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tv   Open Phones on 50th Anniversary of Selma March  CSPAN  March 7, 2015 11:15am-12:01pm EST

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moves towards taking on the war in vietnam, as he goes to memphis, which is opposed by even members of his staff who think, why are you going to memphis? you are getting distracted by this sanitation workers strike. that no one has even heard of. so, that is the context in which he gives that speech. but he wants to explain and come in some ways i think similarly to lincoln, he wants to expand why we are here. what is the significance of that. maybe that is one of the great things about a great speech is that it provides meaning that goes beyond what most people think should be the meeting of the event. and, you know, when you were mentioning about the second inaugural, how he doesn't say
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what people want him to say, expect him to say, well, i was at the march on washington here. and most people expected him to say something about kennedy to us civil rights legislation -- kennedy's civil rights legislation. he doesn't mention it in that speech. you think you are here for one purpose, i am here to tell you you are fighting for something much deeper than that. much more important than that. and it has transcended meeting. so i think that is what you wanted to do with that speed. >> i remember the time when he moved from being a civil rights leader, in the eyes of most people, and became a critic of the war. remember, in 1968 was the issue. he had the hardhats, those college kids, every generational struggle of every family in america, and a lot of people felt at the time that he had gone out of his lane. that his language civil rights.
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he was pushing this thing. he knew that, right? >> oh, of course he knew it. and i think that at a certain point, he had the fatalistic kind of notion that that was a prophetic mission. that is why i call him the social gospel or -- gospel minister who got distracted by civil rights. he is very clear about his mission. in one of our volumes, we publish a paper that he wrote in 1948 when he was a -- a seminary student. at that point, he would have been 19 years old. one of the things he is asked is, what is going to be your mission as a minister? and he says, to deal with islamic -- unemployment security.
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he doesn't mention civil rights. but think of what he is doing 20 is later. he is dealing with those kind of issues. in a way, what happens is that he comes back to his original mission. but he knows that, as a prophet he knows that he is not going to be popular during that. the profits -- profit -- pro phets were not popular in their time. they were not saying what people expected them to say. most of them were challenging the religious establishment. and insisting that they had wandered from god's will. and they were there to remind them that they had spoken to god the day before and this was not the way god wanted them to go. >> a couple of thoughts about these two addresses. i mean, first of all, we live in a time of a great -- even in my
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own lifetime, and our lifetime -- a decline of political oratory. and what we have here are two wonderful examples of difficult to oratory. king is a great, high style speaker. in many ways allotted, and with speakers like churchill and kennedy. a lot of high style rhetoric. and lincoln, of course, is in many ways a plain style speaker. king is expensive and tell stories. lincoln really -- it is almost like reading and emily dickinson pro. it is very compressed. the thing about lincoln's speech is that it starts out most like a shareholders report. it is extremely dull at the beginning. he tells you why he is not going to give a big speech, and then by the end, he is giving the most profound, theological exposition of what has happened in the course of the war.
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king, on the other hand, is obviously a master orator of a very different kind. and king uses a expensive -- inexpensive -- an expensive storytelling mode to engage the audience. i would say, for me, what is really interesting theologically about these two speeches is how different they are. if we have -- if we are in a moment of decline of oratory, we are also in a moment of just the worst kind of public theology that you can imagine. i mean, politicians all speak about god in very kind of formulaic pro forma ways in the 21st century. these two people are actually theological thinkers. and lincoln is looking at the war, and he is trying to understand god's agency in that war. and he comes up with this idea
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essentially that america is a kind of christ figure. that america is suffering because of the sins of slavery. king, very interestingly, goes the other direction. and we didn't hear it tonight, but the speech begins with him imagining god taking him on a flight to human history. and he starts -- he starts seeing the activists -- exit is, and he finds from the exit this to the parthenon from the parthenon to martin luther, from martin luther to the founding fathers, to abraham lincoln trying to decide to sign the emancipation proclamation, to franklin roosevelt reading his first inaugural, but he says that in all the times of human history i would want to be alive, i would want to be alive for a few years in the middle of the 20th century. because what king sees when he
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looks at american history is actually this expensive story of liberation. so lincoln come in a way, even though he is on the verge of winning a war is getting a kind of -- giving a kind of penitential speech. where asking, at the lowest moment in his life, you might say, is giving this really wonderful resurrected kind of speech about the advancement of human freedom. and they are both trying to read history and see what god is doing in history, and they do it in very different ways, but they do it with enormous refunded to. again, i think it is not only a kind of rhetoric, but a kind of the a lot go reading of history that we just don't do anymore. i think we can lend a lot from it. >> i find myself somewhat amazed going back and realizing that lincoln gives two of the greatest speeches in less than a thousand words total, of the two speeches together. king would take that long to go
