OTD in History… January 1, 1863, Lincoln signs Emancipation Proclamation freeing all the slaves in rebel territories

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY

HISTORY, NEWS & POLITICS

HISTORY & POLITICAL HEADLINES

OTD in History… January 1, 1863, Lincoln signs Emancipation Proclamation freeing all the slaves in rebel territories

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

On this day in history January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issues the Emancipation Proclamation, which immediately goes into effect freeing all the slaves in rebel territories but not in the Union or Border States. Lincoln used the vacancies in Congress to determine the areas still under rebellion versus those under Union control. Representatives in Union captured territories returned to Congress under supervision. The proclamation marked a turning point in the Civil War, where Lincoln made it not only about reunifying the North and South but also eradicating slavery in America. The proclamation also branded the Confederacy as a slave state to foreign countries ending the possibility that Britain or France would recognize and aid the Confederacy as a separate nation, which they needed desperately if they had any chance in the war. Britain opposed slavery and without the Confederacy freeing the slaves, they would never get recognition.

Lincoln wrote the proclamation by himself and only asked for his cabinet’s opinion on the document on December 30. At the cabinet meeting, Lincoln distributed copies of the proclamation’s draft. As historian David Herbert Donald notes in his biography Lincoln, the president ignored “most of the substantive changes” and he adopted “several stylistic improvements.” (Donald, 406) Lincoln, however, listened to Charles Sumner and added a conclusion to the proclamation. The President added, “And upon this act, sincerely, believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution, upon military necessity. I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind, and the gracious favor of the Almighty God.” A year later, Lincoln commended his decision with the Emancipation Proclamation to John Hay, “I do not now see how it could have been done better. I am sure it was right. If I had yielded to that storm and dismissed Seward the thing would have slumped over one way and we should have been left with a scanty handful of supporters. When Chase sent in his resignation I saw that the game was in my own hands and I put it through.” (Donald, 406)

Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, after noon after escaping the White House New Year’s reception. Lincoln signed the document in his office accompanied by Secretary of State William Henry Seward and his son Fredrick the Assistant Secretary of State. They brought Lincoln a “duly engrossed copy of the final proclamation of emancipation.” (Donald, 407) Before officially signing the proclamation, Lincoln declared, “I never felt more certain that I was doing right, than I do in signing this paper.” After shaking so many hands at the morning reception, Lincoln was worried how his signature would look and if in history they would wonder if it was because he was reluctant to sign the document. Lincoln remarked, “Now, this signature is one that will be closely examined, and if they find my hand trembled, they will say ‘he had some compunctions.’ But, any way, it is going to be done!” (Donald, 407) Then holding the “pen firmly” Lincoln signed the proclamation, declaring slaves in rebel territories, “are, and henceforward shall be free,” with his signature, Lincoln would forever be known as the “Great Emancipator.”

For Lincoln, the Emancipation Proclamation was the next step after a series of Confiscation Acts aimed at the property of the rebellious states. On August 6, 1861, Lincoln signed the first bill the Confiscation Act of 1861, after the House passed it 60–48 and in the Senate passed it 24–11. The bill allowed the Union to confiscate any slave laboring the Confederate Army as “contraband of war.” On July 17, 1862, just days before Lincoln made his decision on emancipating the slaves known, he signed the Confiscation Act of 1862, the motto-according McPherson in his was “Take their property.” Union General Ulysses S. Grant confided about taking the slaves, writing, “it weakens the enemy to take them from them.” (McPherson, 502)

By early July, Lincoln believed in “forcible abolition of slavery” and as McPherson notes, “begun to draft a proclamation of emancipation.” (McPherson, 503) Still Lincoln had to contend with the Border States, they were opposed to his plan to for “compensated emancipation.” The President had their Congressman at the White House on July 12, trying to convince them of “The unprecedentedly stern facts of our case,” and for gradual emancipation. Two-thirds of the Representatives signed the Border-State Manifesto rejecting the proposal because it “radical [a] change in our social system”; it was “interference” “by the government with a state matter.” And as McPherson indicates, “it would cost too much (a curious objection from men whose states would benefit from a tax that would fall mainly on the free states); and finally, instead of shortening the conflict by depriving the Confederacy of hope for border-state support, it would lengthen the war and jeopardize victory by driving many unionist slaveholders into rebellion.” (McPherson, 503)

The Border States’ decision led Lincoln to support the Radical Republicans’ idea of emancipation. On July 13, Lincoln told Secretary of State William H. Seward and Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles of his intention for the Emancipation Proclamation. Welles recounted that Lincoln said it was “a military necessity, absolutely essential to the preservation of the Union. We must free the slaves or be ourselves subdued. The slaves were undeniably an element of strength to those who had their service, and we must decide whether that element should be with us or against us.” Lincoln did not see the Border States as the issue, but “the blow must fall first and foremost on [the rebels]. . . . Decisive and extensive measures must be adopted. . . . We wanted the army to strike more vigorous blows. The Administration must set an example, and strike at the heart of the rebellion.” Lincoln faced the greatest opposition from General George B. McClellan, who staunchly was against the move.

On July 22, President Abraham Lincoln announces to his advisors and cabinet his intentions to issue an Emancipation Proclamation, to free the slaves in the rebellious states but agrees to do so only and when the Union has a decisive victory in the Civil War. At this point, the Confederate states were winning battles and Britain and France were on the verge of recognizing them as a country and already supplying them with warships. Lincoln did not look to free the slaves for their sake but for the future of the Union, he needed to weaken the Confederacy. Lincoln emancipation proclamation’s draft declared “All persons held as slaves within any state or states, wherein the constitutional authority of the United States shall not then be practically recognized, submitted to, and maintained, shall then, thenceforward, and forever, be free.”

Lincoln justified having the presidential power to free the slaves as “a fit and necessary military measure.” As Burrus M. Carnahan in his book Act of Justice: Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and the Law of War writes, “The consequences of Lincoln’s decision to rely on the law of war as a source of executive power are still with us.” (Carnahan, 13–14) Only Postmaster General Montgomery Blair opposed the idea out of concern it would cost the Republicans the Congress in the midterm elections. Secretary of State Seward approved but wanted Lincoln to delay the announcement until a Union “military success,” or it would appear “as the last measure of an exhausted government, a cry for help . . . our last shriek, on the retreat.” Lincoln decided to wait and put away his draft of the proclamation in a drawer. (McPherson, 505)

The president only intended to free the slaves in the 10 states that seceded the Union and joined the Confederacy, it was an ultimatum if they do not return to the Union, and their prized slaves would be free, 3.5 to 4 million of them. If the southern states refused to abide, the slaves would leave the South and join the Union army, both adding to their army and be depriving the South of their labor force. In the final Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln purposely excluded freeing the slaves within the Union, especially within the Border States (Kentucky, Maryland, Delaware, and Missouri). Lincoln needed the Border States to stay in the Union, and could not offend them, there slavery only ended with the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment in December 1865. Lincoln also excluded any Southern territory under Union control including Tennessee, Lower Louisiana, and West Virginia.

In August, Lincoln made the case for his delayed proclamation. The slavery issue was at the forefront, Abolitionists were annoyed at Lincoln for not making a decisive move, he had support from some War Democrats, a few becoming Republicans but he faced a more formidable obstacle with Peace Democrats or Copperheads. In Congress, the division was stark; there were four slavery votes as McPherson recounts, “The war article prohibiting the return of fugitives, emancipation in the District of Columbia, prohibition of slavery in the territories, and the confiscation act.” The chasm was near unanimous, 96 percent of Democrats opposed the bills, while 99 percent of Republicans voted in favor. Lincoln relied on Democrats votes when elected president but to pass his legislation he needed to maintain the Republican majority in Congress.

Northern Democrats and Midwest Whigs feared emancipation, and the anti-black sentiment was high in the summer of 1862. To squelch their concerns, Lincoln supported colonization for blacks. On August 14, 1862, Lincoln invited black leaders to the White House and the press to make a statement on the position of black if they would be freed and colonization. Lincoln called slavery “the greatest wrong inflicted on any people,” but he said, “Your race suffer very greatly, many of them, by living among us, while ours suffer from your presence.” Lincoln seemed certain that there would be no equality between the races, saying, “There is an unwillingness on the part of our people, harsh as it may be, for you free colored people to remain among us. . . . I do not mean to discuss this, but to propose it as a fact with which we have to deal. I cannot alter it if I would.” (McPherson, 508) Lincoln’s solution was to create a colony for the freed slaves in Central America and in 1863; there was a failed effort to colonize an island near Haiti.

Historian Harold Holzer in promoting his book Emancipating Lincoln: The Proclamation in Text, Context, and Memory explained the reasons behind the colonization efforts. Holzer said Lincoln “did things in this run-up that are perplexing, sometimes unattractive, sometimes scary — to prepare the country for what in his mind would be a revolutionary moment.” Holzer indicated the reason for Lincoln hosting the black leaders and made his speech in front of the press, “He wanted this message out. What’s important to keep in mind is that he had written the Emancipation Proclamation. It was languishing in a drawer or burning a hole in his pocket. He knew he was going to do this, but he wanted Northern Americans who were dubious about marching toward racial equality to be assured that he was not doing this for the black race. He was doing this for the Union, to reunite the country, to defeat the rebellion, and he had no concern about blacks, their feelings, their resonance. He does have his finger in the wind.”

On August 20, 1862, newspaper editor and abolitionist, Horace Greeley challenges the president in an open letter editorial “The Prayer for Twenty Millions” in his paper the New York Tribune urging Lincoln to free the slaves in Union territory. Greeley was a reformer that created his paper in 1841 to give a voice to the “temperance, westward expansion, and the labor movement,” and abolitionism to which he was most passionate about. Greeley was instrumental in establishing the Republican Party in 1854, with preventing the spread of slavery a key issue. Both Greeley and freed slave Frederick Douglass had been urging President Lincoln to change his policy and take a stand on slavery. Greeley hoped with the Civil War, Lincoln would emancipate the slaves but the president was reluctant to alienate the border states Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware who did not secede from the Union. Even after he would emancipate the slaves, Lincoln did not include abolishing slavery in those states. Unbeknownst to Greeley, Lincoln already informed his cabinet nearly a month before on July 22, his plans to emancipate the slaves in the rebel Confederate states.

Greeley used his editorial to criticize President Lincoln. Greeley believed that without ending slavery the Union army would never end the rebellion from the Southern states. Greeley argued, “All attempts to put down the Rebellion, and at the same time uphold its inciting cause, are preposterous and futile.” Continuing Greeley expressed, “Every hour of deference to Slavery is an hour of added and deepened peril to the Union.” Greeley chastised Lincoln for not enforcing the Confiscation Acts of 1861 and 1862, which allowed the Union Army to seize rebel property including slaves, which they could have freed. Greeley indicated, “That act gives freedom to the slaves of Rebels coming within our lines, or whom those lines may at any time inclose — we ask you to render it due to obedience by publicly requiring all your subordinates to recognize and obey it.”

On August 22, 1862, Lincoln made his intentions towards fighting the Civil War and slavery clear and responded to a challenge over freeing the slaves by New York Tribune editor and critic Horace Greeley. In an open letter publishedin the National Intelligencer Lincoln expressed, “My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and it is not either to save or to destroy slavery.” Continuing Lincoln explained, “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that.” Lincoln, however, gave a slight indication as to his plans towards slavery with the conclusion to his response. Lincoln expressed, “I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men everywhere could be free.” In the months, leading up to his announcement Lincoln slowly prepared the Union for his radical policy a draft of the Emancipation Proclamation, which he would introduce just a month later on September 22

By September, Lincoln would have the military success necessary. The South was having military victories in the East but it was taking a toll, neither did Europe decide to recognize the Confederacy. In desperation General Robert E. Lee took his Army of Northern Virginia to Maryland, hoping for a decisive offensive victory where the Confederacy would acquire the border state. On September 17, Lee met McClellan’s Army of the Potomac at Antietam Creek for one of the bloodiest battles of the war. McClellan was able to push back Lee’s army, although not a major victory, it was enough for Lincoln to move forward on the Emancipation Proclamation.

On September 22, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issued a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation setting the date to free all the slaves in the rebel Confederate territories during the Civil War causing ire from abolitionists, who believed the president should also free the slaves in Union territory, a glaring omission in the proclamation. President Lincoln waited for a clear Union victory as there was in Antietam to make the announcement on a decision he made more than two months earlier in July. The proclamation warned the Southern Confederate states if the rebellion and Civil War did not end by January 1, 1863, all their slaves would “be then, thenceforward, and forever free.” The proclamation would free 3 million slaves and turn the war from just a fight over states rights and saving the Union to a clear fight against the institution of slavery.

President Lincoln again gathered his cabinet telling them “I think the time has come, I wish it were a better time. I wish that we were in a better condition. The action of the army against the rebels has not been quite what I should have best liked.” (McPherson, 557) His cabinet approved except Postmaster General Montgomery Blair was concerned the Border States who secede to the Confederacy giving the Democrats power to admonish Lincoln and his administration for the decision. The Border States were the reason Lincoln did not force freeing the slaves within the Union, he knew when the war would be over they would have to comply. Lincoln told Blair about the Border States, “We must make the forward movement. They [will] acquiesce, if not immediately, soon.” Lincoln was less worried about the Democrats, saying, “Their clubs would be used against us take what course we might.” (McPherson, 557)

The reaction was mixed, with some abolitionists questioning and criticizing President Lincoln’s decision not to free all the slaves. As historian James McPherson in his book Battle Cry of Freedom: the Civil War Era recounted, “This produced some confusion because the edict thus appeared to “liberate” only those slaves beyond Union authority while retaining in bondage all those within the government’s reach. (McPherson, 557) Lincoln considered the Border States and the limits of the Constitution in drafting the Emancipation Proclamation; he could seize the property of the enemy in war but not within the Union. America’s most notable abolitionists were pleased with Lincoln’s decision. Freed former slave Frederick Douglass expressed, “We shout for joy that we live to record this righteous decree,” and the movement leader William Lloyd Garrison called the proclamation “an act of immense historic consequence.” (McPherson, 558

Signing the Emancipation Proclamation on New Year’s Day, Lincoln recognized the historical impact, as Holzer recounts, “Then he looked at the signature — Abraham Lincoln — very proudly and said, ‘There, that will do,’ He had said right before that, if my name ever goes into history it will be for this act. He sensed immediately that he had become one of the immortals. Lincoln understood a Constitutional amendment would be necessary to outlaw slavery permanently. Union generals, however, were able to benefit and as they captured Confederate land, they could free and put the former slaves to good use in the war.

As Carl E. Kramer writing in Events That Changed America in the Nineteenth Century points outs, “Most important, the proclamation made abolition a formal war aim, giving the Union the moral advantage not only at home but in the court of world opinion. In short, the war’s purpose was transformed from restoring the Union as it had been to creating a new nation without slavery. Emancipation was one of many social and economic changes that helped transform American society as civil war became total war.” (Findling and Thackeray, 130–31) The war also changed for President Lincoln, in early 1862, he called it a “remorseless revolutionary struggle.” After the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect he looked forward to the Reconstruction and a new South, stating, “The character of the war will be changed. It will be one of subjugation. . . . The [old] South is to be destroyed and replaced by new propositions and ideas.” (McPherson, 558)

SOURCES AND READ MORE

Carnahan, Burrus M. Act of Justice: Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and the Law of War. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2011.

Donald, David H. Lincoln. New York, N.Y: Simon & Schuster, 1996.

Findling, John E, and Frank W. Thackeray. Events That Changed America in the Nineteenth Century. Westport (Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1997).

Guelzo, Allen C. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004.

Holzer, Harold. Emancipating Lincoln: The Proclamation in Text, Context, and Memory. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2012.

McPherson, James M. Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.

Bonnie K. Goodman has a BA and MLIS from McGill University and has done graduate work in religion at Concordia University. She is a journalist, librarian, historian & editor, and a former Features Editor at the History News Network & reporter at Examiner.com where she covered politics, universities, religion, and news. She has a dozen years of experience in education & political journalism.

Advertisements

OTD in History… August 6, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act into law

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY

HISTORY, NEWS & POLITICS

HISTORY & POLITICAL HEADLINES

OTD in History… August 6, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act into law

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

On this day in history August 6, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law, the law would prevent the federal government, the states or local areas from imposing any restrictions, which would prevent anybody from voting. The Voting Rights Act combined with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, were meant to guarantee equal and voting rights to African-Americans, who were long relegated to segregation and denied the right to vote guaranteed to them in the fifteenth amendment ratified in 1870. The Fifteenth Amendment promised the guarantee to vote “on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude,” but the South’ Jim Crow laws found ways to circumvent the amendment for nearly a hundred years. Johnson signed the bill surrounded by Civil Rights leaders after an arduous journey imperiled by Southern Democrats, whose constituents long opposed equality for African Americans with racial prejudices alive from the post-Civil War period.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 aimed to reduce inequality for African Americans it did not address the problems with voting. In the South especially, restrictions were meant to prevent African Americans from being registered to vote including difficult literacy tests, poll taxes and grandfather clauses and other tricks and bureaucratic excuses, just to deny them the vote. Johnson and the Democrats’ landslide victory in the 1964 election gave him the mandate to create legislation dealing with the voting issue. Still, he was weary the public would not be supportive so soon after the Civil Rights Act and concerned Southern Democrats would block it and his Great Society social program.

On Sunday, March 7, Bloody Sunday would turn the tide. There Martin Luther King, Jr. and others were peacefully marching for voting rights in Selma, Alabama, ended up being brutally beaten by the police and state troopers, which led to one death. Despite it, all King believed and said at the march, “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” The images on television were enough for Johnson to sway the public and Congress on legislation. The moment was now.

