America's racial history "still casts its long shadow upon us," the nation's first black president said today as he stood in solidarity and remembrance with civil rights activists whose beatings by police a half-century ago galvanized people against racial oppression and hastened passage of historic voting rights for minorities. On the 50th anniversary of the "Bloody Sunday" march that erupted in police violence on Selma's Edmund Pettus Bridge, President Obama praised the figures of a civil rights era that he was too young to know. He called them "warriors of justice" who pushed America closer to a more perfect union. "So much of our turbulent history—the stain of slavery and anguish of civil war, the yoke of segregation and tyranny of Jim Crow, the death of four little girls in Birmingham, and the dream of a Baptist preacher—met on this bridge," Obama told the crowd.
"It was not a clash of armies, but a clash of wills; a contest to determine the meaning of America," he said. Obama spoke immediately after Rep. John Lewis, a leader of the Selma march who was brought down by police truncheons—his skull fractured—that day in 1965. "There's still work left to be done," Lewis said. "Get out there and push and pull until we redeem the soul of America." Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley spoke at the Bloody Sunday 50th anniversary event and was greeted by scattered booing from a crowd gathered at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the AP reports. Bentley, a white Republican who often is critical of Obama administration policies, said he hopes the anniversary commemoration helps Alabama erase ugly images and heal wounds dating back generations. (Read more Selma stories.)