Obama election sparks new interest in civil rights

Mon Jan 12, 2009 12:47pm EST
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By Andrea Shalal-Esa

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama (Reuters) - When Barack Obama is sworn in next week as the first black U.S. president, 97-year-old Alabama civil rights veteran Amelia Boynton Robinson will see a miracle in the milestone.

"I think it's an act of God," said Robinson, who was jailed and beaten decades ago in the racially segregated U.S. South.

For Robinson, whose mother was born just a few years after the end of slavery, the fight for equality did not end with the civil rights laws passed in the 1960s and it won't end with Obama's historic inauguration on January 20.

"To this day, I am still on the battlefield," Robinson told 35 educators, students and activists last week in Tuskegee, Alabama, during a four-day tour of civil rights historic sites in Selma, Montgomery and Birmingham, Alabama.

Obama's election has rekindled interest in the U.S. civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s amid continuing racial tensions and wide disparities in income, education and health care between whites and minority groups.

In Alabama, visitor numbers are up dramatically at a center that marks the route of a five-day, 47-mile march led by King from Selma to Montgomery in 1965 by 25,000 people demanding equal rights for black Americans, said Tina Smiley of the U.S. National Park Service.

Doug McMillon, chief executive of the Sam's Club unit of Wal-Mart Stores Inc, has brought four large groups of executives to the center in recent months, and has commissioned a film so all his workers can share the experience, she said.

Activists Charles Alphin and Bernard Lafayette organize civil rights tours such as the one Robinson addressed.   Continued...

<p>Amelia Boynton Robinson, 97, an Alabama activist, speaks to visitors at a National Parks Service facility as Bernard LaFayett (R) looks on in Tuskegee, Alabama, January 9, 2009. Robinson, who was jailed, beaten and often risked her life to push for voting rights in the racially segregated South said she is still fighting for equal treatment of all. REUTERS/Andrea Shalal-Esa</p>