On Sunday, March 8, 2015, I had the tremendous opportunity to speak at the historic Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church in Selma, Alabama, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Selma-to-Montgomery March and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
I told the audience my story of seeking a deeper understanding of the civil rights movement and the experiences of those who were there. Twenty-four years ago, my best friend and I decided to bike the path of the Freedom Riders to mark the anniversary of the Freedom Summer. We launched our ride by sharing dinner with Congressman John Lewis at a Chinese restaurant in DC. I went to Birmingham with James Farmer, and crossed the bridge in Selma that year. That experience meant so much to me then and has helped shape the person that I am today.
I thanked all the foot soldiers of the Civil Rights movement who dedicated their lives to the noble legacy that we honored last weekend. It is that legacy that President Obama honored just this weekend when he signed a bill recognizing the foot soldiers of the Civil Rights movement. And it is that legacy that made me proud to announce, in Selma and on this historic occasion, that the President’s Budget proposes $50 million to restore and highlight key Civil Rights Monuments across the country.
This funding includes critical investments in specific National Park Service sites associated with the Civil Rights movement, such as the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail, the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site, the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site, and the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site.
These sites are not only critical to Southern heritage, or African-American history – they are part of the fabric of our Nation’s history and should be preserved and maintained for generations to come so that we may always remember the bridges we’ve crossed and the battles we’ve won.
As Dr. King famously said, the arc of the moral universe is long – but it bends toward justice.
I believe it does. Each of us must continue the work to ensure that we again cross bridges of hope and unity together. I have no doubt we will.
Shaun Donovan is Director of the Office of Management and Budget.