On March 15, President Johnson delivered one his best speeches the Voting Rights Address to Congress, where he spoke of the need for the legislation. Johnson used the moment to his favor, expressing “At times, history and fate meet at a single time in a single place to shape a turning point in man’s unending search for freedom. So it was at Lexington and Concord. So it was a century ago at Appomattox. So it was last week in Selma, Alabama.” Johnson ordered his Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach to draft “the goddamndest, toughest voting rights act that you can.”

Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield (D-Mont.) and Minority Leader Everett McKinley Dirksen (R-Ill.) introduced the bill, 64 senators co-sponsored it, 44 Democrats and 20 Republican co-sponsors. In the Senate floor debate on April 22, Dirksen defended the bill saying “legislation is needed if the unequivocal mandate of the Fifteenth Amendment … is to be enforced and made effective and if the Declaration of Independence is to be made truly meaningful.” While Senator and segregationalist Strom Thurmond (R-SC) said, it would lead to “despotism and tyranny.”

The Voting Rights Act, known as the “Dirksenbach” bill for its primary authors first passed the Senate on May 26, with a vote of 77–19 (Democrats 47–16, Republicans 30–2), all Southern Democrats opposed the bill. The bill passed in the House of Representative on July 9 with a vote of 333–85, Democrats 221–61, and Republicans 112–24, again with Southern Democrats opposing. When the bill went to conference, the biggest difference was the House bill not outlawing poll taxes; a compromise in the bill outlawed them. The House approved the revised bill, on August 3 with a vote of 328–74 (Democrats 217–54, Republicans 111–20). The next day on August 4 the Senate approved the bill 79–18 vote (Democrats 49–17, Republicans 30–1).

On August 6, Johnson signed the bill into law at Statuary Hall in the Capitol building. In attendance were dignitaries including those that helped make landmarks in the Civil Rights Movement. Rosa Parks, who refused to sit at the back of the bus starting the Montgomery bus boycott was there. Solicitor General Thurgood Marshall, whom Johnson had just appointed, and had successfully argued in 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka was there. Charles Evers, brother of Medgar Evers killed in 1963 the NAACP’s field secretary, a position Charles later assumed attended. John Doar, the assistant attorney general for civil rights, who “helped shaped the act” attended. John Lewis, who was the face of the violence of the Selma March, he fought for voting rights in the state even before Martin Luther King, Jr., and he was badly injured on Bloody Sunday. King also attended, for the leader of the Civil Rights Movement, this was the second legislative victory. King said at the Lincoln Memorial in May 1957. “So long as I do not firmly and irrevocably have the right to vote I do not possess myself.”

Johnson chose the day because it was symbolic. As historian Gary May in his book Bending Toward Justice: The Voting Rights Act and the Transformation of American Democracy recounted, “On that day in 1861, President Lincoln had signed the Confiscation Act, freeing all slaves who were being used to aid the Confederacy; that act was a precursor to the Emancipation Proclamation, which liberated the rebel states’ remaining slaves.” (May 19) President Johnson ensured the visual was also there as he delivered a televised speech, with the backdrop of two busts of Lincoln, and was John Trumbull’s painting of George Washington, the Surrender of Cornwallis. (May 19)

In his speech, Johnson declared, “Today, we strike away the last major shackle of those fierce and ancient bonds. . . . The vote is the most powerful instrument ever devised by man for breaking down injustice and destroying the terrible walls which imprison men because they are different from other men.” The president, however, signed the bill in the President’s room, he gave the first pen to Vice President Hubert Humphrey, the second to Senator Everett M. Dirksen, and the third to Senator Robert Kennedy. Johnson also gave one to Rev. King, and told him “his work was now done, that the time for protest was over.” (May, 20) Afterward, Johnson hosted the Civil rights Leaders at the White House.

Historian Gary May indicates, “The Voting Rights Act transformed American democracy and in many ways was the last act of emancipation, a process Abraham Lincoln began in 1863.” President Johnson believed it was but the Voting Rights Act was a work in progress, opening the doors to voting, however, African Americans might still have to fight but now with the means in the courts. Through the years, the act would see provisions added evolving for the better. The Voting Rights Act’s greatest victory was Election Day 2008, where 65 percent of African American voters and an overwhelmingly 96 percent of them voted in the first African American President history, Barack Obama.

SOURCES

May, Gary. Bending Toward Justice: The Voting Rights Act and the Transformation of American Democracy. New York, N.Y: Basic Books, 2013.

Bonnie K. Goodman has a BA and MLIS from McGill University and has done graduate work in religion at Concordia University. She is a journalist, librarian, historian & editor, and a former Features Editor at the History News Network & reporter at Examiner.com where she covered politics, universities, religion and news. She has a dozen years experience in education & political journalism.

Remarks in the Capitol Rotunda at the Signing of the Voting Rights Act.

August 6, 1965

Mr. Vice President, Mr. Speaker, Members of Congress, members of the Cabinet, distinguished guests, my fellow Americans:

Today is a triumph for freedom as huge as any victory that has ever been won on any battlefield. Yet to seize the meaning of this day, we must recall darker times.

Three and a half centuries ago the first Negroes arrived at Jamestown. They did not arrive in brave ships in search of a home for freedom. They did not mingle fear and joy, in expectation that in this New World anything would be possible to a man strong enough to reach for it.

They came in darkness and they came in chains.

And today we strike away the last major shackle of those fierce and ancient bonds. Today the Negro story and the American story fuse and blend.

And let us remember that it was not always so. The stories of our Nation and of the American Negro are like two great rivers. Welling up from that tiny Jamestown spring they flow through the centuries along divided channels.

When pioneers subdued a continent to the need of man, they did not tame it for the Negro. When the Liberty Bell rang out in Philadelphia, it did not toll for the Negro. When Andrew Jackson threw open the doors of democracy, they did not open for the Negro.

It was only at Appomattox, a century ago, that an American victory was also a Negro victory. And the two rivers–one shining with promise, the other dark-stained with oppression–began to move toward one another.

THE PROMISE KEPT

Yet, for almost a century the promise of that day was not fulfilled. Today is a towering and certain mark that, in this generation, that promise will be kept. In our time the two currents will finally mingle and rush as one great stream across the uncertain and the marvelous years of the America that is yet to come.

This act flows from a clear and simple wrong. Its only purpose is to right that wrong. Millions of Americans are denied the right to vote because of their color. This law will ensure them the right to vote. The wrong is one which no American, in his heart, can justify. The right is one which no American, true to our principles, can deny.

In 1957, as the leader of the majority in the United States Senate, speaking in support of legislation to guarantee the right of all men to vote, I said, “This right to vote is the basic right without which all others are meaningless. It gives people, people as individuals, control over their own destinies.”

Last year I said, “Until every qualified person regardless of . . . the color of his skin has the right, unquestioned and unrestrained, to go in and cast his ballot in every precinct in this great land of ours, I am not going to be satisfied.”

Immediately after the election I directed the Attorney General to explore, as rapidly as possible, the ways to ensure the right to vote.

And then last March, with the outrage of Selma still fresh, I came down to this Capitol one evening and asked the Congress and the people for swift and for sweeping action to guarantee to every man and woman the right to vote. In less than 48 hours I sent the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to the Congress. In little more than 4 months the Congress, with overwhelming majorities, enacted one of the most monumental laws in the entire history of American freedom.

THE WAITING IS GONE

The Members of the Congress, and the many private citizens, who worked to shape and pass this bill will share a place of honor in our history for this one act alone.

There were those who said this is an old injustice, and there is no need to hurry. But 95 years have passed since the 15th amendment gave all Negroes the right to vote.

And the time for waiting is gone.

There were those who said smaller and more gradual measures should be tried. But they had been tried. For years and years they had been tried, and tried, and tried, and they had failed, and failed, and failed.

And the time for failure is gone.

There were those who said that this is a many-sided and very complex problem. But however viewed, the denial of the right to vote is still a deadly wrong.

And the time for injustice has gone.

This law covers many pages. But the heart of the act is plain. Wherever, by clear and objective standards, States and counties are using regulations, or laws, or tests to deny the right to vote, then they will be struck down. If it is clear that State officials still intend to discriminate, then Federal examiners will be sent in to register all eligible voters. When the prospect of discrimination is gone, the examiners will be immediately withdrawn.

And, under this act, if any county anywhere in this Nation does not want Federal intervention it need only open its polling places to all of its people.

THE GOVERNMENT ACTS

This good Congress, the 89th Congress, acted swiftly in passing this act. I intend to act with equal dispatch in enforcing this act.

And tomorrow at 1 p.m., the Attorney General has been directed to file a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the poll tax in the State of Mississippi. This will begin the legal process which, I confidently believe, will very soon prohibit any State from requiring the payment of money in order to exercise the right to vote.

And also by tomorrow the Justice Department, through publication in the Federal Register, will have officially certified the States where discrimination exists.

I have, in addition, requested the Department of Justice to work all through this weekend so that on Monday morning next, they can designate many counties where past experience clearly shows that Federal action is necessary and required. And by Tuesday morning, trained Federal examiners will be at work registering eligible men and women in 10 to 15 counties.

And on that same day, next Tuesday, additional poll tax suits will be filed in the States of Texas, Alabama, and Virginia.

And I pledge you that we will not delay, or we will not hesitate, or we will not turn aside until Americans of every race and color and origin in this country have the same right as all others to share in the process of democracy.

So, through this act, and its enforcement, an important instrument of freedom passes into the hands of millions of our citizens. But that instrument must be used. Presidents and Congresses, laws and lawsuits can open the doors to the polling places and open the doors to the wondrous rewards which await the wise use of the ballot.

THE VOTE BECOMES JUSTICE

But only the individual Negro, and all others who have been denied the right to vote, can really walk through those doors, and can use that right, and can transform the vote into an instrument of justice and fulfillment.

So, let me now say to every Negro in this country: You must register. You must vote. You must learn, so your choice advances your interest and the interest of our beloved Nation. Your future, and your children’s future, depend upon it, and I don’t believe that you are going to let them down.

This act is not only a victory for Negro leadership. This act is a great challenge to that leadership. It is a challenge which cannot be met simply by protests and demonstrations. It means that dedicated leaders must work around the clock to teach people their rights and their responsibilities and to lead them to exercise those rights and to fulfill those responsibilities and those duties to their country.

If you do this, then you will find, as others have found before you, that the vote is the most powerful instrument ever devised by man for breaking down injustice and destroying the terrible walls which imprison men because they are different from other men.

THE LAST OF THE BARRIERS TUMBLE

Today what is perhaps the last of the legal barriers is tumbling. There will be many actions and many difficulties before the rights woven into law are also woven into the fabric of our Nation. But the struggle for equality must now move toward a different battlefield.

It is nothing less than granting every American Negro his freedom to enter the mainstream of American life: not the conformity that blurs enriching differences of culture and tradition, but rather the opportunity that gives each a chance to choose.

For centuries of oppression and hatred have already taken their painful toll. It can be seen throughout our land in men without skills, in children without fathers, in families that are imprisoned in slums and in poverty.

RIGHTS ARE NOT ENOUGH

For it is not enough just to give men rights. They must be able to use those rights in their personal pursuit of happiness. The wounds and the weaknesses, the outward walls and the inward scars which diminish achievement are the work of American society. We must all now help to end them–help to end them through expanding programs already devised and through new ones to search out and forever end the special handicaps of those who are black in a Nation that happens to be mostly white.

So, it is for this purpose–to fulfill the rights that we now secure–that I have already called a White House conference to meet here in the Nation’s Capital this fall.

So, we will move step by step–often painfully but, I think, with clear vision–along the path toward American freedom.

It is difficult to fight for freedom. But I also know how difficult it can be to bend long years of habit and custom to grant it. There is no room for injustice anywhere in the American mansion. But there is always room for understanding toward those who see the old ways crumbling. And to them today I say simply this: It must come. It is right that it should come. And when it has, you will find that a burden has been lifted from your shoulders, too.

It is not just a question of guilt, although there is that. It is that men cannot live with a lie and not be stained by it.

DIGNITY IS NOT JUST A WORD

The central fact of American civilization–one so hard for others to understand–is that freedom and justice and the dignity of man are not just words to us. We believe in them. Under all the growth and the tumult and abundance, we believe. And so, as long as some among us are oppressed–and we are part of that oppression–it must blunt our faith and sap the strength of our high purpose.

Thus, this is a victory for the freedom of the American Negro. But it is also a victory for the freedom of the American Nation. And every family across this great, entire, searching land will live stronger in liberty, will live more splendid in expectation, and will be prouder to be American because of the act that you have passed that I will sign today.

Thank you.


Note: The President spoke at 12:05 p.m. in the Rotunda at the Capitol, prior to signing the bill. In his opening words he referred to Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, President of the Senate, and Representative John W. McCormack of Massachusetts, Speaker of the House of Representatives.

As enacted, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is Public Law 89-110 (79 Stat. 437).

Reports to the President on the implementation of the act, prepared by the Attorney General and the Chairman of the Civil Service Commission, were made public by the White House on August 5, August 14, and August 21. They are printed in the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents (vol. 1, pp. 51, 92, 125).

The determinations of the Attorney General are printed in the Federal Register of August 7 and August 10, 1965 (30 F.R. 9897, 9970).

Lyndon B. Johnson: “Remarks in the Capitol Rotunda at the Signing of the Voting Rights Act.,” August 6, 1965. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=27140.

OTD in History… July 22, 1862, President Lincoln notifies his cabinet he will free the slaves

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY

HISTORY, NEWS & POLITICS

HISTORY & POLITICAL HEADLINES

OTD in History… July 22, 1862, President Lincoln notifies his cabinet he will free the slaves

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation of President Lincoln, Francis Bicknell Carpenter, (Oil on Canvas, 1864) Source: Wikimedia Commons

On this day in history July 22, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln announces to his advisors and cabinet his intentions to issue an Emancipation Proclamation, to free the slaves in the rebellious states but agrees to do so only and when the Union has a decisive victory in the Civil War. At this point, the Confederate states were winning battles and Britain and France were on the verge of recognizing them as a country and already supplying them with warships. Lincoln did not look to free the slaves for their sake but for the future of the Union, he needed to weaken the Confederacy.

On August 22, 1862, Lincoln made his intentions clear and responded to a challenge over freeing the slaves by New York Tribune editor and critic Horace Greeley. In an open letter published in the National Intelligencer Lincoln expressed, “My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and it is not either to save or to destroy slavery.” Continuing Lincoln explained, “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that.” In the months, leading up to his announcement Lincoln slowly prepared the Union for his radical policy.

For Lincoln, the Emancipation Proclamation was the next step after a series of Confiscation Acts aimed at the property of the rebellious states. On August 6, 1861, Lincoln signed the first bill the Confiscation Act of 1861, after the House passed it 60–48 and in the Senate passed it 24–11. The bill allowed the Union to confiscate any slave laboring the Confederate Army as “contraband of war.” On July 17, 1862, just days before Lincoln made his decision on emancipating the slaves known, he signed the Confiscation Act of 1862, the motto-according historian James McPherson in his book Battle Cry of Freedom: the Civil War Era was “Take their property.” Union General Ulysses S. Grant confided about taking the slaves, writing, “it weakens the enemy to take them from them.” (McPherson, 502)

By early July, Lincoln believed in “forcible abolition of slavery” and as McPherson notes, “begun to draft a proclamation of emancipation.” (McPherson, 503) Still Lincoln had to contend with the Border States, they were opposed to his plan to for “compensated emancipation.” The President had their Congressman at the White House on July 12, trying to convince them of “The unprecedentedly stern facts of our case,” and for gradual emancipation. Two-thirds of the Representatives signed the Border-State Manifesto rejecting the proposal because it “radical [a] change in our social system”; it was “interference” “by the government with a state matter.” And as McPherson indicates, “it would cost too much (a curious objection from men whose states would benefit from a tax that would fall mainly on the free states); and finally, instead of shortening the conflict by depriving the Confederacy of hope for border-state support, it would lengthen the war and jeopardize victory by driving many unionist slaveholders into rebellion.” (McPherson, 503)

The Border States’ decision led Lincoln to support the Radical Republicans’ idea of emancipation. On July 13, Lincoln told Secretary of State William H. Seward and Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles of his intention for the Emancipation Proclamation. Welles recounted that Lincoln said it was “a military necessity, absolutely essential to the preservation of the Union. We must free the slaves or be ourselves subdued. The slaves were undeniably an element of strength to those who had their service, and we must decide whether that element should be with us or against us.” Lincoln did not see the Border States as the issue, but “the blow must fall first and foremost on [the rebels]. . . . Decisive and extensive measures must be adopted. . . . We wanted the army to strike more vigorous blows. The Administration must set an example, and strike at the heart of the rebellion.” Lincoln faced the greatest opposition from General George B. McClellan, who staunchly was against the move.

On July 22, Lincoln gathered his cabinet and notified them of his decision to issue an emancipation proclamation. The draft declared “All persons held as slaves within any state or states, wherein the constitutional authority of the United States shall not then be practically recognized, submitted to, and maintained, shall then, thenceforward, and forever, be free.” Lincoln justified having the presidential power to free the slaves as “a fit and necessary military measure.” As Burrus M. Carnahan in his book Act of Justice: Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and the Law of War writes, “The consequences of Lincoln’s decision to rely on the law of war as a source of executive power are still with us.” (Carnahan, 13–14) Only Postmaster General Montgomery Blair opposed the idea out of concern it would cost the Republicans the Congress in the midterm elections. Secretary of State Seward approved but wanted Lincoln to delay the announcement until a Union “military success,” or it would appear “as the last measure of an exhausted government, a cry for help . . . our last shriek, on the retreat.” Lincoln decided to wait and put away his draft of the proclamation in a drawer. (McPherson, 505)

The president only intended to free the slaves in the 10 states that seceded the Union and joined the Confederacy, it was an ultimatum if they do not return to the Union, and their prized slaves would be free, 3.5 to 4 million of them. If the southern states refused to abide, the slaves would leave the South and join the Union army, both adding to their army and be depriving the South of their labor force. In the final Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln purposely excluded freeing the slaves within the Union, especially within the Border States (Kentucky, Maryland, Delaware, and Missouri). Lincoln needed the Border States to stay in the Union, and could not offend them, there slavery only ended with the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment in December 1865. Lincoln also excluded any Southern territory under Union control including Tennessee, Lower Louisiana, and West Virginia.

