PHILADELPHIA — Standing at a wooden lectern in the center of a purple-carpeted altar, Hillary Clinton played preacher for a moment Sunday afternoon, portraying the looming presidential election as a choice between progress for civil rights or a step back into the past.
“Our founders said all men are created equal,” she told the congregants of Mount Airy Church of God, a predominantly black church, after she was serenaded by one of its preachers. “But they left out African-Americans. They left out women. They left out a lot of us. But that didn’t stop generations of Americans pushing forward and making it clear we weren’t satisfied with half measures.”
As Clinton fights for black voters in Pennsylvania and other battleground states in the race’s final three days, her campaign has portrayed the election as a battle to preserve the fragile progress made in American history to extend the country’s rights to all of its people. President Obama said he’d consider it a “personal insult” to his legacy if black voters do not turnout for Clinton on Tuesday, but North Carolina’s early-voting data suggests that, at least in that state, they have not mobilized at the same rate as four years ago.
“This election is about doing everything we can to stop the movement to destroy President Obama’s legacy,” Clinton told the churchgoers, adding that she “loves” when Obama says he wants to pass the baton of the presidency to her. (“I’m just hoping he will bend down low enough so that I can reach it,” she joked. “He’s a tall man. I’m going to have to stand on my toes.”)
Speaking at the end of a Friday night concert in Cleveland featuring Jay Z and Beyoncé, Clinton roughly quoted Jay Z’s lyric about the civil rights movement. “Rosa Parks sat so Martin Luther King could walk,” she said. “Martin Luther King walked so Obama could run. Obama’s ran so all the children could fly.”
Later Sunday, Clinton referenced her time with the stars at a rally with NBA star LeBron James, again in Cleveland. “I was thrilled to be here on Friday night with Jay Z and Beyoncé,” she said, joking that she loved the “pantsuits” Beyoncé’s backup singers wore.
At the Philadelphia church on Sunday, Clinton cast the history of the United States as a story of a gradually more inclusive nation attempting to get closer to fulfilling the principles guaranteed in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. She brought up the three-fifths compromise — under which African-Americans were counted as just three-fifths of a person when apportioning U.S. representatives — as an example of how far the country had to come to extend those rights to all.
And she reminded the congregation that many Americans could not vote, even though the founders said the government should be shaped by “we the people.”
“It took decades for that to become a reality,” she said. “The greatness of our country lies in our ability to right these wrongs.”
Khizr Khan, who spoke at the Democratic National Convention about losing his Muslim-American son Capt. Humayun Khan in Iraq, made a similar argument for Clinton at her last stop of the night in Manchester, N.H. “Would Muslims have a place in your America?” he asked Trump, as the crowd of thousands shouted “no” in response. “Would Latinos have a place in your America? Would African Americans have a place in your America, Donald Trump? Would anyone who isn’t like you have a place in your America, Donald Trump?”
“Well thankfully, Mr Trump, this isn’t your America,” he concluded. “And on Tuesday, we’re going to prove that America belongs to all of us.”
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