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from i am coming to the conclusion to the conclusion. [laughter] but king was a baptist minister. that is part of the deal you get. but i think you are right. king is -- is telling a parable. it is the exodus parable which has been one of the most powerful liberation stories -- certainly the most powerful operation story in african-american history, but i think in western history. it is a story which we keep coming back to in different forms. and i think what he is doing is he is taking what many people involved in the sanitation workers strike, they are looking at themselves and say, you know we have been out on strike, we are trying to get set in our ways, and they don't even recognize our union and no one really cares. and he is coming to tell them
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that they are the exodus story. that they are escaping from pharaoh. that this is something that, in the history of the world, they are part of the story. and it seems to me that this is one of the things that made king such a powerful figure is that for many of us who were involved in the struggle, we thought it was, well, getting a seat at the lunch counter or getting a better seat on the bus or getting a piece of civil rights legislation passed. and to have someone telling you even if you don't believe it that you are a part of one of the great -- greatest -- what i would consider the greatest struggle the world has ever seen because king sought in global terms. and one thing that we don't often recognize is that while we are, as americans, focused on
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civil rights struggles, around the world there are anticolonial struggles going on. so, while african-americans were getting false civil rights here the majority of humanity were, for the first time, becoming citizens. >> like you mentions, the 1960's and all the changes in africa. >> he goes to africa in different places and puts it in a context that you are part of a -- the greatest freedom struggle the will has ever seen. of course i would want to be here. even though he says even though the world is all messed up. i would rather be here than be in the renaissance or the reformation and all of that. >> i would rather be here in memphis tonight on the ee of a sanitation worker strike rather than watching martin luther found his -- to the door.
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i think the other thing is -- i am neither a king or a lincoln scholar, but i have read and studied all about both of them. but i think that people always -- the way in which the i have a dream speech has become the kind of standard by which people think about being people forget the depth of his intellectual theological sophistication. i mean, the public does. i think, you know, when you read a letter from birmingham jail and you see the depth of his learned this and the kind of -- learned this -- learnedness and the kind of insight. where as lincoln was, as you said kind of a lifelong skeptic and not someone who defined himself as a christian in many ways, but yet he also has this deep kind of self-taught understanding of theology. and they both use the text
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differently. "passages. i mean, lincoln uses the bible almost as a cultural glue. that these are phrases you are going to recognize, and it will help connect with my audience in the same way that shakespeare quotations were often used in the 19th century. king retells the story of the prodigal son -- the good samaritan. again, brings the people into that story and says that we have to find a way to identify with the other. not to think about ourselves but to think about the guideline in the street. and it is a very different -- very different strategies, but very effective in their own way. >> back live in selma alabama where later today, we'll be bringing you a commemorative program that marks the 50th anniversary of bloody sunday. 50 years ago on this date when voting rights advocates started
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the march from selma to the state capital of montgomery alabama were met with violence by state troopers and local police. at the foot of the edmund pettus bridge, just going out of your shot -- the camera shot there. and today, president obama and other dignitaries will be speaking as part of the commemoration of 50 years ago bloody sunday. here on c-span3, "american history tv," we are pleased to have the reverend bernard left yet joining us. he was one of the leaders of the leaders in alabama. and we will give you a chance to call in, ask questions to reverend lafayette, and also post your questions on facebook
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and twitter, as well. the phone lines if you are in the central or eastern time zones. you can post a facebook -- they comment on facebook. or go to twitter. you can tweet us at c-span history. but, mr. lafayette, take us back 50 years ago. what ideas led to the march? reverend lafayette: -- >> we will try again to see if we can get the audio straightened up there. reverend lafayette having a
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little trouble hearing us today. a lot of dignitaries, you can see. we will show some of the sights and sounds around the foot of the bridge. there is jesse jackson. quite a few members of congress are on hand today. the president will be speaking at a program that starts shortly after 2:00. we will bring that to you live as part of our coverage on selma, 50 years later, here on "american history tv" on c-span3. >> i was here earlier. [indistinct chatter]
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>> again some of the sights and sounds in selma, alabama. 50 years ago on this date, march 7, 1965, bloody sunday. the beginning of an attempted first march from selma to montgomery, alabama. the president will be speaking later today as part of the commemoration program. while we try to work out some of our audio problems down in selma, we are going to show you president lyndon johnson.