In August, Lincoln made the case for his delayed proclamation. The slavery issue was at the forefront, Abolitionists were annoyed at Lincoln for not making a decisive move, he had support from some War Democrats, a few becoming Republicans but he faced a more formidable obstacle with Peace Democrats or Copperheads. In Congress, the division was stark; there were four slavery votes as McPherson recounts, “The war article prohibiting the return of fugitives, emancipation in the District of Columbia, prohibition of slavery in the territories, and the confiscation act.” The chasm was near unanimous, 96 percent of Democrats opposed the bills, while 99 percent of Republicans voted in favor. Lincoln relied on Democrats votes when elected president but to pass his legislation he needed to maintain the Republican majority in Congress.

Northern Democrats and Midwest Whigs feared emancipation, and the anti-black sentiment was high in the summer of 1862. To squelch their concerns, Lincoln supported colonization for blacks. On August 14, 1862, Lincoln invited black leaders to the White House and the press to make a statement on the position of black if they would be freed and colonization. Lincoln called slavery “the greatest wrong inflicted on any people,” but he said, “Your race suffer very greatly, many of them, by living among us, while ours suffer from your presence.” Lincoln seemed certain that there would be no equality between the races, saying, “There is an unwillingness

on the part of our people, harsh as it may be, for you free colored people to remain among us. . . . I do not mean to discuss this, but to propose it as a fact with which we have to deal. I cannot alter it if I would.” (McPherson, 508) Lincoln’s solution was to create a colony for the freed slaves in Central America and in 1863; there was a failed effort to colonize an island near Haiti.

Harold Holzer in promoting his book Emancipating Lincoln: The Proclamation in Text, Context, and Memory explained the reasons behind the colonization efforts. Holzer said Lincoln “did things in this run-up that are perplexing, sometimes unattractive, sometimes scary — to prepare the country for what in his mind would be a revolutionary moment.” Holzer indicated the reason for Lincoln hosting the black leaders and made his speech in front of the press, “He wanted this message out. What’s important to keep in mind is that he had written the Emancipation Proclamation. It was languishing in a drawer or burning a hole in his pocket. He knew he was going to do this, but he wanted Northern Americans who were dubious about marching toward racial equality to be assured that he was not doing this for the black race. He was doing this for the Union, to reunite the country, to defeat the rebellion, and he had no concern about blacks, their feelings, their resonance. He does have his finger in the wind.”

By September, Lincoln would have the military success necessary. The South was having military victories in the East but it was taking a toll, neither did Europe decide to recognize the Confederacy. In desperation General Robert E. Lee took his Army of Northern Virginia to Maryland, hoping for a decisive offensive victory where the Confederacy would acquire the border state. On September 17, Lee met McClellan’s Army of the Potomac at Antietam Creek for one of the bloodiest battles of the war. McClellan was able to push back Lee’s army, although not a major victory, it was enough for Lincoln to move forward on the Emancipation Proclamation.

Finally, on September 22, President Lincoln again gathered his cabinet telling them “I think the time has come, I wish it were a better time. I wish that we were in a better condition. The action of the army against the rebels has not been quite what I should have best liked.” (McPherson, 557) Lincoln issued a Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, warning the Confederate states if the rebellion did not end by January 1, 1863, all their slaves would “be then, thenceforward, and forever free.” Signing it on New Year’s Day, Lincoln recognized the historical impact, as Holzer recounts, “Then he looked at the signature — Abraham Lincoln — very proudly and said, ‘There, that will do,’ He had said right before that, if my name ever goes into history it will be for this act. He sensed immediately that he had become one of the immortals.”

Lincoln understood a Constitutional amendment would be necessary to outlaw slavery permanently. Union generals, however, were able to benefit and as they captured Confederate land, they could free and put the former slaves to good use in the war. As Carl E. Kramer writing in Events That Changed America in the Nineteenth Century points outs, “Most important, the proclamation made abolition a formal war aim, giving the Union the moral advantage not only at home but in the court of world opinion. In short, the war’s purpose was transformed from restoring the Union as it had been to creating a new nation without slavery. Emancipation was one of many social and economic changes that helped transform American society as civil war became total war.” (Findling and Thackeray, 130–31)

SOURCES AND READ MORE

Carnahan, Burrus M. Act of Justice: Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and the Law of War. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2011.

Findling, John E, and Frank W. Thackeray. Events That Changed America in the Nineteenth Century. Westport (Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1997).

Guelzo, Allen C. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004.

Holzer, Harold. Emancipating Lincoln: The Proclamation in Text, Context, and Memory. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2012.

McPherson, James M. Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.

Bonnie K. Goodman has a BA and MLIS from McGill University and has done graduate work in religion at Concordia University. She is a journalist, librarian, historian & editor, and a former Features Editor at the History News Network & reporter at Examiner.com where she covered politics, universities, religion and news. She has a dozen years experience in education & political journalism.

OTD in History… June 11, 1963, President Kennedy orders the National Guard to desegregate the University of Alabama

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY

HISTORY, NEWS & POLITICS

HISTORY & POLITICAL HEADLINES

OTD in History… June 11, 1963, President Kennedy orders the National Guard to desegregate the University of Alabama

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

On this day in history June 11, 1963, President John F. Kennedy orders the National Guard to force Alabama Governor Wallace to end his blockade and desegregate the University of Alabama. June 11, 1963, was a busy day for the civil rights movement. Early in the day, Alabama Governor and strong segregationist George Wallace delivered his “Stand in the Schoolhouse Door Speech.” Alabama was the only state that still did not desegregate their schools, Democrat Wallace entered office earlier in the year promising “Segregation now! Segregation tomorrow! Segregation forever!” Wallace was unyielding refusing to negotiate and compromise with the Kennedy Administration, hoping instead for a confrontation that would elevate his status, while diminishing Kennedy in the Deep South.

Wallace physically prevented two African American students, Vivian Malone and James Hood, from completing their registration at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Wallace literally stood in front of the school’s Foster Auditorium door blocking Malone and Hood from entering. Wallace attempted to prevent the university’s integration despite a court order the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama.

When Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach asked Wallace to move aside, he refused. Instead, Wallace delivered his infamous speech on states’ rights. Wallace called the desegregation an “unwelcomed, unwarranted and force-induced intrusion upon the campus” and “a frightful example of the expression of the rights, privileges, and sovereignty of this state.” (Brinkley, 109) Katzenbach then contacted President Kennedy.

President Kennedy again was forced to federalize the Alabama National Guard Executive Order 11111 to end the conflict. Kennedy issued Presidential Proclamation 3542 to force Wallace to comply and allow the students to enter the university building and complete their registration. Four hours later Wallace finally moved aside after being by Guard General Henry Graham, allowing for the integration of the University. Wallace made national headlines upping his profile, but also forcing Kennedy’s hand that he had no choice left but to announce his intentions to introduce a civil rights bill to Congress.

SOURCES

Dallek, Robert. An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917–1963. Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Co, 2003.

Dallek, Robert. John F. Kennedy. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.

 

Executive Order 11111—Providing Assistance for the Removal of Obstructions of Justice and Suppression of Unlawful Combinations Within the State of Alabama
June 11, 1963

WHEREAS on June 11, 1963, I issued Proclamation No. 3542, pursuant in part to the provisions of section 334 of Title 10, United States Code; and

WHEREAS the commands contained in that Proclamation have not been obeyed, and the unlawful obstructions of justice and combinations referred to therein continue:

NOW, THEREFORE, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, including Chapter 15 of Title 10 of the United States Code, particularly sections 332, 333 and 334 thereof, and section 301 of Title 3 of the United States Code, it is hereby ordered as follows:

SECTION 1. The Secretary of Defense is authorized and directed to take all appropriate steps to remove obstructions of justice in the State of Alabama, to enforce the laws of the United States within that State, including the orders of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama referred to in the said Proclamation, and to suppress unlawful assemblies, combinations, conspiracies and domestic violence which oppose or obstruct the execution of the laws of the United States or impede the course of justice under those laws within that State.

SEC. 2. In furtherance of the authorization and direction contained in section 1 hereof, the Secretary of Defense is authorized to use such of the Armed Forces of the United States as he may deem necessary.

SEC. 3. I hereby authorize and direct the Secretary of Defense to call into the active military service of the United States, as he may deem appropriate to carry out the purposes of this order, any or all of the units of the Army National Guard and of the Air National Guard of the State of Alabama to serve in the active military service of the United States for an indefinite period and until relieved by appropriate orders. In carrying out the provisions of section 1, the Secretary of Defense is authorized to use the units, and members thereof, called into the active military service of the United States pursuant to this section.

SEC. 4. The Secretary of Defense is authorized to delegate to the Secretary of the Army or the Secretary of the Air Force, or both, any of the authority conferred upon him by this order.

JOHN F. KENNEDY
THE WHITE HOUSE,
June 11, 1963

OTD in History… June 11, 1963, President Kennedy addresses civil rights to the nation

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY

HISTORY, NEWS & POLITICS

HISTORY & POLITICAL HEADLINES

OTD in History… June 11, 1963, President Kennedy addresses civil rights to the nation

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

John F. Kennedy delivering the Civil Rights Address (Wikimedia Commons)

On This Day in History… June 11, 1963, President John F. Kennedy delivered a televised address on civil rights to the nation from the White House Oval Office paving the way for the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Two days in June 1963 have been highlighted as part the pantheon of major turning points in American history. The recently published “Two Days in June: John F. Kennedy and the 48 Hours That Changed History” by award-winning journalist and Canadian political author Andrew Cohen in 2014 highlighted the importance of those two days to both the Civil Rights movement, the Cold War and the Kennedy presidency.

Cohen emphasized the magnitude of the events and particularly two speeches Kennedy delivered one on foreign policy at the commencement at American University and the other televised to the nations advancing civil rights. Cohen explained, “To the calendar, June 10 and June 11, 1963, was late spring; to history, it was high summer. Great forces converged and smaller ones emerged over these forty-eight hours, bracketed by two imperishable speeches. One produced an arms treaty, the first of the Cold War. The other produced a civil rights law, the most important of its time” (p. 19)

Cohen indicated the importance of those dates in the Kennedy Presidency, but a recent op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal by author Joel Engel went further. Engel in his article entitled “Three Days That Changed the World, Not That the World Noticed” elevated the significance of three days in June 1963 as major turning points in history. Engel noted, “History is in part the observation of consequential days, tragic and joyous. Americans celebrate July 4 and commemorate Sept. 11. We remember Dec. 7 and honor June 6. In those four days, major events bore consequences that changed the world. But at no time in American history have there been three days like June 10–12, 1963, during which several unrelated events altered the nation’s course as surely as had the attack on Pearl Harbor.”

June 11 and 12, 1963 represented a tide that turned in the battle African-Americans had been waging to obtain civil and equal rights in the United States. All the more significant, 1963 was the bicentennial of the Emancipation Proclamation were in the midst of the Civil War President Abraham Lincoln granted freedom to America’s slaves. Freedom did not mean equality, although initially through Reconstruction African-Americans saw gains with the addition of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution soon segregationist Jim Crow laws segregating African-American settled in throughout the South leaving a new form of bondage.

Throughout, African-Americans were slowly fighting back, primarily with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) founded in 1909; the best way to move forward was within the court system. Any gains were minimal until a major victory in the Supreme Court by the landmark ruling of the Brown v Board of Education. The decision declared separate segregated school, were not equal but also illegal.

A legal victory was not a practical one; the south remained unwilling to desegregate their schools, and only 10 percent of schools desegregated by the end of the decade. Desegregation took a turn when in 1957 President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent the National Guard to “enforce the desegregation of Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas.” Afterward, desegregation sped up in public schools, but in every other way of life, it remained at a standstill. In 1960 and 1961, sit-ins and freedom rides attempted to desegregate lunch counters and buses. The gains remained modest under Democrat John F. Kennedy’s presidency despite the sympathetic rhetoric, but only minor action.

The spring of 1963 was paving the way to those two fateful days that would lead to a turning point. The push for desegregation gained momentum with the rise of a charismatic and eloquent leader; Montgomery, Alabama, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. King’s non-violent protests became a hallmark of the civil rights movement, and integral part of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), which King helped found in 1957, and also served as president. King gained prominence as the leader of the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott in the winter of 1955–56 at just 26.

In the interim, King’s movement would continue to make news, but King again made headlines in the spring of 1963 with a string of protests in Birmingham, Alabama, which King called “probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States.” Throughout the spring, from April 3 to May 10, King along with Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth and James Bevel of the SCLC led activists in the Birmingham campaign, who protested with sit-ins, marches and a boycott, most leading to clashes with the local police.

One of the most notable occurred on Good Friday, April 12, 1963, where King was arrested for his 13th time. King would remain in jail for a week staying longer than necessary mostly to publicize the movement. There he wrote his famous treatise “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” the letter was a response to a letter eight religious leaders wrote criticizing him in Birmingham’s newspaper. King defended the movement’s methods and criticizing the leaders saying, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” President Kennedy eventually intervened leading to King’s release on April 20.

The demonstrations continued and the violent tactics of Birmingham’s Commissioner of Public Safety Eugene “Bull” Connor, continued. On May 2, what was later dubbed the “Children’s Crusade,” protest led to nearly 1000 arrests and Connor used “fire hoses and police dogs” on the young school age protesters. The televised images gripped the nation with the New York Times publishing a photo of dogs attacking a 17-year-old student on their front page. At the time Kennedy remarked, “The other problem is the problem of civil rights… What a disaster that picture is. That picture is not only in America but all around the world.”

There was a brief moment of peace, on May 11, civil rights leaders and city and business owners in Birmingham signed the “Birmingham Truce Agreement.” The deal allowed for a “partial desegregation (of fitting rooms, water fountains, and lunch counters in retail stores).” Additionally, those arrested during the campaign would be released, and there would be the creation of a Committee on Racial Problems and Employment.

On the evening of May 11, segregationists most probably members of the Ku Klux Klan in Alabama targeted civil rights leaders with bombs including the home of Rev. A. D. King, movement leader, King’s brother and the Gaston Motel, where King was staying and held a press conference the day before. The non-violence espoused by King turned to violent protests and riots later in the evening.

The violence forced President Kennedy to act; he sent “troops to an Alabama air base” and began the process of “drafting” a proposed civil rights bill to send to Congress. Addressing the nation, Kennedy balked at addressing the larger issue at hand, civil rights. Instead, while addressing the nation Kennedy said, “This Government will do whatever must be done to preserve order, to protect the lives of its citizens, and to uphold the law of the land.” (Brinkley, 106) The morality of civil rights would have to wait a month.

Still, according to historian Nicholas Andrew Bryant in his highly critical book, “The Bystander: John F. Kennedy and the Struggle for Black Equality,” (2006) Kennedy refused to bring about legislation throughout the Birmingham Campaign, and only considered action after the riots broke out. Bryant, who examined the Kennedy civil rights legacy throughout his entire political career, questioned why it took the president over two years to get to the issue and pursue legislation.

Sheldon M. Stern points out that according to Bryant Kennedy had “a willingness to make important symbolic gestures about race and civil rights, coupled with a reluctance to take political risks.” (Hoberek, 79) Bryant also concluded Kennedy’s civil rights record showed a “symbolic approach to the race problem meant that many of the changes he ushered in were largely cosmetic.” (Hoberek, 85) Historian Alan Brinkley writing his biography John F. Kennedy as part of the American Presidents Series concurs, writing that towards civil rights Kennedy had a “pattern of rhetorical activism followed by resistance and delay began on his very first day in office.”

The pivotal moment that changed Kennedy perception on civil rights was viewing African-Americans fighting back with the May 11 race riots. Kennedy could no longer sit idly by; civil rights had also become law and order issues that he could not let go unresolved. Bryant analyzes in his book, “It was the black-on-white violence of May 11 — not the publication of the startling photograph a week earlier — that represented the real watershed in Kennedy’s thinking, and the turning point in administration policy. Kennedy had grown used to segregationist attacks against civil rights protesters. But he — along with his brother and other administration officials — was far more troubled by black mobs running amok.” (Bryant, 393)

A taped conversation between the president and his brother and Attorney General Robert Kennedy from the Oval Office confirmed his motivation. Kennedy indicated on May 12, “First we have to have law and order, so the Negro’s not running all over the city… If the [local Birmingham desegregation] agreement blows up, the other remedy we have under that condition is to send legislation up to Congress this week as our response…As a means of providing relief, we have to have legislation.”

June 11, 1963, was a busy day for the civil rights movement. Earlier, Alabama Governor and strong segregationist George Wallace delivered his “Stand in the Schoolhouse Door Speech.” Alabama was the only state that still did not desegregate their schools, Democrat Wallace entered office earlier in the year promising “Segregation now! Segregation tomorrow! Segregation forever!” Wallace was unyielding refusing to negotiate and compromise with the Kennedy Administration, hoping instead for a confrontation that would elevate his status, while diminishing Kennedy in the Deep South.

Wallace physically prevented two African American students, Vivian Malone and James Hood, from completing their registration at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Wallace literally stood in front of the school’s Foster Auditorium door blocking Malone and Hood from entering. Wallace attempted to prevent the university’s integration despite a court order the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama.

When Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach asked Wallace to move aside, he refused. Instead, Wallace delivered his infamous speech on states’ rights. Wallace called the desegregation an “unwelcomed, unwarranted and force-induced intrusion upon the campus” and “a frightful example of the expression of the rights, privileges, and sovereignty of this state.” (Brinkley, 109) Katzenbach then contacted President Kennedy.

President Kennedy again was forced to federalize the Alabama National Guard Executive Order 11111 to end the conflict. Kennedy issued Presidential Proclamation 3542 to force Wallace to comply and allow the students to enter the university building and complete their registration. Four hours later Wallace finally moved aside after being by Guard General Henry Graham, allowing for the integration of the University. Wallace made national headlines upping his profile, but also forcing Kennedy’s hand that he had no choice left but to announce his intentions to introduce a civil rights bill to Congress.

Kennedy’s address would have an adverse reaction on civil rights leaders. Just hours later in the early morning of June 12, Medgar Evers was assassinated in Jackson, Mississippi. Evers was African-American civil rights activist and the field secretary for the Mississippi state NAACP, who earlier in the day demanded desegregation from local leaders. Byron De La Beckwith, who belonged to the segregated group the White Citizens’ Council, shot Evers in the back as he entered his home after returning from a meeting with NAACP lawyers. Although De La Beckwith was first arrested on June 21, 1963, for Evers’ murder, it took until 1994 for him to be convicted of the crime.

It was against this turmoil in the nation over civil rights that President Kennedy called and booked time on all three major networks for him to speak to the nation at 8 PM EDT on civil rights and the situation in Alabama in his “Report to the American People on Civil Rights.” Kennedy decided the time was ripe to announce his intention to introduce civil rights legislation. As Cohen recounted, “The pretext was Tuscaloosa (today’s confrontation), the context was Birmingham (the unrest there elsewhere that spring), and the subtext was Washington (to make the case for legislation.)” (321)

It was a hastily drafted speech by Ted Sorensen in a mere two hours and revised by Kennedy. Sorenson looked back at past speeches he created for Kennedy on the issue, his own experience, and softened the rhetoric of the past few days. The president’s brother Bobby Kennedy was not pleased with Sorenson’s quickly written speech and even requested civil rights advisor Lee White to assist. The short time to draft the speech made Kennedy nervous, even doubtful if should even deliver it according to White’s observations.

Kennedy’s other poet laureate historian Arthur Schlesinger was nowhere to be found despite attempts to reach him when they did finally reach him it was too late for him to help with the speech. In the end, White did not add to the speech, but aide Louis Martin did, however, Sorenson never gave him authorship credit. The speech was not completed in time, and President Kennedy was receiving pages just as he was about to start. Kennedy determined Sorenson’s speech was too short, and he needed to fill up time, added eight paragraphs “off-the-cuff” (Cohen, 338) to the address, which is considered the best lines. The “moral issue” would be the speech’s overriding theme.

The President told Americans that segregation is a “moral issue” that is wrong. Kennedy stated; “We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is as old as the scriptures and is as clear as the American Constitution. The heart of the question is whether all Americans are to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities, whether we are going to treat our fellow Americans as we want to be treated.” President Kennedy accomplished two points in his speech, the introduction of civil rights legislation, and the beginning of significant comprehensive school desegregation.

Kennedy pleaded to the American people that civil rights are the responsibility of all citizens; “It is not enough to pin the blame on others, to say this is a problem of one section of the country or another, or deplore the fact that we face. A great change is at hand, and our task, our obligation, is to make that revolution, that change, peaceful and constructive for all… Those who do nothing are inviting shame as well as violence. Those who act boldly are recognizing right as well as reality.”

Kennedy specifically emphasized the lack of action since the Supreme Court’s decision in 1954. The landmark Brown vs. the Board of Education case ended the legality of the separate but equal system. Kennedy lamented; “Too many Negro children entering segregated grade schools at the time of the Supreme Court’s decision 9 years ago will enter segregated high schools this fall, having suffered a loss which can never be restored. The lack of an adequate education denies the Negro a chance to get a decent job. The orderly implementation of the Supreme Court decision, therefore, cannot be left solely to those who may not have the economic resources to carry the legal action or who may be subject to harassment.”

In his speech, President Kennedy began an active pursuit of Congressional legislation that would end segregation. Kennedy laid out his legislative plans, “Next week I shall ask the Congress of the United States to act, to make a commitment it has not fully made in this century to the proposition that race has no place in American life or law…. I am, therefore, asking the Congress to enact legislation giving all Americans the right to be served in facilities which are open to the public-hotels, restaurants, theaters, retail stores, and similar establishments.”

President Kennedy also introduced the pursuit of the vote for all African-Americans. The president stated, “Other features will be also requested, including greater protection for the right to vote. But the legislation, I repeat, cannot solve this problem alone. It must be solved in the homes of every American in every community across our country.” With his speech that night, Kennedy was pushing in motion not only the Civil Rights Act, but also the subsequent Voting Rights Act passed two years later in 1965 which guaranteed the vote to all Americans.

Kennedy concluded his 15-minute speech with a request for support from the American public for his sweeping and necessary proposals. The proposals were based on Constitutional rights for all Americans. Kennedy expressed to the nation, “Therefore, I am asking for your help in making it easier for us to move ahead and to provide the kind of equality of treatment which we would want ourselves; to give a chance for every child to be educated to the limit of his talents… This is what we are talking about and this is a matter which concerns this country and what it stands for, and in meeting it I ask the support of all our citizens.” Cohen described the speech as “a triumph. These were words written in haste for the ages. It was a knock-down, flat-out masterpiece.” (Cohen, 338) Meanwhile, historian Garth E. Pauley in “The Modern Presidency and Civil Rights” called the speech “the first sustained moral argument by an American President on civil rights.” (Hoberek, 77)

President Kennedy no longer wanted to be the bystander as Bryant called him, but he wanted to take his longtime rhetoric on civil rights and turn it into action. Kennedy told Arthur Schlesinger about his decision to move, then on the bill, he “thought more highly of American Presidents” who emphasized “concrete achievement rather than political education.” Kennedy’s civil rights speech as Cohen indicated, “was the moment a president pivoted. Kennedy was moving from detachment to engagement, from being a transactional president — as political scientists would classify leadership of a certain type a half century later — top a transformative one.” (Cohen, 338)

Kennedy submitted a civil rights bill to Congress the next week on June 19, which historian Robert Dallek in his biography of President Kennedy, an Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917–1963 described as “the most far-reaching civil rights bill in the country’s history.” (Dallek) The law would guarantee the right to vote for all with the minimum of a sixth-grade education, and end discrimination in all public and commercial facilities establishments and accommodations.

Kennedy also requested that the attorney general is granted expanded powers to implement school desegregation, asked to end job discrimination and create job training opportunities and a “community relations service.” Kennedy used the fourteenth and fifteenth amendments of the Constitution to justify the contents of his proposed bill.

The leader of the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King, Jr. approved of President Kennedy’s speech and described it as ‘the most sweeping and forthright ever presented by an American president.’” Initially, King told Reverend Walter Fauntroy who he was watching the speech with, “can you believe that white man not only stepped up to the plate, he hit over the fence!” (Cohen, 339) Publicly King sent Kennedy a wire saying, “I have just listened to your speech to the nation. It was one of the most eloquent, profound and unequivocal pleas for justice and freedom of all men ever made by a president. You spoke passionately for the moral issues involved in the integration struggle.” (Cohen, 339) Kennedy, however, faced a tougher response from Congress.

Still, King’s “I Have a Dream Speech” delivered on August 28, 1963, over two months later during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom would eclipse Kennedy’s speech as the most relevant to advancing civil rights. Although a pivotal moment, the march attended by 200,000 to 300,000, concerned Kennedy who asked King to cancel it, fearing “a big show on the Capitol” would hinder the passage of the civil rights bill. Kennedy even refused to meet with the delegation of civil rights leaders at the White House before the march concerned it could cause demonstrations. Instead, Kennedy opted for meeting King and the other leaders of the major organizations after the march ended that day.

Kennedy was right, he would not see the civil rights bill his administration authored passed into law, or even debated and put to vote on the floor of Congress. President Kennedy continued pushing Congress to pass civil rights legislation with bipartisan support in the following months but to no avail. Civil rights were one of four bills, Kennedy wanted to be passed, but never did in his lifetime, the others were a “tax cut, federal aid to education, and Medicare.” (Cohen, 360) Kennedy’s agenda stalled mostly because of his civil rights bills that led to anger from Southern Democrats and in general from the south. Kennedy would be assassinated months later, on November 23, in Dallas, Texas leaving his Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson from Texas to take over the mantle.

Pursuing civil rights, however, would become central to Kennedy’s legacy. Nevertheless, as Brinkley noted, there was a “harsh and often violent opposition that made it unlikely that his civil rights legislation would succeed soon. His tragic death, and the political skills of Lyndon Johnson, made possible the passage of civil rights and voting rights legislation. But John Kennedy — and the great movement that he finally embraced — was essential to great achievements.” (Brinkley, 112)

President Kennedy’s address to the nation on June 11 altered forever the direction of civil rights in the country. Historian Penial E. Joseph says it “might have been the single most important day in civil rights history.” Joseph also noted, “without the moral forcefulness of the June 11th speech, the bill might never have gone anywhere.” (Hoborek, 78) Without President Kennedy haven taken initial action with this speech and laying out his bold vision and plan to make a civil rights a reality for all Americans, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 would never have passed and signed into law on July 2, 1964.

Sources:

Brinkley, Alan. John F. Kennedy. New York: Times Books, 2012.

Bryant, Nick. The Bystander: John F. Kennedy and the Struggle for Black Equality. New York: Basic Books, 2006.

Cohen, Andrew. Two Days in June: John F. Kennedy and the 48 Hours That Made History. [Toronto, Ontario]: Signal, McClelland & Stewart, 2016.

Dallek, Robert. An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917–1963. Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Co, 2003.

Dallek, Robert. John F. Kennedy. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.

Hoberek, Andrew. The Cambridge Companion to John F. Kennedy. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2015.

Joseph, Peniel E. “Kennedy’s Finest Moment,” The New York Times, June 10, 2013 http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/11/opinion/kennedys-civil-rights-triumph.html. Accessed June 12, 2017.

Pauley, Garth E. The Modern Presidency & Civil Rights: Rhetoric on Race from Roosevelt to Nixon. College Station: Texas A & M University Press, 2001.

Bonnie K. Goodman BA, MLIS (McGill University), is a journalist, librarian, historian & editor. She is a former Features Editor at the History News Network & reporter at Examiner.com where she covered politics, universities, religion and news. She has a dozen years experience in education & political journalism.

Radio and Television Report to the American People on Civil Rights
June 11, 1963

Good evening, my fellow citizens:

This afternoon, following a series of threats and defiant statements, the presence of Alabama National Guardsmen was required on the University of Alabama to carry out the final and unequivocal order of the United States District Court of the Northern District of Alabama. That order called for the admission of two clearly qualified young Alabama residents who happened to have been born Negro.

That they were admitted peacefully on the campus is due in good measure to the conduct of the students of the University of Alabama, who met their responsibilities in a constructive way.

I hope that every American, regardless of where he lives, will stop and examine his conscience about this and other related incidents. This Nation was founded by men of many nations and backgrounds. It was founded on the principle that all men are created equal, and that the rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.

Today we are committed to a worldwide struggle to promote and protect the rights of all who wish to be free. And when Americans are sent to Viet-Nam or West Berlin, we do not ask for whites only. It ought to be possible, therefore, for American students of any color to attend any public institution they select without having to be backed up by troops.

It ought to be possible for American consumers of any color to receive equal service in places of public accommodation, such as hotels and restaurants and theaters and retail stores, without being forced to resort to demonstrations in the street, and it ought to be possible for American citizens of any color to register and to vote in a free election without interference or fear of reprisal.

It ought to be possible, in short, for every American to enjoy the privileges of being American without regard to his race or his color. In short, every American ought to have the right to be treated as he would wish to be treated, as one would wish his children to be treated. But this is not the case.

The Negro baby born in America today, regardless of the section of the Nation in which he is born, has about one-half as much chance of completing a high school as a white baby born in the same place on the same day, one-third as much chance of completing college, one-third as much chance of becoming a professional man, twice as much chance of becoming unemployed, about one-seventh as much chance of earning $10,000 a year, a life expectancy which is 7 years shorter, and the prospects of earning only half as much.

This is not a sectional issue. Difficulties over segregation and discrimination exist in every city, in every State of the Union, producing in many cities a rising tide of discontent that threatens the public safety. Nor is this a partisan issue. In a time of domestic crisis men of good will and generosity should be able to unite regardless of party or politics. This is not even a legal or legislative issue alone. It is better to settle these matters in the courts than on the streets, and new laws are needed at every level, but law alone cannot make men see right.

We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is as old as the scriptures and is as clear as the American Constitution.

The heart of the question is whether all Americans are to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities, whether we are going to treat our fellow Americans as we want to be treated. If an American, because his skin is dark, cannot eat lunch in a restaurant open to the public, if he cannot send his children to the best public school available, if he cannot vote for the public officials who represent him, if, in short, he cannot enjoy the full and free life which all of us want, then who among us would be content to have the color of his skin changed and stand in his place? Who among us would then be content with the counsels of patience and delay?

One hundred years of delay have passed since President Lincoln freed the slaves, yet their heirs, their grandsons, are not fully free. They are not yet freed from the bonds of injustice. They are not yet freed from social and economic oppression. And this Nation, for all its hopes and all its boasts, will not be fully free until all its citizens are free.

We preach freedom around the world, and we mean it, and we cherish our freedom here at home, but are we to say to the world, and much more importantly, to each other that this is a land of the free except for the Negroes; that we have no second-class citizens except Negroes; that we have no class or cast system, no ghettoes, no master race except with respect to Negroes?

Now the time has come for this Nation to fulfill its promise. The events in Birmingham and elsewhere have so increased the cries for equality that no city or State or legislative body can prudently choose to ignore them.

The fires of frustration and discord are burning in every city, North and South, where legal remedies are not at hand. Redress is sought in the streets, in demonstrations, parades, and protests which create tensions and threaten violence and threaten lives.

We face, therefore, a moral crisis as a country and as a people. It cannot be met by repressive police action. It cannot be left to increased demonstrations in the streets. It cannot be quieted by token moves or talk. It is a time to act in the Congress, in your State and local legislative body and, above all, in all of our daily lives.

It is not enough to pin the blame on others, to say this is a problem of one section of the country or another, or deplore the fact that we face. A great change is at hand, and our task, our obligation, is to make that revolution, that change, peaceful and constructive for all.

Those who do nothing are inviting shame as well as violence. Those who act boldly are recognizing right as well as reality.

Next week I shall ask the Congress of the United States to act, to make a commitment it has not fully made in this century to the proposition that race has no place in American life or law. The Federal judiciary has upheld that proposition in a series of forthright cases. The executive branch has adopted that proposition in the conduct of its affairs, including the employment of Federal personnel, the use of Federal facilities, and the sale of federally financed housing.

But there are other necessary measures which only the Congress can provide, and they must be provided at this session. The old code of equity law under which we live commands for every wrong a remedy, but in too many communities, in too many parts of the country, wrongs are inflicted on Negro citizens and there are no remedies at law. Unless the Congress acts, their only remedy is in the street.

I am, therefore, asking the Congress to enact legislation giving all Americans the right to be served in facilities which are open to the public–hotels, restaurants, theaters, retail stores, and similar establishments.

This seems to me to be an elementary right. Its denial is an arbitrary indignity that no American in 1963 should have to endure, but many do.

I have recently met with scores of business leaders urging them to take voluntary action to end this discrimination and I have been encouraged by their response, and in the last 2 weeks over 75 cities have seen progress made in desegregating these kinds of facilities. But many are unwilling to act alone, and for this reason, nationwide legislation is needed if we are to move this problem from the streets to the courts.

I am also asking Congress to authorize the Federal Government to participate more fully in lawsuits designed to end segregation in public education. We have succeeded in persuading many districts to de-segregate voluntarily. Dozens have admitted Negroes without violence. Today a Negro is attending a State-supported institution in every one of our 50 States, but the pace is very slow.

Too many Negro children entering segregated grade schools at the time of the Supreme Court’s decision 9 years ago will enter segregated high schools this fall, having suffered a loss which can never be restored. The lack of an adequate education denies the Negro a chance to get a decent job.

The orderly implementation of the Supreme Court decision, therefore, cannot be left solely to those who may not have the economic resources to carry the legal action or who may be subject to harassment.

Other features will be also requested, including greater protection for the right to vote. But legislation, I repeat, cannot solve this problem alone. It must be solved in the homes of every American in every community across our country.

In this respect, I want to pay tribute to those citizens North and South who have been working in their communities to make life better for all. They are acting not out of a sense of legal duty but out of a sense of human decency.

Like our soldiers and sailors in all parts of the world they are meeting freedom’s challenge on the firing line, and I salute them for their honor and their courage.

My fellow Americans, this is a problem which faces us all–in every city of the North as well as the South. Today there are Negroes unemployed, two or three times as many compared to whites, inadequate in education, moving into the large cities, unable to find work, young people particularly out of work without hope, denied equal rights, denied the opportunity to eat at a restaurant or lunch counter or go to a movie theater, denied the right to a decent education, denied almost today the right to attend a State university even though qualified. It seems to me that these are matters which concern us all, not merely Presidents or Congressmen or Governors, but every citizen of the United States.

This is one country. It has become one country because all of us and all the people who came here had an equal chance to develop their talents.

We cannot say to 10 percent of the population that you can’t have that right; that your children can’t have the chance to develop whatever talents they have; that the only way that they are going to get their rights is to go into the streets and demonstrate. I think we owe them and we owe ourselves a better country than that.

Therefore, I am asking for your help in making it easier for us to move ahead and to provide the kind of equality of treatment which we would want ourselves; to give a chance for every child to be educated to the limit of his talents.

