AP - Obama: S.C. Civil Rights Pioneers Enabled his Run for President
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama on Friday said the courage of a small group of South Carolina residents that fought school segregation more than 50 years ago made it possible for a black man to run for president.
"I know that I stand on their shoulders," Obama told about 800 people on the Clarendon County Courthouse lawn in this early voting state. The Illinois senator was referring to a group of black residents who brought a lawsuit known as Briggs v. Elliot that was later combined into the U.S. Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954 that ended school segregation.
"It would have been easy for them to stay home. To heed the voices of caution and convenience that said, 'Wait. The timing isn't right'" Obama said. "It would have been easy for them to give in to the fears that no doubt kept them awake some nights."
He said their work led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. He also urged supporters to elect a black man president.
"Some folks say we're just not sure America is ready for an African-American president," he said. "Let me be clear: I never would have begun this campaign if I weren't confident I was going to win."
Obama said he was not running to be vice president or "to be secretary of something."
Obama, who earlier picked up the endorsement of South Carolina's first black chief justice, told the crowd: "I am not asking anyone to take a chance on me. I am asking you to take a chance on your own aspirations."
Ernest Finney, a successful civil rights attorney and one of the state's first black lawmakers since Reconstruction, was elected to the Supreme Court in 1984. He became chief justice 10 years later and retired in 2000.
"For those of you who would listen to an old man who is retired, I'm endorsing his candidacy," the 76-year-old Finney said. "The journey the senator has taken shows so much about why America needs him and what he has to offer."
A Winthrop University/ETV Poll out this week showed Obama with 23 percent of support among likely Democratic primary voters in South Carolina, trailing New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's 33 percent. The poll had a sampling error margin of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
At a later stop in Sumter, Obama told about a crowd of about 800 he was frustrated by the actions of the president and vice president.
"I'm tired of always trying to stop George W. Bush from doing something. I'm tired of having to put up with my cousin Dick Cheney and whatever he's up to next," Obama said, addressing a crowd before an NAACP banquet.
Earlier this month, Lynne Cheney, the vice president's wife, revealed during an interview with MSNBC that her husband and Obama were eighth cousins.
According to Ginny Justice, spokeswoman for Lynne Cheney, Obama is a descendent of Mareen Duvall. This French Huguenot's son married the granddaughter of a Richard Cheney, who arrived in Maryland in the late 1650's from England, Justice said.
Obama kept up the criticism for his distant cousin at an NAACP banquet in Greenville later Friday night.
"Everybody's got a black sheep in the family," he said. "A crazy uncle in the attic."