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Obama praises civil rights pioneers

U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.Paul Sancya / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

U.S. Sen. Barack Obama praised the courage of America’s civil rights pioneers Sunday and urged younger generations to find the same boldness in addressing the future of education.

“Sometimes, when I reflect on that movement, I wonder where they found that courage,” the Democrat told about 10,000 people at an NAACP fundraiser. “Fifty years from now, what kind of courage will our kids look back and see that came from us?”

The civil rights group presented the first-term Illinois senator with its lifetime achievement award at the 50th anniversary Detroit NAACP Freedom Fund dinner. He thanked the group for the award but said he felt unworthy.

“I don’t feel like I made history. I won an election, and there’s much work to do,” Obama said to huge applause.

The son of a white mother from Kansas and black father from Kenya, Obama became the third black U.S. senator since Reconstruction after beating Republican Alan Keyes in a landslide in November.

"Discipline and inner dignity"
He reminded donors at the dinner of the “discipline and inner dignity” of protesters of segregation and racism in the 1950s and ’60s, and said parents, teachers, students and community leaders must recapture that discipline to help children lead better lives.

“Our grandparents used to tell us, if you were black you had to work twice as hard,” he said. “Can we honestly say that our students are working twice as hard as students in China, in India, in South Korea? Can we say our teachers are?”

Obama also scolded the Bush administration for tax cuts and an education policy that has created new achievement requirements but not fully funded measures to meet the standards. He urged the crowd to keep working for a “health care program for all Americans” and a solvent social security system.

The Detroit chapter of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has been sponsoring the Fight for Freedom Fund dinner since 1956. Civil rights lawyer and U.S. Supreme Court justice-to-be Thurgood Marshall was the event’s first speaker.