As I have said before, not every child has an equal talent or an equal ability or an equal motivation, but they should have the equal right to develop their talent and their ability and their motivation, to make something of themselves.

We have a right to expect that the Negro community will be responsible, will uphold the law, but they have a right to expect that the law will be fair, that the Constitution will be color blind, as Justice Harlan said at the turn of the century.

This is what we are talking about and this is a matter which concerns this country and what it stands for, and in meeting it I ask the support of all our citizens.
Thank you very much.

Full Text Political Transcripts February 21, 2017: President Donald Trump’s Speech at the National Museum of African American History and Culture

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

TRUMP PRESIDENCY & 115TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by President Trump at the National Museum of African American History and Culture

Source: WH, 2-21-17

National Museum of African American History and Culture
Washington, D.C.

9:54 A.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you very much, everybody.  It’s a great honor to be here.  This was some beautiful morning and what a job they’ve done, like few others have been able to do.

I am very, very proud of Lonnie Bunch.  The work and the love that he has in his heart for what he’s done is — I always talk about you need enthusiasm, you need really love for anything you do to do it successfully.  And, Lonnie, you are where?  Come on.  Where’s Lonnie?  You should be up here, Lonnie.  Come on.

And David — we have to get David up here, too.  David Skorton is tremendous and he was singing Lonnie’s praises all morning long.  So you two should at least be here.  So we appreciate it very much.

And David Rubenstein, who is here someplace, he is — come on, David, you have to get up here, David.  You certainly deserve it.  He’s a very, very successful guy who spends money doing great things, and he’s been a great help to so many different groups and this one in particular.

Thank you.  It’s a privilege to be here today.  This museum is a beautiful tribute to so many American heroes — heroes like Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, Rosa Parks, the Greensboro students, and the African American Medal of Honor recipients, among so many other really incredible heroes.

It’s amazing to see.  I went to — we did a pretty comprehensive tour, but not comprehensive enough.  So, Lonnie, I’ll be back.  I told you that.  Because I could stay here for a lot longer, believe me.  It’s really incredible.

I’m deeply proud that we now have a museum that honors the millions of African American men and women who built our national heritage, especially when it comes to faith, culture and the unbreakable American spirit.  My wife was here last week and took a tour, and it was something that she’s still talking about.  Ivanka is here right now.  Hi, Ivanka.  And it really is very, very special.  It’s something that, frankly, if you want to know the truth, it’s doing so well that everybody is talking about it.

I know President Obama was here for the museum’s opening last fall.  And I’m honored to be the second sitting President to visit this great museum.  Etched in the hall that we passed today is a quote from Spottswood Rice, a runaway slave who joined the Union Army.  He believed that his fellow African Americans always looked to the United States as the promised land of universal freedom.  Today and every day of my presidency, I pledge to do everything I can to continue that promise of freedom for African Americans and for every American.  So important.  Nothing more important.

This tour was a meaningful reminder of why we have to fight bigotry, intolerance and hatred in all of its very ugly forms.  The anti-Semitic threats targeting our Jewish community and community centers are horrible and are painful, and a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil.

I want to thank a great friend of mine, Dr. Ben Carson, and his beautiful family — Candy and the whole family — for joining us today.  It was very special to accompany him and his family for the first time seeing the Carson exhibit.  First time.  I’m so proud of you.  I love this guy.  He’s a great guy.  Really a great guy.  And he can tell you better than me, but I’ll tell you what, we really started something with Ben.  We’re very, very proud of him.  Hopefully, next week he’ll get his approval, about three or four weeks late — and you’re doing better than most, right?  But the Democrats, they’ll come along.  I have no doubt they’ll come along.  But Ben is going to do a fantastic job at HUD.  I have absolutely no doubt he will be one of the great — ever — in that position.

He grew up in Detroit, and had very little.  He defied every statistic.  He graduated from Yale, and he went on to University of Michigan’s medical school.  He became a brilliant — totally brilliant — neurosurgeon, saved many lives, and helped many, many people.  We’re going to do great things in our African American communities together.  Ben is going to work with me very, very closely.  And HUD has a meaning far beyond housing.  If properly done, it’s a meaning that’s as big as anything there is, and Ben will be able to find that true meaning and the true meaning of HUD as its Secretary.  So I just look forward to that.  I look forward to watching that.  He’ll do things that nobody ever thought of.

I also want to thank Senator Tim Scott for joining us today.  Friend of mine — a great, great senator from South Carolina.  I like the state of South Carolina.  I like all those states where I won by double, double, double digits.  You know, those states.  But South Carolina was one, and Tim has been fantastic how he represents the people.  And they love him.

I also want to profoundly thank Alveda King for being here, and as we saw her uncle’s wonderful exhibit, and he certainly deserves that.  Mrs. King — and by the way, Ms. King, I can tell you this personally because I watch her all the time, and she is a tremendous fighter for justice.  And so, Alveda, thank you very much.

MS. KING:  Thank you, sir.

THE PRESIDENT:  Come up here for a second.

MS. KING:  Yes, sir.  Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT:  I have been watching you for so long, and you are so incredible.  And I wanted to thank you for all the nice things you say about me.

MS. KING:  Thank you, sir.

THE PRESIDENT:  Not everybody says nice things, but she’s special.

MS. KING:  I love you and your family.  You’re the best.  You’re great.

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  Come here.

MS. KING:  Thank you.  Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you, darling.  Appreciate it.

So with that, we’re going to just end this incredible beginning of a morning.  But engraved in the wall very nearby, a quote by the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.  In 1955, he told the world, “We are determined…to work and fight until justice runs down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

And that’s what it’s going to be.  We’re going to bring this country together, maybe bring some of the world together, but we’re going to bring this country together.  We have a divided country.  It’s been divided for many, many years, but we’re going to bring it together.  I hope every day of my presidency we will be honoring the determination and work towards a very worthy goal.

And for Lonnie, and David, and David, and Ben, and Alveda, and everybody, I just want to — I just have to say that what they’ve done here is something that can probably not be duplicated.  It was done with love and lots of money, right Lonnie?  (Laughter.)  Lots of money.  We can’t avoid that.  But it was done with tremendous love and passion, and that’s why it’s so great.

So thank you all very much for being here, I appreciate it.  And congratulations.  This is a truly great museum.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

END
10:03 A.M. EST

Full Text Political Transcripts February 2, 2017: President Donald Trump Proclaims February As National African American History Month

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

TRUMP PRESIDENCY & 115TH CONGRESS:

President Donald J. Trump Proclaims February As National African American History Month

Source: WH, 2-2-17

Yesterday, the President signed a Proclamation honoring February 2017 as National African American History Month.

NATIONAL AFRICAN AMERICAN HISTORY MONTH, 2017

– – – – – – –

BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

A PROCLAMATION

As we celebrate National African American History Month, we recognize the heritage and achievements of African Americans.  The contributions African Americans have made and continue to make are an integral part of our society, and the history of African Americans exemplifies the resilience and innovative spirit that continue to make our Nation great.

For generations, African Americans have embodied the shared progress of our Nation.  Through toil and struggle and with courageous actions that have broken barriers, they have made America a better place to live and work for everybody.  Women like Katherine Johnson, a pioneer in space history whose work helped America win the Space Race, and Madam C.J. Walker, who became one of the most successful female entrepreneurs of her time, paved the way for both women and African Americans in their respective fields.  Robert Smalls, a man born into slavery, founded our Nation’s first free and compulsory public school system.  Later in life, he served as a lawmaker in South Carolina’s State legislature and the U.S. House of Representatives.  The strength and determination of men and women like these remind us that our Nation brims with people whose contributions continue to make it stronger and better.

This year, African American History Month calls upon us to reflect on the crucial role of education in the history of African Americans.  It reminds us of the importance of teaching and reflecting upon the many roles African Americans have played in building this Nation and driving it forward.  This year’s theme also calls upon us to rededicate ourselves to the work of ensuring that all children in this Nation have access to quality educational opportunities that give them the skills, experiences, relationships, and credentials that can empower them to follow in the footsteps of people like Katherine Johnson, Madam C.J. Walker, and Robert Smalls.

As we journey toward a stronger, more united Nation, let us use this commemoration of African American History Month to serve as a reminder of the need for meaningful dialogue and shared commitment to collective action that uplifts and empowers, as well as of the strength, ingenuity, and perseverance required of us in the years to come.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, DONALD J. TRUMP, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim February 2017 as National African American History Month.  I call upon public officials, educators, librarians, and all the people of the United States to observe this month with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this first day of February, in the year of our Lord two thousand seventeen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and forty-first.

 

DONALD J. TRUMP

Full Text Political Transcripts September 24, 2016: President Barack Obama’s Speech at the Dedication of the National Museum of African American History and Culture

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & 114TH CONGRESS:

President Barack Obama’s Speech at the Dedication of the National Museum of African American History and Culture

Source: WH, 9-24-16

National Mall

Washington, D.C.

11:55 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  James Baldwin once wrote, “For while the tale of how we suffer, and how we are delighted, and how we may triumph is never new, it always must be heard.”  For while the tale of how we suffer, and how we are delighted, and how we may triumph is never new, it always must be heard.

Today, as so many generations have before, we gather on our National Mall to tell an essential part of our American story — one that has at times been overlooked — we come not just for today, but for all time.

 

President and Mrs. Bush; President Clinton; Vice President and Dr. Biden; Chief Justice Roberts; Secretary Skorton; Reverend Butts; distinguished guests:  Thank you.  Thank you for your leadership in making sure this tale is told.  We’re here in part because of you and because of all those Americans — the Civil War vets, the Civil Rights foot soldiers, the champions of this effort on Capitol Hill — who, for more than a century, kept the dream of this museum alive.

That includes our leaders in Congress — Paul Ryan and Nancy Pelosi.  It includes one of my heroes, John Lewis, who, as he has so often, took the torch from those who came before him and brought us past the finish line.  It includes the philanthropists and benefactors and advisory members who have so generously given not only their money but their time.  It includes the Americans who offered up all the family keepsakes tucked away in Grandma’s attic.  And of course, it includes a man without whose vision and passion and persistence we would not be here today — Mr. Lonnie Bunch.  (Applause.)

What we can see of this building — the towering glass, the artistry of the metalwork — is surely a sight to behold.  But beyond the majesty of the building, what makes this occasion so special is the larger story it contains.  Below us, this building reaches down 70 feet, its roots spreading far wider and deeper than any tree on this Mall.  And on its lowest level, after you walk past remnants of a slave ship, after you reflect on the immortal declaration that “all men are created equal,” you can see a block of stone.  On top of this stone sits a historical marker, weathered by the ages.  That marker reads:  “General Andrew Jackson and Henry Clay spoke from this slave block…during the year 1830.”

I want you to think about this.  Consider what this artifact tells us about history, about how it’s told, and about what can be cast aside.  On a stone where day after day, for years, men and women were torn from their spouse or their child, shackled and bound, and bought and sold, and bid like cattle; on a stone worn down by the tragedy of over a thousand bare feet — for a long time, the only thing we considered important, the singular thing we once chose to commemorate as “history” with a plaque were the unmemorable speeches of two powerful men.

And that block I think explains why this museum is so necessary.  Because that same object, reframed, put in context, tells us so much more.  As Americans, we rightfully passed on the tales of the giants who built this country; who led armies into battle and waged seminal debates in the halls of Congress and the corridors of power.  But too often, we ignored or forgot the stories of millions upon millions of others, who built this nation just as surely, whose humble eloquence, whose calloused hands, whose steady drive helped to create cities, erect industries, build the arsenals of democracy.

And so this national museum helps to tell a richer and fuller story of who we are.  It helps us better understand the lives, yes, of the President, but also the slave; the industrialist, but also the porter; the keeper of the status quo, but also of the activist seeking to overthrow that status quo; the teacher or the cook, alongside the statesman.  And by knowing this other story, we better understand ourselves and each other. It binds us together.  It reaffirms that all of us are America — that African-American history is not somehow separate from our larger American story, it’s not the underside of the American story, it is central to the American story.  That our glory derives not just from our most obvious triumphs, but how we’ve wrested triumph from tragedy, and how we’ve been able to remake ourselves, again and again and again, in accordance with our highest ideals.

I, too, am America.

The great historian John Hope Franklin, who helped to get this museum started, once said, “Good history is a good foundation for a better present and future.”  He understood the best history doesn’t just sit behind a glass case; it helps us to understand what’s outside the case.  The best history helps us recognize the mistakes that we’ve made and the dark corners of the human spirit that we need to guard against.  And, yes, a clear-eyed view of history can make us uncomfortable, and shake us out of familiar narratives.  But it is precisely because of that discomfort that we learn and grow and harness our collective power to make this nation more perfect.

That’s the American story that this museum tells — one of suffering and delight; one of fear but also of hope; of wandering in the wilderness and then seeing out on the horizon a glimmer of the Promised Land.

It is in this embrace of truth, as best as we can know it, in the celebration of the entire American experience, where real patriotism lies.  As President Bush just said, a great nation doesn’t shy from the truth.  It strengthens us.  It emboldens us. It should fortify us.  It is an act of patriotism to understand where we’ve been.  And this museum tells the story of so many patriots.

Yes, African Americans have felt the cold weight of shackles and the stinging lash of the field whip.  But we’ve also dared to run north, and sing songs from Harriet Tubman’s hymnal.  We’ve buttoned up our Union Blues to join the fight for our freedom. We’ve railed against injustice for decade upon decade — a lifetime of struggle, and progress, and enlightenment that we see etched in Frederick Douglass’s mighty, leonine gaze.

 

Yes, this museum tells a story of people who felt the indignity, the small and large humiliations of a “whites only” sign, or wept at the side of Emmett Till’s coffin, or fell to their knees on shards of stained glass outside a church where four little girls died.  But it also tells the story of the black youth and white youth sitting alongside each other, straight-backed, so full of dignity on those lunch counter stools; the story of a six-year-old Ruby Bridges, pigtails, fresh-pressed dress, walking that gauntlet to get to school; Tuskegee airmen soaring the skies not just to beat a dictator, but to reaffirm the promise of our democracy — (applause) — but remind us that all of us are created equal.

This is the place to understand how protest and love of country don’t merely coexist but inform each other; how men can proudly win the gold for their country but still insist on raising a black-gloved fist; how we can wear “I Can’t Breathe”

T-shirt and still grieve for fallen police officers.  Here’s the America where the razor-sharp uniform of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff belongs alongside the cape of the Godfather of Soul.  (Laughter.)  We have shown the world that we can float like butterflies and sting like bees; that we can rocket into space like Mae Jemison, steal home like Jackie, rock like Jimi, stir the pot like Richard Pryor; or we can be sick and tired of being sick and tired, like Fannie Lou Hamer, and still Rock Steady like Aretha Franklin.  (Applause.)

We are large, Walt Whitman told us, containing multitudes.  We are large, containing multitudes.  Full of contradictions.  That’s America.  That’s what makes us grow.  That’s what makes us extraordinary.  And as is true for America, so is true for African American experience.  We’re not a burden on America, or a stain on America, or an object of pity or charity for America.  We’re America.  (Applause.)

And that’s what this museum explains — the fact that our stories have shaped every corner of our culture.  The struggles for freedom that took place made our Constitution a real and living document, tested and shaped and deepened and made more profound its meaning for all people.  The story told here doesn’t just belong to black Americans; it belongs to all Americans — for the African-American experience has been shaped just as much by Europeans and Asians and Native Americans and Latinos.  We have informed each other.  We are polyglot, a stew.

Scripture promised that if we lift up the oppressed, then our light will rise in the darkness, and our night will become like the noonday.  And the story contained in this museum makes those words prophecy.  And that’s what this day is about.  That’s what this museum is about.  I, too, am America.  It is a glorious story, the one that’s told here.  It is complicated and it is messy and it is full of contradictions, as all great stories are, as Shakespeare is, as Scripture is.  And it’s a story that perhaps needs to be told now more than ever.

A museum alone will not alleviate poverty in every inner city or every rural hamlet.  It won’t eliminate gun violence from all our neighborhoods, or immediately ensure that justice is always colorblind.  It won’t wipe away every instance of discrimination in a job interview or a sentencing hearing or folks trying to rent an apartment.  Those things are up to us, the decisions and choices we make.  It requires speaking out, and organizing, and voting, until our values are fully reflected in our laws and our policies and our communities.

But what this museum does show us is that in even the face of oppression, even in the face of unimaginable difficulty, America has moved forward.  And so this museum provides context for the debates of our times.  It illuminates them and gives us some sense of how they evolved, and perhaps keeps them in proportion.  Perhaps it can help a white visitor understand the pain and anger of demonstrators in places like Tulsa and Charlotte.  But it can also help black visitors appreciate the fact that not only is this younger generation carrying on traditions of the past but, within the white communities across this nation we see the sincerity of law enforcement officers and officials who, in fits and starts, are struggling to understand, and are trying to do the right thing.

It reminds us that routine discrimination and Jim Crow aren’t ancient history, it’s just a blink in the eye of history. It was just yesterday.  And so we should not be surprised that not all the healing is done.  We shouldn’t despair that it’s not all solved.  And knowing the larger story should instead remind us of just how remarkable the changes that have taken place truly are — just in my lifetime — and thereby inspire us to further progress.

And so hopefully this museum can help us talk to each other. And more importantly, listen to each other.  And most importantly, see each other.  Black and white and Latino and Native American and Asian American — see how our stories are bound together.  And bound together with women in America, and workers in America, and entrepreneurs in America, and LGBT Americans.  And for young people who didn’t live through the struggles represented here, I hope you draw strength from the changes that have taken place.  Come here and see the power of your own agency.  See how young John Lewis was.  These were children who transformed a nation in a blink of an eye.  Young people, come here and see your ability to make your mark.

