All eyes were on a bridge in Alabama this weekend. Two presidents, scores of Members of Congress, and tens of thousands of Americans marched to commemorate a painful event during the Civil Rights movement.

Last Saturday was the fiftieth anniversary of “Bloody Sunday” when police used force against peaceful demonstrators marching for voting rights in Selma, AL.

President Barack and Michelle Obama joined former President George and Laura Bush, Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), and some 70,000 demonstrators of all ages in marching across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. This bridge was the site of roughly 600 peaceful civil rights activists being beaten by white state troopers and police who used batons and sprayed them with tear gas.

An outcome of Selma was the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which prohibited racial discrimination in voting. It was a commendable law. It should be noted that in southern states blacks voters now turn out in higher percentages that white voters, an indication that the Voting Rights Act did its job and is now superfluous. We as a country have made glorious progress on this and other civil rights issues. We should be proud.

This brings me to a depressing aspect of the otherwise wonderful Selma remembrances: instead of celebrating the great progress that the United States has made since those dark days, speaker after speaker acted as if nothing had changed. It became a time to speak ill of the past but not to acknowledge the achievements that have rendered that past almost unrecognizable.

Some of the president’s speech was gracious and noteworthy but in other parts of his prepared remarks he stated that there remains “institutional racism” in the United States, citing the Department of Justice’s recent report on Ferguson, Mo.  The Ferguson report did not unearth anything on the white officer who tragically killed an unarmed black teen that was unknown to the Grand Jury that did not call for him to go to trial. The “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” meme was completely bogus.

The report, however, claimed that there is racism in Ferguson based on the discrepancy between the town’s population and the percentage of black interactions as compared with whites with the police. There may be racism in Ferguson but these number s don’t prove it. Other factors besides racism are often at play in police-public interactions. There can be any number of factors, but the Holder Justice Department is all too willing to use them to sling around the toxic charge or racism. This is a disservice to the memory of Selma.

We are sorry that more Republicans didn’t march at the fiftieth anniversary of “Bloody Sunday” in Selma, but maybe it’s because things like this happen: “MLK Lieutenant Refuses to March with George W. Bush at Selma Event.” Nice.

What we should also debate is whether this will be another commemorative walk or whether our leaders will push forward for policies that will help not just blacks but all people who have been left behind by our economy and progress.

Reuters reports:

Tens of thousands of people paraded across a Selma, Alabama bridge on Sunday to commemorate the 1965 "Bloody Sunday" march, not waiting for dignitaries who had planned to lead them in marking the 50th anniversary of a turning point in the U.S. civil rights movement.

In contrast to the police violence that marked the original march half a century ago, the mood was often celebratory, at times festive, as an estimated 70,000 demonstrators cheered, sang "We Shall Overcome" and carried signs as they walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

U.S. Representative John Lewis, who led the march across the bridge 50 years ago and was knocked out by a state trooper, told NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday that the events of that day had led to lasting progress in civil rights.

"When I go back, I remember the bridge for me is almost a sacred place," the Georgia Democrat said. "That's where some of us gave a little blood and where some people almost died."

Unfortunately, the day did not remain focused on civil rights. Opportunists tried to co-opt the day for whatever cause they cared about as USAToday reports. However, a message that came out of the commemoration is that more people want to prosper in this country. This prosperity will not come from more government programs but from more opportunity. 

For the black community that is especially true. When we consider the economic hardships that blacks in the country face, we have big government policies to blame. For example, one in five black youths ages 18-29 are unemployed in the month of February, according to youth advocacy group Generation Opportunity.

Senator Tim Scott, who has an admirable story of rising out of poverty to becoming the first Republican African-American Congressman from South Carolina since 1897, tells as much especially under President Obama:

“Unemployment rate is near 12 percent overall,” he said. “The poverty rate is near 28 percent. I will tell you that the last six years have not been good for most folks, middle America and down.”

The Selma march also helped push through the Voting Rights Act in 1965, which prohibited racial discrimination in voting.

The bill required certain southern states to seek federal government approval before changing voting laws. Recent Supreme Court decisions that rolled back portions of that provision have prompted Congress to reconsider the measure.

“What I would support is take a second view at the Voting Rights Act,” he continued. “And see how we can apply it universally to all Americans, every place, and let’s judge people and states based on their performance today.”

While some will use the Bloody Sunday commemoration as an opportunity to point to government the way to achieve opportunity and success, we see how many well-intended anti-poverty programs have done much to limit the opportunities of individuals. Americans need more than a spider web of reliance on government; they want freedom and the ability to own their own future.

And would it have been too much to ask those who went to Selma to talk more about how the United States has changed for the better in the historically short span of fifty years?  Bloody Sunday was a terrible day in our nation’s history, and the horror of that day makes it all the more remarkable than we have gone from there to here so quickly. But that was undersold at the commemoration. It does an injustice to the memory of those brave people who walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge a half century ago.