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he addressed a joint session of congress a few days after bloody sunday on march 15, 1965. his voting rights speech to congress. we will show you a portion of that now. >> believe that if this noble view of the rights of man was to flourish, it must be rooted in democracy. the most basic right of all was the right to choose your own readers. the history of this country, in large measure, is the history of expansion of that right. to all of our people. many of the issues of civil rights are very complex and most difficult. but about this, there can and should be no argument. every american citizen must have
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an equal right to vote. [applause] a -- or that right. yet, the harsh fact is that in many places in this country, men and women are kept from voting simply because they are negroes. every device of which human ingenuity is capable has been used to deny this right. the negro citizen may go to register only to be told that
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the day is wrong. or the hour is late. or the official in charge is absent. and if he persists, and if he manages to present himself to the registrar, he may be disqualified because he did not spell out his middle name. or because he abbreviated a word on the application. and if he manages to fill out an application, he is given a test. the registrar is the sole judge of whether he passes this test. he may be asked to cite the entire constitution. or explain the most complex provisions of state laws. and even a college degree cannot be used to prove that he can
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read and write. the fact is that the only way to pass these barriers is to show a white skin. experience has clearly shown that the existing process of law cannot overcome systematic and ingenuous discrimination. no law that we now have on the books, and i have helped to put three of them there, -- [applause] -- can ensure the right to vote when local officials are determined to deny it. in such a case, our duty must be clear to all of us. the constitution says that no
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person shall be kept from voting because of his race or his color. we have all sworn an oath before god to support and to defend that constitution. we must now act in obedience to that oath. [applause] wednesday, i will send to congress a law designed to eliminate illegal barriers to the right to vote. [applause] the broad principles of that bill will be in the hands of the democratic and republican leaders tomorrow. after they have reviewed it, it will come here formally as a bill.
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i am grateful for this opportunity to come here tonight to reason with my friends to give them my views and to visit with my former colleagues. i have prepared a more copperheads of analysis of the legislation, which i have intended to transmit to the clerk tomorrow. but which will i will submit to the clerks tonight, but i want to really discuss with you now briefly, the main proposals of this legislation. this bill will strike down restrictions to voting in all elections. [applause]
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federal, state, and local. [applause] which have been used to deny negroes the right to vote. this bill will establish a simple, uniform standard which cannot be used however ingenuous the effort to cloud our constitution. it will provide for citizens to be registered by officials of the united states government. [applause] if the state officials refuse to register them. it will illuminate -- eliminate tedious, unnecessary lawsuits
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which delay the right to vote. [applause] finally, this legislation will ensure that properly registered individuals are not prohibited from voting. [applause] i will welcome the suggestions from all the members of congress . i have no doubt that i will get some. on ways and means to strengthen this law, and to make it effective. but experience has plainly shown that this is the only path to carry out the command of the constitution. to those who seek to avoid action by their national government in their home
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communities, who want to enter seek to maintain purely local control over elections, the answer is simple. open your polling places to all your people. [applause] allow men and women to register and vote whatever the color of their skin. [applause] extent the rights of citizenship to every citizen of this land. there is no constitutional issue here. the command of the constitution is plain. there is no morrow issue.
