- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 4, 2007

SELMA, Ala. (AP) — Democratic Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton crossed presidential campaign paths for the first time yesterday as they paid homage to civil rights activists who they said helped give them the chance to break barriers to the White House.

The two candidates and former President Bill Clinton joined arms with activists who 42 years ago were attacked by police with billy clubs during a peaceful march against discriminatory practices that kept blacks from the polls.

“I’m here because somebody marched for our freedom,” Mr. Obama, who would become the first black president, said from the Brown Chapel AME Church where the march began on March 7, 1965. “I’m here because you all sacrificed for me. I stand on the shoulders of giants.”

Not to be outdone in the hunt for black votes, Mrs. Clinton also spoke in Selma at a church three blocks away and brought a not-so-secret weapon: her husband. Three days before the march anniversary, her campaign announced that the former president, who is so popular among blacks that he has been called “the first black president,” would accompany her for his induction into Selma’s Voting Rights Hall of Fame.

Mrs. Clinton said the Voting Rights Act and the Selma march made possible her presidential campaign, as well as those of Mr. Obama and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who would be the first Hispanic to occupy the Oval Office.

“After all the hard work getting rid of literacy tests and poll taxes, we’ve got to stay awake because we’ve got a march to continue,” Mrs. Clinton said in a speech interrupted numerous times by applause and shouts of approval. “How can we rest while poverty and inequality continue to rise?

“We all know we have to finish the march,” she said. “That is the call to our generation.”

Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama both appeared outside Brown Chapel for a pre-march rally, but came from opposite sides of the podium and did not interact. Despite the intense rivalry between their campaigns, the two praised each other.

“It’s excellent that we have a candidate like Barack Obama who embodies what all of you fought for here 42 years ago,” Mrs. Clinton said. Mr. Obama said the former first lady is “doing an excellent job for this country and we’re going to be marching arm in arm.”

But they did not join arms when the commemorative march attended by thousands got under way. Instead, Mrs. Clinton held hands with her husband in their first joint appearance on the 2008 trail.

Mr. Obama was several people down the line, his arms linked with the Rev. Joseph Lowery, who led the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery march at the request of Martin Luther King. Mr. Obama, who shed his coat and tie for the march, approached Mr. Clinton at one point and the two chatted for a few seconds before moving back to opposite sides of the street.

The two candidates sounded similar themes in their speeches. Both said the civil rights movement is not over and pointed to inequality in education, health care and the economy. Both criticized the Bush administration for failing to return Hurricane Katrina victims to their homes.

But Mr. Obama, who was 3 years old on Bloody Sunday, delivered a call to action that would be politically awkward for Mrs. Clinton or any of his other white rivals.

He said the current generation of blacks does not always honor the civil rights movement and needs to take responsibility for improving their lives by rejecting violence; cleaning up “40-ounce bottles” and other trash that litters urban neighborhoods; and voting instead of complaining that the government is not helping them.

“How can it be that our voting rates dropped down to 30, 40, 50 percent when people shed their blood to allow us to vote?” Mr. Obama asked at a unity breakfast with community leaders.

At the breakfast, Mr. Obama received a key to the city and another to surrounding Dallas County from a probate judge, Kim Ballard.

“Forty-two years ago he might would have needed it because I understand it would open the jail cells,” Judge Ballard said. “But not today.”

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