The very fact of this day does not prove that America is perfect, but it does validate the ideas of our founding, that this country born of change, this country born of revolution, this country of we, the people, this country can get better.

And that’s why we celebrate, mindful that our work is not yet done; mindful that we are but on a waystation on this common journey towards freedom.  And how glorious it is that we enshrine it here, on some of our nation’s most hallowed ground — the same place where lives were once traded but also where hundreds of thousands of Americans, of all colors and creeds, once marched.  How joyful it is that this story take its rightful place — alongside Jefferson who declared our independence, and Washington who made it real, and alongside Lincoln who saved our union, and the GIs who defended it; alongside a new monument to a King, gazing outward, summoning us toward that mountaintop.  How righteous it is that with  tell this story here.

For almost eight years, I have been blessed with the extraordinary honor of serving you in this office.  (Applause.)  Time and again, I’ve flown low over this mall on Marine One, often with Michelle and our daughters.  And President Clinton, President Bush, they’ll tell you it is incredible sight.  We pass right across the Washington Monument — it feels like you can reach out and touch it.  And at night, if you turn the other way, you don’t just see the Lincoln Memorial, Old Abe is lit up and you can see him, his spirit glowing from that building.  And we don’t have many trips left.  But over the years, I’ve always been comforted as I’ve watched this museum rise from this earth into this remarkable tribute.  Because I know that years from now, like all of you, Michelle and I will be able to come here to this museum, and not just bring our kids but hopefully our grandkids. I imagine holding a little hand of somebody and tell them the stories that are enshrined here.

And in the years that follow, they’ll be able to do the same.  And then we’ll go to the Lincoln Memorial and we’ll take in the view atop the Washington Monument.  And together, we’ll learn about ourselves, as Americans — our sufferings, our delights, and our triumphs.  And we’ll walk away better for it, better because the better grasp of history.  We’ll walk away that much more in love with this country, the only place on Earth where this story could have unfolded.  (Applause.)

It is a monument, no less than the others on this Mall, to the deep and abiding love for this country, and the ideals upon which it is founded.  For we, too, are America.

So enough talk.  President Bush is timing me.  (Laughter.) He had the over/under at 25.  (Laughter.)  Let us now open this museum to the world.  Today, we have with us a family that reflects the arc of our progress:  the Bonner family — four generations in all, starting with gorgeous seven-year-old Christine and going up to gorgeous 99-year-old Ruth.  (Applause.)

Now, Ruth’s father, Elijah Odom, was born into servitude in Mississippi.  He was born a slave.  As a young boy, he ran, though, to his freedom.  He lived through Reconstruction and he lived through Jim Crow.  But he went on to farm, and graduate from medical school, and gave life to the beautiful family that we see today — with a spirit reflected in beautiful Christine, free and equal in the laws of her country and in the eyes of God.

So in a brief moment, their family will join us in ringing a bell from the First Baptist Church in Virginia — one of the oldest black churches in America, founded under a grove of trees in 1776.  And the sound of this bell will be echoed by others in houses of worship and town squares all across this country — an echo of the ringing bells that signaled Emancipation more than a century and a half ago; the sound, and the anthem, of American freedom.

God bless you all.  God bless the United States of America.  (Applause.)

END             12:26 P.M. EDT

Full Text Political Transcripts September 23, 2016: President Barack Obama’s Remarks at Reception in Honor of the National Museum of African American History and Culture

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & 114TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President at Reception in Honor of the National Museum of African American History and Culture

Source: WH, 9-23-16

Grand Foyer

4:51 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Well, welcome, everybody. (Applause.) This is an exceptionally good-looking group. (Laughter.) And there are just so many friends here that it feels like one of our house parties. (Laughter.) But there’s no dancing this afternoon. We’re here just to acknowledge what an extraordinary achievement has been accomplished by Mr. Lonnie Bunch — (applause) — and everybody who helped make this day possible.

Now, I want to just talk about Lonnie for a second. When Lonnie first came here from Chicago to start work on this museum a decade ago, he could not even find somebody to give him a key to his office. (Laughter.) Nobody had heard of this museum. And now you cannot miss it — a breathtaking new building right in the heart of the National Mall. And that is what we call progress. It could not have been done without the persistence, the wisdom, the dedication, the savvy, the ability to make people feel guilty — (laughter) — the begging, the deal-making, and just the general street smarts of Lonnie and his entire team. So please give him a big round of applause for all the work that he has done. (Applause.)

But, of course, this is also about more than Lonnie. This is about people who, for more than a century, advocated and organized, and raised funds, and donated artifacts so that the story of the African American experience could take its rightful place in our national memory. It’s a story that is full of tragedy and setbacks, but also great joy and great victories. And it is a story that is not just part of the past, but it is alive and well today in every corner of America. And that’s certainly true today in this house — a house that was built by slaves.

Now, I can’t name everybody that is here, but I’m going to have to give you a little bit of a taste. This room is like a living museum of its own. Right now, Madame Tussauds would be very jealous. (Laughter.)

We’ve got icons of the entertainment industry like Quincy Jones — (applause) — and Dick Gregory and Phylicia Rashad. (Applause.) We’ve got the first black woman in space, Mae Jemison. (Applause.) And we have the woman who owns the universe, Oprah Winfrey. (Laughter and applause.) We’ve got those drum majors for justice, like John Lewis and Andrew Young and C.T. Vivian, and Jesse Jackson. (Applause.) And we’ve got the next generation of warriors for justice like Brittany Packnett and DeRay Mckesson. We’ve got personal heroes of mine like Harry Belafonte — (applause) — who still is the best-looking man in the room at 90-something years old. (Laughter.) I’m just telling the truth. (Laughter.)

So this is an extraordinary group. But the thing about this museum is that it’s more about — it’s more than just telling stories about the famous. It’s not just about the icons. There’s plenty of space for Harriet Tubman and Dr. King and Muhammed Ali. But what makes the museum so powerful and so visceral is that it’s the story of all of us — the folks whose names you never heard of, but whose contributions, day after day, decade after decade, combined to push us forward and the entire nation forward.

It’s the maids who decided, you know what, I’m tired of segregation and I’m going to walk for my freedom. It’s the porters who not only worked tirelessly to support their families, but ultimately helped bring about the organization that led to better working conditions for all Americans here in the United States. It’s about our moms and grandparents and uncles and aunts who just did the right thing and raised great families, despite assaults on their dignity on every single day.

You see it in the dignity of the artifacts that are in the museum — the dignity of an enslaved family, what it must have been like to try to live in that tiny cabin. Those slaves who dared to marry, even though it was illegal for them to do so. Folks who were forced to sit in the back of a train, but went about their business anyway, and tried to instill in their children as sense that this isn’t who we are, and there’s going to be more someday.

You see it in the men and the women who rushed to the warfronts to secure all of our freedom, understanding that when they came home they might not yet be free. The students who walked passed angry crowds the integrate our schools. The families huddling around the Bible to steel their faith for the challenges ahead. That quite, determined dignity and hope.

Everybody here has somebody in mind when we think of those kinds of folks — who couldn’t make it to this room, but whose stories are our stories, and whose stories are represented at this museum. It might be an ancestor who ran to freedom, or an aunt or uncle who pushed back against Jim Crow, or a friend who marched or sat in. Or it might be young people who were organizing against cynicism today.

But the point is that all of us cannot forget that the only reason that we’re standing here is because somebody, somewhere stood up for us. Stood up when it was risky. Stood up when it was not popular. And somehow, standing up together, managed to change the world.

You know, the timing of this is fascinating. (Applause.) Because in so many ways, it is the best of times, but in many ways these are also troubled times. History doesn’t always move in a straight line. And without vigilance, we can go backwards as well as forwards.

And so part of the reason that I am so happy the museum is opening this weekend is because it allows all of us as Americans to put our current circumstances in a historical context. My hope is that, as people are seeing what’s happened in Tulsa or Charlotte on television, and perhaps are less familiar with not only the history of the African American experience but also how recent some of these challenges have been, upon visiting the museum, may step back and say, I understand. I sympathize. I empathize. I can see why folks might feel angry and I want to be part of the solution as opposed to resisting change.

My hope is that black folks watching the same images on television, and then seeing the history represented at this museum, can say to themselves, the struggles we’re going through today are connected to the past, and yet, all that progress we’ve made tells me that I cannot and will not sink into despair, because if we join hands, and we do things right, if we maintain our dignity, and we continue to appeal to the better angels of this nation, progress will be made. (Applause.)

I was telling Michelle — many of you know I get 10 letters a day from constituents, and it’s a great way for me to keep a pulse on how folks other than the pundits on cable TV are thinking. (Laughter.) And I know it’s a representative group because sometimes people say, Mr. President, we just love you and we especially love Michelle. (Laughter.) And you’re doing such a great job and thank you. And then there are others who write and say, Mr. President, you’re an idiot. (Laughter.) And you’ve ruined this country. And so I know I’m getting a real sampling of American public opinion.

Last night, as I was reading through my letters, I’d say about half of them said, Mr. President, why are you always against police, and why aren’t you doing enough to deal with these rioters and the violence? And then the other half were some black folks saying, Mr. President, why aren’t you doing something about the police? And when are we actually going to get justice?

And I understand the nature of that argument because this is a dialogue we’ve been having for 400 years. And the fact of the matter is, is that one of the challenges we have in generating a constructive discussion about how to solve these problems is because what people see on television and what they hear on the radio is bereft of context and ignores history, and so people are just responding as if none of what’s represented in this museum ever happened. And that’s true for all of us, not just some of us.

And so when I imagine children — white, black, Latino, Asian, Native American — wandering through that museum, and sitting at that lunch counter, and imagining what it would be like to stand on that auction block, and then also looking at Shaq’s shoes — (laughter) — and Chuck Berry’s red Cadillac, my hope is, is that this complicated, difficult, sometimes harrowing, but I believe ultimately triumphant story will help us talk to each other, and, more important, listen to each other, and even more important, see each other, and recognize the common humanity that makes America what it is. (Applause.)

So that’s a lot of weight to put on one institution.

MRS. OBAMA: We can do it. (Laughter

THE PRESIDENT: But Michelle and I, having taken Michelle’s mom and our daughters to see it, we feel confident that it will not just meet expectations, but far exceed them. And it would not have happened without all of you. So you should be very, very proud.

Congratulations. God bless you. God bless America. (Applause.) Thank you. (Applause.)

END
5:07 P.M. EDT

Full Text Political Transcripts December 9, 2015: President Barack Obama’s speech at Commemoration of the 150th Anniversary of the 13th Amendment Abolition of Slavery

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President at Commemoration of the 150th Anniversary of the 13th Amendment

Source: WH, 12-9-15

U.S. Capitol
Washington, D.C.

12:02 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  “In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free.”  That’s what President Lincoln once wrote. “Honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve.  We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth.”

Mr. Speaker, leaders and members of both parties, distinguished guests:  We gather here to commemorate a century and a half of freedom — not simply for former slaves, but for all of us.

Today, the issue of chattel slavery seems so simple, so obvious — it is wrong in every sense.  Stealing men, women, and children from their homelands.  Tearing husband from wife, parent from child; stripped and sold to the highest bidder; shackled in chains and bloodied with the whip.  It’s antithetical not only to our conception of human rights and dignity, but to our conception of ourselves — a people founded on the premise that all are created equal.

And, to many at the time, that judgment was clear as well.  Preachers, black and white, railed against this moral outrage from the pulpit.  Former slaves rattled the conscience of Americans in books, in pamphlets, and speeches.  Men and women organized anti-slavery conventions and fundraising drives.  Farmers and shopkeepers opened their barns, their homes, their cellars as waystations on an Underground Railroad, where African Americans often risked their own freedom to ensure the freedom of others.  And enslaved Americans, with no rights of their own, they ran north and kept the flame of freedom burning, passing it from one generation to the next, with their faith, and their dignity, and their song.

The reformers’ passion only drove the protectors of the status quo to dig in harder.  And for decades, America wrestled with the issue of slavery in a way that we have with no other, before or since.  It shaped our politics, and it nearly tore us asunder.  Tensions ran so high, so personal, that at one point, a lawmaker was beaten unconscious on the Senate floor.  Eventually, war broke out –- brother against brother, North against South.

At its heart, the question of slavery was never simply about civil rights.  It was about the meaning of America, the kind of country we wanted to be –- whether this nation might fulfill the call of its birth:  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights,” that among those are life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

President Lincoln understood that if we were ever to fully realize that founding promise, it meant not just signing an Emancipation Proclamation, not just winning a war.  It meant making the most powerful collective statement we can in our democracy:  etching our values into our Constitution.  He called it “a King’s cure for all the evils.”

A hundred and fifty years proved the cure to be necessary but not sufficient.  Progress proved halting, too often deferred.  Newly freed slaves may have been liberated by the letter of the law, but their daily lives told another tale.  They couldn’t vote.  They couldn’t fill most occupations.  They couldn’t protect themselves or their families from indignity or from violence.  And so abolitionists and freedmen and women and radical Republicans kept cajoling and kept rabble-rousing, and within a few years of the war’s end at Appomattox, we passed two more amendments guaranteeing voting rights, birthright citizenship, equal protection under the law.

And still, it wasn’t enough.  For another century, we saw segregation and Jim Crow make a mockery of these amendments.  And we saw justice turn a blind eye to mobs with nooses slung over trees.  We saw bullets and bombs terrorize generations.

And yet, through all this, the call to freedom survived.  “We hold these truths to be self-evident.”  And eventually, a new generation rose up to march and organize, and to stand up and to sit in with the moral force of nonviolence and the sweet sound of those same freedom songs that slaves had sung so long ago -– crying out not for special treatment, but for equal rights.  Calling out for basic justice promised to them almost a century before.

Like their abolitionist predecessors, they were plain, humble, ordinary people, armed with little but faith:  Faith in the Almighty.  Faith in each other.  And faith in America.  Hope in the face so often of all evidence to the contrary, that something better lay around the bend.

Because of them — maids and porters and students and farmers and priests and housewives — because of them, a Civil Rights law was passed, and the Voting Rights law was signed.  And doors of opportunity swung open, not just for the black porter, but also for the white chambermaid, and the immigrant dishwasher, so that their daughters and their sons might finally imagine a life for themselves beyond washing somebody else’s laundry or shining somebody else’s shoes.  Freedom for you and for me.  Freedom for all of us.

And that’s what we celebrate today.  The long arc of progress.  Progress that is never assured, never guaranteed, but always possible, always there to be earned -– no matter how stuck we might seem sometimes.  No matter how divided or despairing we may appear.  No matter what ugliness may bubble up.  Progress, so long as we’re willing to push for it; so long as we’re willing to reach for each other.

We would do a disservice to those warriors of justice — Tubman, and Douglass, and Lincoln, and King — were we to deny that the scars of our nation’s original sin are still with us today.  (Applause.)  We condemn ourselves to shackles once more if we fail to answer those who wonder if they’re truly equals in their communities, or in their justice systems, or in a job interview.  We betray the efforts of the past if we fail to push back against bigotry in all its forms.  (Applause.)

But we betray our most noble past as well if we were to deny the possibility of movement, the possibility of progress; if we were to let cynicism consume us and fear overwhelm us.  If we lost hope.  For however slow, however incomplete, however harshly, loudly, rudely challenged at each point along our journey, in America, we can create the change that we seek.  (Applause.)  All it requires is that our generation be willing to do what those who came before us have done:  To rise above the cynicism and rise above the fear, to hold fast to our values, to see ourselves in each other, to cherish dignity and opportunity not just for our own children but for somebody else’s child.  (Applause.)  To remember that our freedom is bound up with the freedom of others -– regardless of what they look like or where they come from or what their last name is or what faith they practice.  (Applause.)  To be honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve.  To nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of Earth.  To nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of Earth.  That is our choice.  Today, we affirm hope.

Thank you.  God bless you.  May God bless the United States of America.  (Applause.)

END
12:16 P.M. EST

Full Text Obama Presidency September 20, 2015: President Barack Obama’s Speech at the Congressional Black Caucus 45th Annual Phoenix Awards Dinner Transcript

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President at the Congressional Black Caucus 45th Annual Phoenix Awards Dinner

Source: WH, 9-20-15

Walter E. Washington Convention Center
Washington, D.C.

9:40 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Hello, CBC!  (Applause.)  I guess I get the fancier lectern here.  Everybody please have a seat.  Have a seat.  I know it’s late.  You’re ready for the after parties.  I should have ditched the speech and brought my playlist.  (Laughter.)  Everybody looks beautiful, handsome, wonderful.  Thank you, Don, for that introduction.  Thank you to the CBC Foundation.  And thank you to the members of the CBC.  (Applause.)

On the challenges of our times, from giving workers a raise to getting families health coverage; on the threats of our time, from climate change to nuclear proliferation — members of the CBC have been leaders moving America forward.  With your help, our businesses have created over 13 million new jobs.  (Applause.)  With your help, we’ve covered more than 16 million Americans with health insurance — many for the first time.  (Applause.)  Three years ago, Republicans said they’d get the unemployment rate down to 6 percent by 2017.  It’s down to 5.1 right now.  (Applause.)  You didn’t hear much about that at the debate on Monday — on Wednesday night.

The point is, though, none of this progress would have been possible without the CBC taking tough votes when it mattered most.  Whatever I’ve accomplished, the CBC has been there.  (Applause.)  I was proud to be a CBC member when I was in the Senate, and I’m proud to be your partner today.  But we’re not here just to celebrate — we’re here to keep going.  Because with the unemployment rate for African Americans still more than double than whites, with millions of families still working hard and still waiting to feel the recovery in their own lives, we know that the promise of this nation — where every single American, regardless of the circumstances in which they were born, regardless of what they look like, where they come from, has the chance to succeed — that promise is not yet fulfilled.

