Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
March 8, 2015

Milestone Optics: Obama’s Pettus Bridge Vs. Bush’s Mission Accomplished

Given the presidential task of rhetorically shaping key events in American history, we are looking at a strategic decision to visually frame the president’s 50th anniversary Selma speech as a mile marker on a long road toward racial justice. That much is straightforward, so it’s worth pointing out how this photograph alludes another chapter in American history, too.

Flanked by former President George W. Bush to his right, and warmly lit by afternoon sun from the left, President Obama’s inspiring speech on Saturday–delivered against a backdrop of Selma’s iconic Edmund Pettus Bridge–should be partly read as a visual corrective to Dubya’s USS Theatrics. Where Bush’s Mission Accomplished speech tried to hurry American history along with Hollywood drama and spectacle of warfare, the modest black-and-white signage floating behind Obama’s Selma speech takes a longer view. Against the ongoing struggle for political equality in the US, the Edmund Pettus Bridge might as well read: Mission Not Yet Accomplished.

— Philip Perdue

(photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images. caption: U.S. president Barack Obama speaks in front of the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, 2015 in Selma, Alabama. Selma is commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the famed civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery that resulted in a violent confrontation with Selma police and State Troopers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, 1965).

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