Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton made the requisite pilgrimage to Selma, Ala. over the weekend to pay homage to "Bloody Sunday," the most important chapter in the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Each candidate struck the proper chord, acknowledging that without the Voting Rights Act, neither he or she nor Bill Richardson, the Latino governor of New Mexico, would be a viable presidential candidate.
In all the hoopla and political maneuvering, something didn't sit right with me. Maybe it's because I am from Alabama, maybe it's because I was acutely aware of how the Voting Rights Act changed our lives in Tuscaloosa, or maybe it was because as a high school senior in 1965, I took part in the last leg of the Selma-to-Montgomery March.
The question for them and all presidential candidates is, "What have you done throughout your life that would demonstrate a consistent commitment to secure political, economic and social justice for African-Americans?"
Except for Obama's limited work with indigent clients after law school — and I underscore after — and Clinton's work on behalf of children — also after law school — I have not heard much from them about what they have done to demonstrate a deep and abiding commitment to civil rights.
One reason this remains so fresh in my mind is that I spoke last month at the University of Alabama for Black History Month at the invitation of African American faculty members and administrators.
Throughout most of my early life, African Americans were excluded from attending the University of Alabama. Our tax dollars could go there, but we couldn't. I attended the University of Alabama for one year before transferring to Knoxville College. It was the worst year of my life and I've deliberately not given the University of Alabama credit for anything positive in my life.
Amid the virulent racism of that era, there were some positives. One was that there were some Southern-born Whites who spoke out against racial segregation. Bill Plott, editor of the Crimson White, the university newspaper, and his wife, Anne, were among those, and were frequent targets of death threats. So was Plott's successor at the CW, Bill Shamblin. With Shamblin's active support and encouragement, I wrote for the CW the year I was at UA. I hadn't heard from or seen Bill in the intervening years. Not until my speech at the university. "You don't remember me, but I am Bill Shamblin," he said after I completed my speech. "I'll never forget what you did for me." Bill Shamblin was one of my few good memories of the University of Alabama.
George E. Curry is editor-in-chief of the NNPA News Service and BlackPressUSA.com.