Obama: "I'm here because somebody marched"

The candidate stakes his claim.


Tim Grieve
March 5, 2007 7:40PM (UTC)

Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were in Selma, Ala., Sunday to commemorate the 1965 civil rights march there and to compete for support among African-American voters. Obama came with a second agenda: To confront head-on questions about whether he's "black enough."

Here's some of what he said at Brown Chapel AME:

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"A lot of people been asking, well, you know, your father was from Africa, your mother, she's a white woman from Kansas. I'm not sure that you have the same experience. And I tried to explain, you don't understand. You see, my grandfather was a cook to the British in Kenya. Grew up in a small village and all his life, that's all he was -- a cook and a houseboy. And that's what they called him, even when he was 60 years old. They called him a houseboy. They wouldn't call him by his last name.

"Sound familiar?

"He had to carry a passbook around because Africans in their own land, in their own country, at that time, because it was a British colony, could not move about freely. They could only go where they were told to go. They could only work where they were told to work.

"Yet something happened back here in Selma, Alabama. Something happened in Birmingham that sent out what Bobby Kennedy called 'ripples of hope' all around the world. Something happened when a bunch of women decided they were going to walk instead of ride the bus after a long day of doing somebody else's laundry, looking after somebody else's children. When men who had Ph.D.s decided that's enough and we're going to stand up for our dignity.

"That sent a shout across oceans so that my grandfather began to imagine something different for his son. His son, who grew up herding goats in a small village in Africa, could suddenly set his sights a little higher and believe that maybe a black man in this world had a chance. What happened in Selma, Alabama, and Birmingham also stirred the conscience of the nation. It worried folks in the White House who said, 'You know, we're battling communism. How are we going to win hearts and minds all across the world? If right here in our own country, John, we're not observing the ideals set fort in our Constitution, we might be accused of being hypocrites.' So the Kennedys decided we're going to do an airlift. We're going to go to Africa and start bringing young Africans over to this country and give them scholarships to study so they can learn what a wonderful country America is.

"This young man named Barack Obama got one of those tickets and came over to this country. He met this woman whose great-great-great-great-grandfather had owned slaves; but she had a good idea there was some craziness going on because they looked at each other and they decided that we know that [with] the world as it has been it might not be possible for us to get together and have a child. There was something stirring across the country because of what happened in Selma, Alabama, because some folks are willing to march across a bridge. So they got together and Barack Obama Jr. was born.

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"So don't tell me I don't have a claim on Selma, Alabama. Don't tell me I'm not coming home to Selma, Alabama. I'm here because somebody marched. I'm here because you all sacrificed for me. I stand on the shoulders of giants."

Update: Several readers have said that Obama's remarks were less impressive as spoken than they were as written. You decide:


Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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