John Lewis: No Obama Without ‘Selma’


There’s no President Barack Obama without “Selma.”

That was what Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) had to say Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” as he discussed the legacy the historic Selma-to-Montgomery Marches of 1965.

“I don’t think as a group we had any idea that our marching feet would have such an impact 50 years later … If it hadn’t been for that march across Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday, there would be no Barack Obama as president of the United States of America.”

Lewis, a long-time activist turned politician, was beaten during the infamous March 7, 1965 “Bloody Sunday” march where protesters made their first attempt  to cross Selma’s Edmund Pettis Bridge. The protest was part of a larger strategy to put pressure on the then Johnson Administration to back the Voting Rights Act. At the time, blacks living in Alabama, as well as throughout the South, had to contend with punitive laws meant to depress and deny their right to vote.

On that day Lewis, along with about 600 other protesters were stopped by police who attacked them with bullwhips, billy clubs and tear gas. His skull was fractured in the onslaught, but Lewis, undeterred, continued his work as then chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Protesters would later complete a third and finally successful march to Montgomery, Ala. later the same month. The three marches and their eventual success were documented recently in Ava DuVernay’s Oscar-nominated film “Selma.”

President Obama is set to visit Selma this March for a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act.

Said Lewis during the interview:

“Sometimes I feel like crying, tears of happiness, tears of joy, to see the distance we’ve come and the progress we’ve made,” Lewis said. “When people tell me nothing has changed, I just feel like saying, ‘Come and walk in my shoes. I will show you. I will take you to those places.’”

But Lewis also conceded that we still have some ways to go. He cited recent incidents like the protests that erupted last year in Ferguson, Mo. after the death of Michael Brown at the hands of a white police officer.

“We can make progress, we can deal with the issue of justice, we can deal with the issue of police and communities,” Lewis said. “You bring communities and law enforcement and not sweep the issues under the rug.”