The good thing about America — the great project of America is that perfecting our union is never finished.  We’ve always got more work to do.  And tonight’s honorees remind us of that.  They remind us of the courage and sacrifices, the work that they’ve done — and not just at the national level, but in local communities all across the country.  We couldn’t be prouder of them.  The heroes of the Civil Rights Movement whom we lost last month remind us of the work that remains to be done.  American heroes like Louis Stokes, and Julian Bond, and Amelia Boynton Robinson.  (Applause.)

Ms. Robinson — as some of you know, earlier this year, my family and I joined many in Selma for the 50th anniversary of that march.  And as we crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge, I held Ms. Amelia’s hand.  And I thought about her and all the extraordinary women like her who were really the life force of the movement.  (Applause.)  Women were the foot soldiers.  Women strategized boycotts.  Women organized marches.  Even if they weren’t allowed to run the civil rights organizations on paper, behind the scenes they were the thinkers and the doers making things happen each and every day — (applause) — doing the work that nobody else wanted to do.  They couldn’t prophesize from the pulpits, but they led the charge from the pews.  They were no strangers to violence.  They were on the front lines.  So often they were subject to abuse, dehumanized, but kept on going, holding families together.  Mothers were beaten and gassed on Bloody Sunday.  Four little girls were murdered in a Birmingham church.  Women made the movement happen.

Of course, black women have been a part of every great movement in American history — (applause) — even if they weren’t always given a voice.  They helped plan the March on Washington, but were almost entirely absent from the program.  And when pressed, male organizers added a tribute highlighting six women — none of them who were asked to make a speech.  Daisy Bates introduced her fellow honorees in just 142 words, written by a man.  Of course, Marian Anderson and Mahalia Jackson sang.  But in a three-hour program, the men gave women just 142 words.  That may sound familiar to some of the women in the room here tonight.  The organizers even insisted on two separate parades — male leaders marching along the main route on Pennsylvania Avenue, and leaders like Dorothy Height and Rosa Parks relegated to Independence Avenue.  America’s most important march against segregation had its own version of separation.

Black women were central in the fight for women’s rights, from suffrage to the feminist movement — (applause) — and yet despite their leadership, too often they were also marginalized.  But they didn’t give up, they didn’t let up.  They were too fierce for that.  Black women have always understood the words of Pauli Murray — that “Hope is a song in a weary throat.”

It’s thanks to black women that we’ve come a long way since the days when a girl like Ruby Bridges couldn’t go to school.  When a woman like Amelia couldn’t cast her vote.  When we didn’t have a Congressional Black Caucus — and its 20 women members.  (Applause.)

So I’m focusing on women tonight because I want them to know how much we appreciate them, how much we admire them, how much we love them.  (Applause.)  And I want to talk about what more we have to do to provide full opportunity and equality for our black women and girls in America today.  (Applause.)

Because all of us are beneficiaries of a long line of strong black women who helped carry this country forward.  Their work to expand civil rights opened the doors of opportunity, not just for African Americans but for all women, for all of us — black and white, Latino and Asian, LGBT and straight, for our First Americans and our newest Americans.  And their contributions in every field — as scientists and entrepreneurs, educators, explorers — all made us stronger.  Of course, they’re also a majority of my household.  (Laughter and applause.)  So I care deeply about how they’re doing.

The good news is, despite structural barriers of race and gender, women and girls of color have made real progress in recent years.  The number of black women-owned businesses has skyrocketed.  (Applause.)  Black women have ascended the ranks of every industry.  Teen pregnancy rates among girls of color are down, while high school and four-year college graduation rates are up.  (Applause.)  That’s good news.

But there’s no denying that black women and girls still face real and persistent challenges.  The unemployment rate is over 8 percent for black women.  And they’re overrepresented in low-paying jobs; underrepresented in management.  They often lack access to economic necessities like paid leave and quality, affordable child care.  They often don’t get the same quality health care that they need, and have higher rates of certain chronic diseases — although that’s starting to change with Obamacare.  (Applause.)  It’s working, by the way, people.  Just in case — (laughter) — just in case you needed to know.

And then there are some of the challenges that are harder to see and harder to talk about — although Michelle, our outstanding, beautiful First Lady talks about these struggles.  (Applause.)  Michelle will tell stories about when she was younger, people telling her she shouldn’t aspire to go to the very best universities.  And she found herself thinking sometimes, “Well, maybe they’re right.”  Even after she earned two degrees from some of the best universities in America, she still faced the doubts that were rooted in deep social prejudice and stereotypes, worrying whether she was being too assertive, or too angry, or too tall.  (Applause.)  I like tall women.  (Laughter and applause.)

And those stereotypes and social pressures, they still affect our girls.  So we all have to be louder than the voices that are telling our girls they’re not good enough — (applause) — that they’ve got to look a certain way, or they’ve got to act a certain way, or set their goals at a certain level.  We’ve got to affirm their sense of self-worth, and make them feel visible and beautiful, and understood and loved.  (Applause.)  And I say this as a father who strives to do this at home, but I also say this as a citizen.  This is not just about my family or yours; it’s about who we are as a people, who we want to be, and how we can make sure that America is fulfilling its promise — because everybody is getting a chance, and everybody is told they’re important, and everybody is given opportunity.  And we got to do more than just say we care, or say we put a woman on ten-dollar bill, although that’s a good idea.  We’ve got to make sure they’re getting some ten-dollar bills; that they’re getting paid properly.  (Applause.)  We’ve got to let our actions do the talking.

It is an affront to the very idea of America when certain segments of our population don’t have access to the same opportunities as everybody else.  It makes a mockery of our economy when black women make 30 fewer cents for every dollar a white man earns.  (Applause.)  That adds up to thousands of dollars in missed income that determines whether a family can pay for a home, or pay for college for their kids, or save for retirement, or give their kids a better life.  And that’s not just a woman’s issue, that’s everybody’s issue.  I want Michelle getting paid at some point.  (Laughter and applause.)  We’ve got an outstanding former Secretary of State here who is also former First Lady, and I know she can relate to Michelle when she says, how come you get paid and I don’t?  (Laughter and applause.)  How did that work?  (Laughter.)

When women of color aren’t given the opportunity to live up to their God-given potential, we all lose out on their talents; we’re not as good a country as we can be.  We might miss out on the next Mae Jemison or Ursula Burns or Serena Williams or Michelle Obama.  (Applause.)  We want everybody to be on the field.  We can’t afford to leave some folks off the field.

So we’re going to have to close those economic gaps so that hardworking women of all races, and black women in particular can support families, and strengthen communities, and contribute to our country’s success.  So that’s why my administration is investing in job training and apprenticeships, to help everybody, but particularly help more women earn better-paying jobs, and particularly in non-traditional careers.  It’s why we’re investing in getting more girls, and particularly girls of color interested in STEM fields — math and science and engineering — (applause) — and help more of them stay on track in school.

It’s why we’re going to continue to fight to eliminate the pay gap.  (Applause.)  Equal pay for equal work.  It’s an all-American idea.  It’s very simple.  And that’s why we’re going to keep working to raise the minimum wage — because women disproportionately are the ones who are not getting paid what they’re worth.  That’s why we’re fighting to expand tax credits that help working parents make ends meet, closing tax loopholes for folks who don’t need tax loopholes to pay for.  It’s why we’re expanding paid leave to employees of federal contractors.  And that’s why Congress needs to expand paid leave for more hardworking Americans.  It’s good for our economy.  It’s the right thing to do.  No family should have to choose between taking care of a sick child or losing their job.  (Applause.)

And just as an aside, what’s not the right thing to do, what makes no sense at all, is Congress threatening to shut down the entire federal government if they can’t shut down women’s access to Planned Parenthood.  (Applause.)  That’s not a good idea.  Congress should be working on investing things that grow our economy and expand opportunity, and not get distracted and inflict the kind of self-inflicted wounds that we’ve seen before on our economy.  So that’s some of the things we need to do to help improve the economic standing of all women; to help all families feel more secure in a changing economy.

And before I go tonight, I also want to say something about a topic that’s been on my mind for a while, another profound barrier to opportunity in too many communities — and that is our criminal justice system.  (Applause.)

I spoke about this at length earlier this year at the NAACP, and I explained the long history of inequity in our criminal justice system.  We all know the statistics.  And this summer, because I wanted to highlight that there were human beings behind these statistics, I visited a prison in Oklahoma — the first President to ever visit a federal prison.  (Applause.)  And I sat down with the inmates, and I listened to their stories.  And one of the things that struck me was the crushing burden their incarceration has placed not just on their prospects for the future, but also for their families, the women in their lives, children being raised without a father in the home; the crushing regret these men felt over the children that they left behind.

Mass incarceration rips apart families.  It hollows out neighborhoods.  It perpetuates poverty.  We understand that in many of our communities, they’re under-policed.  The problem is not that we don’t want active, effective police work.  We want, and admire, and appreciate law enforcement.  We want them in our communities.  Crime hurts the African American community more than anybody.  But we want to make sure that it’s done well and it’s done right, and it’s done fairly and it’s done smart.  (Applause.)  And that’s why, in the coming months, I’m going to be working with many in Congress and many in the CBC to try to make progress on reform legislation that addresses unjust sentencing laws, and encourages diversion and prevention programs, catches our young people early and tries to put them on a better path, and then helps ex-offenders, after they’ve done their time, get on the right track.  It’s the right thing to do for America.  (Applause.)

And although in these discussions a lot of my focus has been on African American men and the work we’re doing with My Brother’s Keeper, we can’t forget the impact that the system has on women, as well.  The incarceration rate for black women is twice as high as the rate for white women.  Many women in prison, you come to discover, have been victims of homelessness and domestic violence, and in some cases human trafficking.  They’ve got high rates of mental illness and substance abuse.  And many have been sexually assaulted, both before they got to prison and then after they go to prison.  And we don’t often talk about how society treats black women and girls before they end up in prison.  They’re suspended at higher rates than white boys and all other girls.  And while boys face the school-to-prison pipeline, a lot of girls are facing a more sinister sexual abuse-to-prison pipeline.  (Applause.)  Victims of early sexual abuse are more likely to fail in school, which can lead to sexual exploitation, which can lead to prison.  So we’re focusing on boys, but we’re also investing in ways to change the odds for at-risk girls — to make sure that they are loved and valued, to give them a chance.

And that’s why we have to make a collective effort to address violence and abuse against women in all of our communities.  In every community, on every campus, we’ve got to be very clear:  Women who have been victims of rape or domestic abuse, who need help, should know that they can count on society and on law enforcement to treat them with love and care and sensitivity, and not skepticism.  (Applause.)

I want to repeat — because somehow this never shows up on Fox News.  (Laughter.)  I want to repeat — because I’ve said it a lot, unwaveringly, all the time:  Our law enforcement officers do outstanding work in an incredibly difficult and dangerous job.  They put their lives on the line for our safety.  (Applause.)  We appreciate them and we love them.  That’s why my Task Force on 21st Century Policing made a set of recommendations that I want to see implemented to improve their safety, as well as to make sure that our criminal justice system is being applied fairly.  Officers show uncommon bravery in our communities every single day.  They deserve our respect.  That includes women in law enforcement.  We need more of you, by the way.  We’ve got an outstanding chief law enforcement officer in our Attorney General, Loretta Lynch.  (Applause.)  We want all our young ladies to see what a great role model she is.

So I just want to repeat, because somehow this never gets on the TV:  There is no contradiction between us caring about our law enforcement officers and also making sure that our laws are applied fairly.  Do not make this as an either/or proposition.  This is a both/and proposition.  (Applause.)  We want to protect our police officers.  We’ll do a better job doing it if our communities can feel confident that they are being treated fairly.  I hope I’m making that clear.  (Applause.)  I hope I’m making that clear.

We need to make sure the laws are applied evenly.  This is not a new problem.  It’s just that in recent months, in recent years, suddenly folks have videos and body cameras, and social media, and so it’s opened our eyes to these incidents.  And many of these incidents are subject to ongoing investigation, so I can’t comment on every specific one.  But we can’t avoid these tough conversations altogether.  That’s not going to help our police officers, the vast majority who do the right thing every day, by just pretending that these things aren’t happening.  That’s not going to help build trust between them and the communities in which they serve.

So these are hard issues, but I’m confident we’re going to move forward together for a system that is fairer and more just.  We’ve got good people on both sides of the aisle that are working with law enforcement and local communities to find a better way forward.  And as always, change will not happen overnight.  It won’t be easy.  But if our history has taught us anything, it’s taught us that when we come together, when we’re working with a sense of purpose, when we are listening to one another, when we assume the best in each other rather than the worst, then change happens.

Like every parent, I can’t help to see the world increasingly through my daughters’ eyes.  And on that day, when we were celebrating that incredible march in Selma, I had Ms. Amelia’s hand in one of my hands, but Michelle had Sasha’s hand, and my mother-in-law had Malia’s hand — and it was a chain across generations.  And I thought about all those women who came before us, who risked everything for life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness, so often without notice, so often without fanfare.  Their names never made the history books.  All those women who cleaned somebody else’s house, or looked after somebody else’s children, did somebody else’s laundry, and then got home and did it again, and then went to church and cooked — and then they were marching.  (Applause.)

And because of them, Michelle could cross that bridge.  And because of them, they brought them along, and Malia and Sasha can cross that bridge.  And that tells me that if we follow their example, we’re going to cross more bridges in the future.  If we keep moving forward, hand in hand, God willing, my daughters’ children will be able to cross that bridge in an America that’s more free, and more just, and more prosperous than the one that we inherited.  Your children will, too.

Thank you CBC.  God bless you.  God bless this country we love.  (Applause.)  Thank you.

END
10:06 P.M. EDT

Full Text Obama Presidency April 11, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Speech on Voting Rights Being Threatened at the National Action Network’s 16th Annual Convention

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President at the National Action Network’s 16th Annual Convention

Source: WH, 4-11-14

Sheraton New York Hotel
New York, New York

4:02 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENTHello, New York!  (Applause.)  Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you so much.  It is good to be at the National Action Network!  (Applause.)  It is good to be here with some good friends.

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  We love you!

THE PRESIDENT:  I love you back.  (Applause.)

It is wonderful to be with all of you.  I want to say, first of all, thank you to your leader, Reverend Al Sharpton.  Give him a big round of applause.  (Applause.)  And I appreciate the idea of being an “action” President, although I do also have style — (laughter) — I just want to point that out.  I know it’s not about it, but I just — but I do have it.  (Laughter.)  Al is not the only guy with style.

We’ve got Barbara Arnwine here today, and we want to thank her.  Clayola Brown, thank you.  Melanie Campbell, thank you.  Marc Morial, thank you.  We’ve got members of Congress, state and local officials from New York.  And of course, we’ve got all of you.  So thanks to all of you for such a wonderful welcome.  (Applause.)

Everybody, sit down.  Sit down.  Al doesn’t know how to get back to his seat.  (Laughter.)  Somebody help out the leader here.  But don’t make him jump over it.  Okay, they’re going to explain it.  There we go.  All right.  You’re going to be all right.

Now, the last time I was here was three years ago, and a few things have changed since then.  I am here as a second term President.  (Applause.)  I have more gray hair.  (Laughter.)  It’s all right.  Let’s see, what else — I’ve got twice as many dogs.  I’m glad I won’t have to serve a third term — because three dogs is too many.  I can’t keep on promising Malia and Sasha another dog.

Of course one thing that has not changed is your commitment to the cause of civil rights for everybody and opportunity for all people.  And that’s been something that’s been on my mind this week.  Some of you may know that yesterday I was down in Austin, Texas at the LBJ Library to speak on the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act and the man who signed it into law.  (Applause.)  And standing there, I thought of all the Americans, known and unknown, who made it possible for me to stand in that spot — who marched and organized, and sat in, and stood up for jobs and for justice.  I thought of all who achieved that great victory and others — not just with respect to the Civil Rights Act, but the Voting Rights Act and the Fair Housing Act, and immigration reform, and Medicare and Medicaid, and the first battles of a long War on Poverty.

And over the past five years, in the wake of the worst economic crisis of our lifetimes, we’ve won some victories, too.  Nearly 9 million new jobs at America’s businesses over the past four years.  (Applause.)  Seven and a half million Americans signing up to buy health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act.  (Applause.)  And millions more who have gained coverage through Medicaid and CHIP, and young people being able to stay on their parents’ plans.  The rate of uninsured Americans is down.  High school dropout rates are down.  Our high school graduation rate is the highest on record.  More young people are earning college degrees than ever before.  (Applause.)  We’ve made progress and we’ve taken action.

But we also know our work is unfinished.  Too many Americans working harder than ever just to get by.  Too many Americans who aren’t working at all.  We know we have to do more to restore America’s promise of opportunity for all people, particularly for communities hardest hit by the recession; particularly for those who struggled since long before the recession — not only African Americans and Latinos, but Americans trapped across the country in pockets of poverty — inner city, suburban, rural.

And we know what opportunity means.  Opportunity means more good jobs that pay good wages.  Opportunity means training folks for those jobs.

Opportunity means changing the odds for all of our children through Pre-K, something Mayor de Blasio is fighting for here in New York City.  (Applause.)  And opportunity means affordable higher education for all who are willing to work for it.

Opportunity means answering the call to be My Brother’s Keeper and helping more boys and young men of color stay on track and reach their full potential.  (Applause.)

Before I came out, I was in a photo line, saw my good friend, Freddie Haynes, a great pastor from the great state of Texas.  And he told me this summer they’re going to hire 100 young men, pay them $10.10 an hour — maybe $10.50 — (applause) — as a consequence of this call.  And the point is, is that My Brother’s Keeper, that’s not just something I do, that’s not just something the government does.  That’s something everybody can participate in, because we know these young men need support.

