “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer,” Obama said in his final speech.

In another part of his speech, Obama struggled with how exactly to describe the “joys of freedom” that permeated America’s music – deciding against the use of the word “awesome” and writing in “dangerous.” In another section he crossed out “dangerous” and wrote in “sometimes reckless.”

He eventually settled on the word “reckless” in the final draft.