​Obama on the legacy of Selma

President Barack Obama marked the 50th anniversary of the "Bloody Sunday" civil rights march in Selma, Ala., Saturday, telling those assembled -- many of whom had marched for voting rights that day -- that "our march is not yet finished."

In an exclusive interview with CBS News senior White House correspondent Bill Plante (who covered the civil rights marches in 1965) at the nearby National Voting Rights Museum, Mr. Obama spoke about Selma, then and now.

"Mr. President, when you look at this mural here, I'm reminded that you said here eight years ago, that you're here because somebody marched," said Plante.

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President Barack Obama with correspondent Bill Plante at the National Voting Rights Museum in Selma, Ala.
CBS News

"Not only would I not be here, because I think our society wouldn't have changed as much in 50 years, but this is also the source of inspiration that got me involved in public service in the first place," said Mr. Obama. "Now, when I was young I didn't have aspirations to be the President of the United States, but by the time I was in my late teens, early 20s, I'd started reading about the civil rights movement, and it fascinated me.

"And the reason it fascinated me was the idea that ordinary people, humble people -- maids and domestics and Pullman porters -- that they could have the courage to take on some of the most powerful forces in our society.


"And to see the concept of non-violence mobilized in this way, to bring about ultimately changes in the law that made America better -- what an extraordinary gift that is."

"As several people in the movement keep saying, you can change the law but you can't change peoples' minds," said Plante. "How do you do that?"

"I think Dr. King was asked about that some time during the movement, and he said, 'Well, I might not be able to immediately change somebody's heart and mind, but if I can prevent them from lynching me, that's important, too," said the president. "What happens is, when laws change, then attitudes begin to change.

"When I hear people say, 'Oh, not much has changed,' that's just not true. Bill, you were here, and you know how much it's changed. It's changed not just because we have an African-American president; it's changed in all kinds of people's daily interactions."

"Mr. President, why is there such a disparity in the way blacks and whites see race relations?"

"Well, there's been obviously a different experience of race relations in this country," said Mr. Obama. "You know, the good news is that, despite I think a lot of people saying that the country's divided around these issues, the truth is in the aftermath of Ferguson and what happened in New York, you've seen a pretty constructive debate, a pretty constructive conversation."