Fifty Years After 'Bloody Sunday,' Obama Calls Selma a Place Where Meaning of America Was Defined

President calls Selma a place where character of America was defined.

— -- Fifty years after civil-rights demonstrators were beaten and tear-gassed by police at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., the first African-American president took the stage at the bridge today to commemorate that major moment in American civil-rights history.

"In one afternoon 50 years ago, 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 said, addressing a crowd gathered there.

"It was not a clash of armies, but a clash of wills; a contest to determine the meaning of America," the president said.

"We just need to open our eyes, and ears, and hearts, to know that this nation's racial history still casts its long shadow upon us," he said. "We know the march is not yet over, the race is not yet won, and that reaching that blessed destination where we are judged, all of us, by the content of our character -- requires admitting as much, facing up to the truth."

"The report's narrative was sadly familiar," Obama said. "It evoked the kind of abuse and disregard for citizens that spawned the Civil Rights Movement."

Despite the problems revealed in Ferguson, the president urged anyone listening not to forget the progress that's been made.

"I would've told you you're crazy," Lewis said, if anyone had told him 50 years ago that he would return to Selma to introduce the first African-American president.

On March 7, 1965, civil-rights demonstrators led by now-Congressman John Lewis, D-Ga., and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee were met with police violence when attempting to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma as they marched toward Montgomery. Those clashes, reported and televised across the nation and the world, formed one of the major historic moments of the American civil-rights movement.