“There are still injustices perpetrated every day across our country – sometimes in spite of the law; sometimes, unfortunately, in keeping with it,” Clinton said. “There are still too many Americans – especially too many African Americans – whose experience of the justice system is not what it should be.”
Clinton delivered her remarks from the pulpit of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, one block from the Alabama State Capitol. It was in this church’s basement 60 years ago that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. organized the bus boycott that began with Parks’s act of defiance.
Clinton’s keynote address was part of an anniversary celebration organized by the National Bar Association, the nation’s largest association of black attorneys. The event spotlighted the civil rights legacies of lawyers such as Fred D. Gray, who at age 24 represented Parks. He gave a moving speech before Clinton took the pulpit.
Clinton was introduced to great fanfare by Benjamin L. Crump, the association’s president and the attorney for Trayvon Martin’s family, and she likened his remarks to a “revival.” Quoting from the Bible, Clinton said: “This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad.”
Clinton called for an end to “the era of mass incarceration,” lamenting that many black families are torn apart by a criminal justice system she described as badly in need of reform. She also called for toughening the nation’s gun laws and taking action to protect voting rights against current incursions in Alabama and many other states.
“We must strengthen that most fundamental citizenship right, the right to vote,” she said. “I thought we solved that problem thanks to many of the lawyers we are honoring today, but unfortunately there is mischief afoot, and some people are just determined to do what they can to keep other Americans from voting.”
Tuesday’s event at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church offered a fresh illustration of Clinton’s powerful hold on the support of African Americans, who make up an important part of the Democratic Party’s primary electorate. At the pulpit here, speaker after speaker endorsed Clinton.
Gray, a civil rights icon, turned to Clinton during his remarks and called her, “The next president of the United States.” His comment invited a loud standing ovation from the lawyers and other guests who packed the pews. Clinton later said she had written President Obama urging him to award a Presidential Medal of Freedom to Gray.
Crump said he hopes his daughter will soon “watch Hillary Rodham Clinton take her proper place in the house — the White House.”
The day’s festivities concluded with a prayer from the Rev. Bernice King, Martin Luther King’s daughter:
“Lord, as I believe that this is the century of the woman, I pray now that you grant great favor, grace and anointing to Hillary Rodham Clinton in her pursuit to be the first woman president of the United States of America.”