U.S. presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton crossed campaign paths for the first time as they paid homage to civil rights activists who helped give them the chance to break barriers to the White House.
The two senators on Sunday linked arms with activists who 42 years ago were beaten by police during a peaceful voting rights march. "Bloody Sunday" shocked the nation and helped bring attention to the racist voting practices that kept blacks from the polls.
"I'm here because somebody marched for our freedom," Obama, who would become the first black president, said from the Brown Chapel AME Church where the march began on March 7, 1965. "I'm here because you all sacrificed for me. I stand on the shoulders of giants."
Not to be outdone in the hunt for black votes, Hillary Clinton also spoke in Selma at a church three blocks away and brought a secret weapon. Three days before the march anniversary, her campaign announced that her husband, the former president, would accompany her and be inducted into Selma's Voting Rights Hall of Fame. Bill Clinton is one of the most admired men in the black community, sometimes referred to as the first "black" president by influential black leaders.
Senator Clinton, who would be the first woman president, said the Voting Rights Act and the Selma march made her presidential campaign possible, as well as those of Obama and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who would be the first Hispanic president.
"After all the hard work getting rid of literacy tests and poll taxes, we've got to stay awake because we've got a march to continue," Clinton said in a speech interrupted by applause and shouts of approval. "How can we rest while poverty and inequality continue to rise?
"We all know we have to finish the march," she said. "That is the call to our generation."
Many black voters say they're torn between voting for the African-American Obama or sticking with the Clintons who have supported civil rights for years, reports CBS News correspondent Gloria Borger. That's the agonizing choice for John Lewis who had his skull fractured during the Selma march and is now a Congressman.
"If someone had told me back during the 60s when we were marching from Selma to Montgomery for the right to vote that one day in America we would have a choice between voting for an African-American and a woman for president, I would have said you're crazy," Lewis said.
Clinton and Obama both appeared outside Brown Chapel for a pre-march rally, but came from opposite sides of the podium and did not interact.
Despite the intense rivalry between their campaigns, the two praised each other.
"It's excellent that we have a candidate like Barack Obama who embodies what all of you fought for here 42 years ago," Clinton said. Obama said Clinton is "doing an excellent job for this country and we're going to be marching arm-in-arm."
But they did not join arms when the commemorative march got under way. Instead, Clinton marched with her husband in their first joint appearance on the 2008 trail. Obama was several people down the line, his arms linked with the Rev. Joseph Lowery, who led the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery march at the request of Martin Luther King Jr.
Obama approached Clinton at one point and the two chatted for a few seconds before moving back to opposite sides of the street.
Obama, who was three years old on Bloody Sunday, delivered a call to action that would be politically unfeasible for Clinton or any of his other white rivals to make. He said the current generation of blacks does not always honor the civil rights movement and needs to take responsibility for improving their lives by rejecting violence and voting instead of complaining that the government is not helping them.
"How can it be that our voting rates dropped down to 30, 40, 50 percent when people shed their blood to allow us to vote?" Obama asked at a unity breakfast with community leaders.
Obama said the fight for civil rights reverberated across the globe and helped inspire his father growing up in Kenya to aspire to something beyond his job herding goats. His father moved to Hawaii to get an education under a program for African students and there met Obama's mother, a fellow student from Kansas.
Obama said he was not surprised when it was reported this week that his white ancestors on his mother's side owned slaves. "That's no surprise in America," he said and added that his mother's family was also inspired by the struggle for civil rights.
"If it hasn't been for Selma, I wouldn't be here," Obama said. "This is the site of my conception. I am the fruits of your labor. I am the offspring of the movement. When people ask me if I've been to Selma before, I tell them I'm coming home."
But the former president stole the show. The audience cheered loudest for him when the three took the stage at the end of the march, and the crowd mobbed him as he tried to make it to his limousine, delaying his departure.
It was the former president's first appearance on the campaign trail with his wife in a made for TV moment, reports Borger.
Speaking at his induction, Clinton said the 2008 campaign features "a rainbow coalition running for president."