Barack Obama was four years old when Martin Luther King strode into Montgomery, Alabama on March 26 1965, one of the most memorable days in American history. It was, the climax of the March from Selma an event that no doubt inspired our new President and most certainly was one of the most unforgettable moments in my life..
As a CBS News correspondent, I was walking alongside Dr. King, covering that historic 54-mile march. I am reminded of those steps vividly every year on the occasion of King's birthday as I'm sure Congressman John Lewis, Andrew Young, who was King' chief deputy, and other living participants of the civil rights movement do as well. The march to the Alabama state capitol began on March 21 and five days later when we reached Montgomery. Here's the way I described that day in my personal memoir that is awaiting publication:
Late on the morning of March 25, with their eyes on the prize, the Selma marchers turned onto Dexter Avenue and were within sight of the Alabama capitol. Swollen by the citizens of Montgomery, the marchers numbered nearly 30,000 as they approached the white marble building where both the Alabama and Confederate flags flew, with the U.S. flag off to the side. The hope that Governor Wallace might make a conciliatory gesture and greet the marchers was dashed when Wallace refused to leave his office. Local reporters in the governor's office said Wallace peered through his office blinds and watched the marchers with a pair of binoculars. He reportedly was stunned by the size of the crowd.
On the steps of the building many of us stood on tables to get a glimpse of the enormous stream of demonstrators. From that vantage point, I co-anchored the nationally scheduled live CBS News radio broadcast with Dallas Townsend. King stood on a flatbed trailer and after the crowd chanted. "Speak, speak," he declared, "They told us we wouldn't get here. And there were those who said that we would get here only over their dead bodies. But all the world today knows we are here. We are standing before the forces of power in the state of Alabama, saying, 'We ain't gonna let nobody turn us around.' So I stand before you this afternoon with the conviction that segregation is on its deathbed in Alabama and the only thing uncertain about it is how costly the segregationists and Wallace will make the funeral."
The crowd erupted with a thunderous ovation.''
The truth and consequences of Selma led to the historic 1965 Voting Rights Act signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson. That paved the way for millions of black Americans to go to the polls for the first time. .Their right to vote changed the face of politics in small towns and big and increasingly for all time at the city, county, state and in many instances, federal levels.. But I doubt that any of us could imagine in the euphoria of Selma and Martin Luther King's stirring words that the Selma March also would pave the way in our lifetimes for an election of the nation's first African American to the presidency of the United States.
What a birthday present this would have been for Dr. King.
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