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it is wrong deadly wrong, to deny any of your fellow americans the right to vote in this country. [applause] there is no issue of state possible rights or national rights. there is only the struggle for human rights. but even if we pass this bill, the battle will not be over. what happened in selma is part of a far larger movement, which reaches into every section and state of america. it is the effort of american negroes to secure for themselves
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the full blessings of american life. their cause must be our cause too. because it is not just negroes but really it is all of us who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. and we shall overcome. [applause] as a man whose roots go deeply
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into southern soil, i know how agonizing racial feelings are. i know how difficult it is to reshape the attitudes and the structure of our society. but a century has passed, more than 100 years, since the negro was freed. and he is not fully freed tonight. it was more than 100 years ago that abraham lincoln, a great president of another party signed the emancipation proclamation. but emancipation is a proclamation, and not a fact. a century has passed, more than 100 years since equality was promised. and yet, the negro is not equal.
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a century has passed since the day of promise, and the promise is unkept. the time of justice has now come. i tell you that i believe sincerely that no force can hold it back. it is right in the eyes of man and god that it should come. and when it does, i think that they will brighten the lives of every american. [applause] four negroes are not the only
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victims -- for negroes are not the only white -- the only victims. how many went to have gone on educated? how many white families have lived in stark poverty? how anyone lives have been scarred by fear because we have wasted our energy and our substance to maintain the barriers of hatred and terror? [applause] and so i say to all of you here, and to all in the nation tonight, that those who appeal to you to hold on to the past do so at the cost of denying you your future. this great, rich restless country can offer opportunity and education and hope to all.
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all black and white. all north and south. sharecropper and city dweller. these are the enemies. poverty ignorance disease they are our enemies, not our fellow man, not our neighbor. and these enemies too, poverty, disease, and endurance, we shall overcome. >> and on c-span3's "american history tv," we are back live in selma, alabama. it is much seven, it years later. today, a commemoration marking the 50th anniversary of bloody sunday, when voting rights
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advocates started the march from selma to our company. they were met with violence by alabama state troopers and local police at the edmund pettus bridge. i live coverage today will include a speech -- our live coverage today will include a speech by president barack obama. also, congressman john lewis who will introduce the president did congressman lewis, of course, one of the organizers of the march. and joining us, we believe we have our audio problems worked out. joining us for the next little while is reverend renard left yet -- bernard lafayette. are you there? reverend lafayette: yes, i'm here. i'm doing very well. >> wonderful. and we want to give our viewers an opportunity to call in and be a part of the conversation and asked him questions. the numbers are on your screen.
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you can also join the conversation on facebook and twitter. treat us @cspanhistory. take us back 50 years ago today. what was some like? and what led up to the idea of the march to montgomery in the first place? reverend lafayette: well, it was a very extraordinary. extraordinary period in our history. because what we were doing was basically giving a voice to the people who are voiceless. and that is what all these movements are about. helping to give people a voice who otherwise would not be heard. we feel that if the voices of the poor, the voices of the
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disenfranchised, the voices of the suffering people are heard other people will respond. so, selma, alabama is that example of where people around the country and around the world heard the voices crying out for people not being treated equally as human beings. now, the reason we were going to my comic alabama -- i want to make it there -- is because that is the state capital of alabama. we did not have much is there before from selma, but the reason we had this particular march is because of what happened to jackson in marion, alabama. your shot by a state trooper. -- he was shot by a state trooper. earlier, we had people marching to the courthouse to attempt to register to vote. but the reason why the march was
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decided to go to montgomery, alabama -- it was actually jim bevel who asked jackson's grandfather would you be willing to march and continue to march. he said, yes. jim said he wanted to say something to wallace. and he wanted to take his time and put his thoughts together. and he wanted to walk, so he would have time. so he said he was going to walk. and then he said, do you think anybody would walk with me? i said, well, i don't know, i will walk with you. that night, he asked the audience. he said, i have to take a message to governor wallace in montgomery, alabama. and i'm going to walk. and that he said, well, would anyone here in this church walk with me to echo the -- walk with me?
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the entire congregation stood up. he looked at me and said, we have ourselves a march. that was the genesis of the march to montgomery. and the march was about getting the government to recognize the fact that we did not have a right to vote. you could only register in one place. at that time, people were not allowed to vote for president of the united states. because if you couldn't get registered in your own county, or your city, you couldn't participate in government. so, therefore, these people had no voice in the government. so the march was about giving people a voice.
