Obama mentioned the "legends and giants of the civil rights movement" as well as "the countless American heroes" who aren't named in the history books, all of whom marched and sang and organized "to change this country for the better."
He also thanked Trayvon Martin's parents for attending the White House reception marking African-American History Month: "Today, on the third anniversary of Trayvon Martin's death, showing all of our kids -- all of them -- every single day that their lives matter, that's part of our task," the president said.
Three days ago, President Obama's Justice Department announced that it would not file federal civil rights charges against the man who says he shot Trayvon Martin in self-defense.
During Thursday's event at the White House, Obama noted that "progress in this nation happens only because seemingly ordinary people find the courage to stand up for what is right. Not just when it's easy, but when it's hard. Not just when it's convenient, but when it's challenging."
(Although he was talking about Selma, he could have been talking about himself. Obama repeatedly has defended his executive amnesty as the "right thing to do." )
"What happened in Selma is quintessentially an American experience, not just an African American experience," Obama said.
"It speaks to what's best in this country. It remind us that the history of America doesn't belong to one group or another; it belongs to all of us -- that idea, this experiment built on a shared story of people bound together by shared ideas, shared ideals, certain inalienable rights of equality and justice and liberty for all people.
"So I want to thank those who made that extraordinary contribution for setting such a wonderful example for each of us.
"And I know that when I take Malia and Sasha down with Michelle next week, down to Selma, part of what I'm hoping to do is to remind them of their own obligations. Because there are going to be marches for them to march, and struggles for them to fight. And if we've done our job, then that next generation is going to be picking up the torch as well."