From NBC's Lauren Appelbaum, NBC/NJ's Athena Jones, Aswini Anburajan and NBC's Domenico Montanaro
At Little Rock Central High School's 50th Anniversary Commemoration Ceremony, Bill Clinton took center stage. He was the commemorative speaker at today's ceremony and the chairman of the Little Rock Nine Gala last night. He asked all in attendance to reflect on, 50 years later, what Americans do for their children. Clinton emphasized showing gratitude, replicating excellence in schools, and being personally responsible in creating change. Clinton, who was 11 in 1957, said the event impacted his life to work for true equality.
"They made me decide, not just have an opinion, but to have a conviction," Clinton said. "We all should be grateful to people in life who make us move from opinion to conviction."
Like Clinton, Huckabee, another former governor of Arkansas, was in attendance, but he was certainly stuck in Clinton's shadow today. Bill and Hillary Clinton had seats on the stage while Huckabee and his simply attended the ceremony with seats in the audience.
And Bill used the stage to make reference to his wife. "This is a truly historic event for two reasons," Clinton said. "The one we have come to acknowledge and another. You may be watching with your very own eyes the last time where I will be speaking and Hillary will be listening. And I know all my old friends who made the rounds with me won't believe it but it suits me just fine."
Hillary Clinton certainly capitalized from the coverage, as two different cameras covering the ceremony often cut away to the Clintons, including a time showing Hillary whispering in Bill's ear and holding hands. Before the ceremony finished, the famous duo exited the stage and began shaking hands with the Little Rock Class of 2008. They then entered the school with the Little Rock Nine and Class of 2008.
Another wrinkle in the politics of today, Clinton and Obama are battling to shore up support among black voters, and they both put out statements -- along with other candidates -- in remembrance of the event. Clinton also announced the endorsement of the Rev. William H. Gray III, a former Pennsylvania congressman and former head of the United Negro College Fund. Gray was the first African American to chair both the powerful House Budget Committee and the Democratic Caucus, and the first to serve as House Majority Whip.
On the Little Rock Nine, Clinton said in a statement: "What we saw here in Little Rock in the Fall of 1957 shocked us and changed us. Mothers and fathers across America saw in those nine children the vulnerability and promise of their own children. They saw in that hateful mob the ugliness of their own prejudices and fears. And they were forced to ask themselves: "Is that who I am? Is that who we are?"
In his statement, Obama widened the scope. He included the struggled of the Jena 6, which he compared with the civil rights movement, sounding similar to Jesse Jackson comparing Jena 6 with Selma, Ala.
"Because fifty years ago, nine young men and women showed the world that in the face of impossible odds, ordinary people could do extraordinary things," Obama said. "And that's what we saw last week, when 10,000 Americans rallied to the side of justice in Jena. So if we're serious about living up to our founding ideals, we need to reconnect our politics with the core decency of the American people."
Dodd and Edwards' statements:
DODD: "Today we are reminded of these heroic nine students who courageously fought for equality despite the odds against them. While our nation has made many strides toward equality and opportunities for all in the years since this historic day, recent events, like the Jena 6 in Louisiana, remind us that we have more to do to promote greater understanding and compassion."
EDWARDS: "Half a century ago, the Little Rock Nine walked passed angry mobs and inspired the nation with their grace and strength. This anniversary reminds us both of their heroism and of the staggering amount of work we still have to do in this country. We still have two school systems – no longer legally but economically and racially. While our nation has made great progress, the quality of our children's education still depends far too much on the parents to which they are born. We cannot go on this way if we hope to build One America where everyone has an equal chance to succeed. It is our obligation to put an end to this inequality."