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and we were absolutely right in our assumption and nonviolent. we take the position that you could only bring about significant change if you are able to win the sympathy, the active support of the majority. and the majority of the people who can make those decisions were in congress. and the supreme court. so, therefore, we had to make an appeal. so once they marched across that ridge -- bridge, we decided that what we were going to do was continue. because if someone tries to stifle your voice, the most important response you can have is to get louder. so that is why our decision, after jackson, was to have a longer march and a larger march. the appeal to the public after bloody sunday, people started
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coming down from everywhere. churches and religions, they all, ok, joined in. see, we believe in the american people. and we believed if we speak out and they understand what we are saying, they understand our suffering. they understand the feeling we have that we are being denied. certain basic rights. and they were not only talking about rights of citizens, we are talking about rights as human beings. because we are human beings first. and that march was all about respecting humanity. respecting lives. yes, black lives, white lives ok, all human life. if you recall, the large number of people who were killed in the selma movement were not blacks. they were whites.
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yes. and, therefore, people believed that this was the important thing about this march. >> today, the commemoration. 50 years ago today bloody sunday. going to take some calls for reverend yet -- lafayette, who is one of the leaders. edward in trenton, new jersey has been very patient on the line for a while. go ahead. caller: dr. lafayette, i have seen you come to trenton, new jersey. do you know of any younger generation activists stepping up to the plate? reverend lafayette: from trenton, new jersey? do i know any young people that were activists? i don't know any in particular ones because i have not spent that much time there. i was to therefore visit.
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but there are some there, i am sure. but we have 40 different organizations. including those abroad. i am on a conference call every week with the leaders of these organizations of young people. and we know for fact that they are not going to allow this movement to stop. so the voice that we are talking about is the voices that were cut off by ropes when they were hanging people. they didn't want to hear their voices. these young people have picked up. we talk about trade on margin -- treyvon martin, they cut off his voice. in new york, i can't breathe, i can't breathe. he was actually breathing.
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that is why the tro cold continue to be applied because they did not want to hear the fact that the person cannot breathe. so i am excited about these young people. and i know that they are going to make this lasting movement. each of our movements are in the names of cities. the montgomery movement, birmingham movement, ok? selma movement. voters rights. now, it is going to be ferguson, missouri. that is our next movement. >> let's go back to the phones. rochelle in providence, rhode island. caller: yes. >> go ahead. caller: dr. lafayette, do you see today's commemoration of the sum of march bloody sunday more of a celebration of past civil rights accomplishments?
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or should it or is it more of a protest against recent judicial compromises in the voting rights act? reverend lafayette: yes, the movement in selma today. this is a celebration. commemoration. but also a continuation. a continuation of the same movement that we have experienced all along. that movement will not stop. king made his last speech in memphis, tennessee. he said, i have been to the mountaintop, i have looked over and i have seen the promised land. i may not get there, but i believe that we come as a people, we'll get to the promised land. so we look at the movement and the young people who are working to help her about that change that we are convinced that this
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is more than simply a protest did it is simply -- a protest. it is simply not complaining about the problems, but it is moving with a strategy determination, and continuation until we are able to make some basic changes. >> eugene is on the phone from stone mountain, georgia. go ahead eugene. caller: yes, i would like to ask reverend yet. does he think america has come far enough in its promises to -- to -- yes. i would like to ask reverend e at -- left it -- lafayette. has america come far enough to renew its promises? and you see that we need to galvanize all the energy that has come to make sure that the
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young people should be included in this protest? >> how far have we come? reverend lafayette: we have come a long ways. don't make any mistake about it. we have come a long ways. there was a time when you look at what is behind me and you don't see two sidewalks. here in selma, alabama when i first came in 1962 to start the board of registration campaign there were two sidewalks. and that is white have such a wide sidewalk now because it was a lower sidewalk and an upper sidewalk. and we knew who the lower sidewalk was four. right across the street, i went into a barber stop -- shop.
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they were all black barbers. i took a seat, thinking i could get a haircut trade and these black barbers turned the other way. one of them finally came over and said, this barbershop is for whites only. black barbers only cut white hair. i didn't believe it. when i look at the progress we've made, even in our economic development, we have a long way to go, but we do have some measures of success. not to mention, the president of the united states -- 50 years ago, it could not have happened. 50 years later, i am amazed

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