Opportunity means making the minimum wage a wage you can live on.  It means equal pay for equal work.  (Applause.)  It means overtime pay for workers who have earned it.  It means continuing to extend the right of quality, affordable health care for every American in every state, because we’ve got some states that aren’t doing the right thing.  We have states who just out of political spite are leaving millions of people uninsured that could be getting health insurance right now.  No good reason for it.  If you ask them what’s the explanation they can’t really tell you.

And, by the way, making sure our citizens have the opportunity to lead healthy lives also means dealing with things like the dangerous carbon pollution that’s disproportionately affecting low-income communities.  It means making sure that our young people are eating right, so listen to Michelle.  (Laughter.)  I’m just saying.

So we know we’ve got more work to do to bridge the gap between our founding ideals and the realities of our time.  And the question then becomes, well, how do we actually make these changes?  How does it happen?  How do we get a minimum wage bill passed?  How do we make sure that those states that aren’t yet implementing the Affordable Care Act actually are doing right by their citizens?  It means being vigilant.  We’ve got to be vigilant to secure the gains we’ve made, but also to make more gains in the future.

And that’s the meaning of these last 50 years since the Civil Rights Act was passed.  Because across the country right now there are well-organized and well-funded efforts to undo these gains.  And one of those gains is under particular assault right now, and that’s what I want to spend the rest of my time here talking about.

Just as inequality feeds on injustice, opportunity requires justice.  And justice requires the right to vote.  (Applause.)  President Johnson, right after he signed the Civil Rights Act into law, told his advisors — some of whom were telling him, well, all right, just wait.  You’ve done a big thing now; let’s let the dust settle, don’t stir folks up.  He said, no, no, I can’t wait.  We’ve got to press forward and pass the Voting Rights Act.  Johnson said, “About this there can and should be no argument.  Every American citizen must have an equal right to vote.”  (Applause.)

Voting is a time when we all have an equal say -— black or white, rich or poor, man or woman.  It doesn’t matter.  In the eyes of the law and in the eyes of our democracy, we’re all supposed to have that equal right to cast our ballot to help determine the direction of our society.

The principle of one person, one vote is the single greatest tool we have to redress an unjust status quo.  You would think there would not be an argument about this anymore.  But the stark, simple truth is this:  The right to vote is threatened today in a way that it has not been since the Voting Rights Act became law nearly five decades ago.

Across the country, Republicans have led efforts to pass laws making it harder, not easier, for people to vote.  In some places, women could be turned away from the polls just because they’re registered under their maiden name but their driver’s license has their married name.  Senior citizens who have been voting for decades may suddenly be told they can no longer vote until they can come up with the right ID.

In other places, folks may learn that without a document like a passport or a birth certificate, they can’t register.  About 60 percent of Americans don’t have a passport.  Just because you don’t have the money to travel abroad doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be able to vote here at home.  (Applause.)  And just to be clear, I know where my birth certificate is, but a lot of people don’t.  (Laughter.)  A lot of people don’t.  (Applause.)  I think it’s still up on a website somewhere.  (Laughter.)  You remember that?  That was crazy.  That was some crazy stuff.  (Laughter and applause.)  I hadn’t thought about that in a while.  (Laughter.)

Now, I want to be clear — I am not against reasonable attempts to secure the ballot.  We understand that there has to be rules in place.  But I am against requiring an ID that millions of Americans don’t have.  That shouldn’t suddenly prevent you from exercising your right to vote.  (Applause.)

The first words put to paper in our American story tell us that all of us are created equal.  And we understand that it took a long time to make sure that those words meant something.  But 50 years ago, we put laws in place, because of enormous struggles, to vindicate that idea; to make our democracy truly mean something.  And that makes it wrong to pass laws that make it harder for any eligible citizen to vote, especially because every citizen doesn’t just have the right to vote, they have a responsibility to vote.  (Applause.)

So, yes, we’re right to be on guard against voter fraud.  Voter fraud would impinge on our democracy, as well.  We don’t want folks voting that shouldn’t be voting.  We all agree on that.  Let’s stipulate to that, as the lawyers say.

But there’s a reason why those who argue that harsh restrictions on voting are somehow necessary to fight voter fraud are having such a hard time proving any real, widespread fraud.  So I just want to give you some statistics.  One recent study found only 10 cases of alleged in-person voter impersonation in 12 years — 10 cases.  Another analysis found that out of 197 million votes cast for federal elections between 2002 and 2005, only 40 voters — out of 197 million — were indicted for fraud.  Now, for those of you who are math majors, as a percentage, that is 0.00002 percent.  (Laughter.)  That’s not a lot.  So let’s be clear — the real voter fraud is people who try to deny our rights by making bogus arguments about voter fraud.  (Applause.)

And I have to say, there have been — some of these officials who have been passing these laws have been more blunt.  They said, this is going to be good for the Republican Party.  Some of them have not been shy about saying that they’re doing this for partisan reasons.

“It is wrong,” President Johnson said, “deadly wrong, to deny any of your fellow Americans the right to vote in this country.”  It is wrong to change our election rules just because of politics.  It is wrong to make citizens wait for five, six, seven hours just to vote.  It is wrong to make a senior citizen who no longer has a driver’s license jump through hoops and have to pay money just to exercise the rights she has cherished for a lifetime.  America did not stand up and did not march and did not sacrifice to gain the right to vote for themselves and for others only to see it denied to their kids and their grandchildren.  We’ve got to pay attention to this.  (Applause.)

Some of the folks from Chicago know — Crider (ph) knows — one of the first jobs I had out of law school was to lead a voter registration drive in my home state of Illinois.  We registered more than 150,000 new voters.  And as an organizer, I got to help other citizens exercise their most cherished and fundamental rights.  That mattered to me.

And as President, I’m not going to let attacks on these rights go unchallenged.  We’re not going to let voter suppression go unchallenged.  (Applause.)  So earlier this week, you heard from the Attorney General — and there’s a reason the agency he runs is called the Department of Justice.  (Applause.)  They’ve taken on more than 100 voting rights cases since 2009, and they’ve defended the rights of everybody from African Americans to Spanish speakers to soldiers serving overseas.  (Applause.)

Earlier this year, a bipartisan commission I appointed chaired by my election lawyer and Mitt Romney’s election lawyer came up with a series of modern — or common-sense reforms to modernize voter registration, and to curb the potential for fraud in smart way, and ensure that no one has to wait for more than half an hour to cast a ballot.  States and local election boards should take up those recommendations.  And with the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer almost upon us, I urge members of Congress to honor those who gave their lives so that others could exercise their rights, and update the Voting Rights Act.  Go ahead and get that done.  (Applause.)

Do it because the right to vote is something cherished by every American.  We should not be having an argument about this.  There are a lot of things we can argue about, but the right to vote?  I mean, what kind of political platform is that?  (Laughter.)  Why would you make that a part of your agenda, preventing people from voting?  How can you defend that?  There are a whole bunch of folks out there who don’t vote for me; didn’t vote for me, don’t like what I do.  The idea that I would prevent them from voting and exercising their franchise makes no sense.

Black or white, man or woman, urban, rural, rich, poor, Native American, disabled, gay, straight, Republican or Democrat — voters who want to vote should be able to vote.  Period.  Full stop.  (Applause.)  Voting is not a Democratic issue, it’s not a Republican issue.  It’s an issue of citizenship.  (Applause.)  It’s what makes our democracy strong.

But it’s a fact this recent effort to restrict the vote has not been led by both parties — it’s been led by the Republican Party.  And in fairness, it’s not just Democrats who are concerned.  You had one Republican state legislator point out — and I’m quoting here — “Making it more difficult for people to vote is not a good sign for a party that wants to attract more people.”  (Laughter.)  That was a pretty — that’s a good insight.  (Laughter.)  Right?  I want a competitive Republican Party, just like a competitive Democratic Party.  That’s how our democracy is supposed to work — the competition of ideas.  But I don’t want folks changing the rules to try to restrict people’s access to the ballot.

And I think responsible people, regardless of your party affiliation, should agree with that.  If your strategy depends on having fewer people show up to vote, that’s not a sign of strength, that’s a sign of weakness.  (Applause.)

And not only is it ultimately bad politics.  I believe ultimately it harms the entire country.  If voting is denied to the many, we risk ending up stuck year after year with special interest policies that benefit a fortunate few.  And injustice perpetuates inequality.

But remember, just as injustice perpetuates inequality, justice opens up opportunity.  And as infuriating as efforts to roll back hard-earned rights can be, the trajectory of our history has to give us hope.  The story of America is a story of progress.  No matter how often or how intensely that progress has been challenged, ultimately this nation has moved forward.  As Dr. King said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, [but] it bends towards justice.”  We move forward on civil rights and we move forward on workers’ rights, and we move forward on women’s rights and disability rights and gay rights.  We show that when ordinary citizens come together to participate in this democracy we love, justice will not be denied.  (Applause.)  So the single most important thing we can do to protect our right to vote is to vote.  (Applause.)

So I’m going to make one last point here.  We’re going to have an attorney general that looks at all the laws that are being passed.  We’re going to have civic organizations that are making sure that state laws and local laws are doing what they’re supposed to do.  We will fight back whenever we see unfairly the franchise being challenged.  But the truth is that for all these laws that are being put in place, the biggest problem we have is people giving up their own power — voluntarily not participating.

The number of people who voluntarily don’t vote, who are eligible to vote, dwarfs whatever these laws are put in place might do in terms of diminishing the voting roles.

So we can’t treat these new barriers as an excuse not to participate.  We can’t use cynicism as an excuse not to participate.  Sometimes I hear people saying, well, we haven’t gotten everything we need — we still have poverty, we still have problems.  Of course.  These things didn’t happen overnight.

When I was down in Texas, everybody was celebrating the day that the Civil Rights Law was finally passed.  Remember there were decades in which people sacrificed and worked hard.  (Applause.)  Change doesn’t happen overnight, but it happens as long as we don’t purposely give our power away.  Every obstacle put in our path should remind us of the power we hold in our hands each time we pull that lever or fill in that oval or touch that screen.  We just have to harness that power.  We’ve got to create a national network committed to taking action.  We can call it the National Action Network.  (Applause.)

So I want you to go out there and redouble your efforts.  Register more voters.  Help more folks to get their rights.  Get those souls to the polls.  If they won’t let you do it on Sunday, then do it on a Tuesday instead.  (Applause.)  I know it’s better going to the polls on Sunday because you go to church, you get a little meal.  (Laughter.)  You got the bus waiting for you.  I understand.  But you can do it without that if we have to.

We’re at a time when we’re marking many anniversaries.  And it’s interesting for me — I’ve been on this Earth 52 years, and so to see the progress we’ve made is to see my own life and the progression that’s happened.  You think about Brown v. Board of Education, and the Civil Rights Act, and the Voting Rights Act, and Freedom Summer.  And with those anniversaries, we have new reason to remember those who made it possible for us to be here.  Like the three civil rights workers in Mississippi — two white, one black — who were murdered 50 years ago as they tried to help their fellow citizens register to vote.  James Chaney and Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner believed so strongly that change was possible they were willing to lay down their lives for it.  The least you can do is take them up on the gift that they have given you.  (Applause.)  Go out there and vote.  You can make a change.  You do have the power.

I’ve run my last election, but I need you to make sure that the changes that we started continue for decades to come.

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless America.  (Applause.)

END
4:26 P.M. EDT

Political Musings April 11, 2014: Obama honors Lyndon B. Johnson and Civil Rights Act at 50th anniversary summit

POLITICAL MUSINGS

https://historymusings.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/pol_musings.jpg?w=600

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

Obama honors Lyndon B. Johnson and Civil Rights Act at 50th anniversary summit

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Fifty years ago on July 2, 1964, President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed into law the most sweeping civil rights legislation since the of the end of Civil War, and 101 years after Abraham Lincoln emancipated the African American slaves, Johnson…Continue
RELATED LINKS

Full Text Obama Presidency April 10, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Speech honoring 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 at Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library Civil Rights Summit

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President at LBJ Presidential Library Civil Rights Summit

Source: WH, 4-10-14

President Barack Obama delivers remarks as First Lady Michelle Obama, Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., and LBJ Presidential Library Director Mark Updegrove, listen at right at the LBJ Presidential LibraryPresident Barack Obama delivers remarks as First Lady Michelle Obama, Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., and LBJ Presidential Library Director Mark Updegrove, listen at right at the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin, Texas, April 10, 2014. They attended a Civil Rights Summit to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library
Austin, Texas

12:16 P.M. CDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  Thank you very much.  (Applause.)  Thank you so much.  Please, please, have a seat.  Thank you.

What a singular honor it is for me to be here today.  I want to thank, first and foremost, the Johnson family for giving us this opportunity and the graciousness with which Michelle and I have been received.

We came down a little bit late because we were upstairs looking at some of the exhibits and some of the private offices that were used by President Johnson and Mrs. Johnson.  And Michelle was in particular interested to — of a recording in which Lady Bird is critiquing President Johnson’s performance.  (Laughter.)  And she said, come, come, you need to listen to this.  (Laughter.)  And she pressed the button and nodded her head.  Some things do not change — (laughter) — even 50 years later.

To all the members of Congress, the warriors for justice, the elected officials and community leaders who are here today  — I want to thank you.

Four days into his sudden presidency — and the night before he would address a joint session of the Congress in which he once served — Lyndon Johnson sat around a table with his closest advisors, preparing his remarks to a shattered and grieving nation.

He wanted to call on senators and representatives to pass a civil rights bill — the most sweeping since Reconstruction.  And most of his staff counseled him against it.  They said it was hopeless; that it would anger powerful Southern Democrats and committee chairmen; that it risked derailing the rest of his domestic agenda.  And one particularly bold aide said he did not believe a President should spend his time and power on lost causes, however worthy they might be.  To which, it is said, President Johnson replied, “Well, what the hell’s the presidency for?”  (Laughter and applause.)  What the hell’s the presidency for if not to fight for causes you believe in?

Today, as we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, we honor the men and women who made it possible.  Some of them are here today.  We celebrate giants like John Lewis and Andrew Young and Julian Bond.  We recall the countless unheralded Americans, black and white, students and scholars, preachers and housekeepers — whose names are etched not on monuments, but in the hearts of their loved ones, and in the fabric of the country they helped to change.

But we also gather here, deep in the heart of the state that shaped him, to recall one giant man’s remarkable efforts to make real the promise of our founding:  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

Those of us who have had the singular privilege to hold the office of the Presidency know well that progress in this country can be hard and it can be slow, frustrating and sometimes you’re stymied.  The office humbles you.  You’re reminded daily that in this great democracy, you are but a relay swimmer in the currents of history, bound by decisions made by those who came before, reliant on the efforts of those who will follow to fully vindicate your vision.

But the presidency also affords a unique opportunity to bend those currents — by shaping our laws and by shaping our debates; by working within the confines of the world as it is, but also by reimagining the world as it should be.

This was President Johnson’s genius.  As a master of politics and the legislative process, he grasped like few others the power of government to bring about change.

LBJ was nothing if not a realist.  He was well aware that the law alone isn’t enough to change hearts and minds.  A full century after Lincoln’s time, he said, “Until justice is blind to color, until education is unaware of race, until opportunity is unconcerned with the color of men’s skins, emancipation will be a proclamation but not a fact.”

He understood laws couldn’t accomplish everything.  But he also knew that only the law could anchor change, and set hearts and minds on a different course.  And a lot of Americans needed the law’s most basic protections at that time.  As Dr. King said at the time, “It may be true that the law can’t make a man love me but it can keep him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important.”  (Applause.)

And passing laws was what LBJ knew how to do.  No one knew politics and no one loved legislating more than President Johnson.  He was charming when he needed to be, ruthless when required.  (Laughter.)  He could wear you down with logic and argument.  He could horse trade, and he could flatter.  “You come with me on this bill,” he would reportedly tell a key Republican leader from my home state during the fight for the Civil Rights Bill, “and 200 years from now, schoolchildren will know only two names:  Abraham Lincoln and Everett Dirksen!”  (Laughter.)  And he knew that senators would believe things like that.  (Laughter and applause.)

President Johnson liked power.  He liked the feel of it, the wielding of it.  But that hunger was harnessed and redeemed by a deeper understanding of the human condition; by a sympathy for the underdog, for the downtrodden, for the outcast.  And it was a sympathy rooted in his own experience.

As a young boy growing up in the Texas Hill Country, Johnson knew what being poor felt like.  “Poverty was so common,” he would later say, “we didn’t even know it had a name.”  (Laughter.)  The family home didn’t have electricity or indoor plumbing.  Everybody worked hard, including the children.  President Johnson had known the metallic taste of hunger; the feel of a mother’s calloused hands, rubbed raw from washing and cleaning and holding a household together.  His cousin Ava remembered sweltering days spent on her hands and knees in the cotton fields, with Lyndon whispering beside her, “Boy, there’s got to be a better way to make a living than this.  There’s got to be a better way.”

It wasn’t until years later when he was teaching at a so-called Mexican school in a tiny town in Texas that he came to understand how much worse the persistent pain of poverty could be for other races in a Jim Crow South.  Oftentimes his students would show up to class hungry.  And when he’d visit their homes, he’d meet fathers who were paid slave wages by the farmers they worked for.  Those children were taught, he would later say, “that the end of life is in a beet row, a spinach field, or a cotton patch.”

Deprivation and discrimination — these were not abstractions to Lyndon Baines Johnson.  He knew that poverty and injustice are as inseparable as opportunity and justice are joined.  So that was in him from an early age.

Now, like any of us, he was not a perfect man.  His experiences in rural Texas may have stretched his moral imagination, but he was ambitious, very ambitious, a young man in a hurry to plot his own escape from poverty and to chart his own political career.  And in the Jim Crow South, that meant not challenging convention.  During his first 20 years in Congress, he opposed every civil rights bill that came up for a vote, once calling the push for federal legislation “a farce and a sham.”  He was chosen as a vice presidential nominee in part because of his affinity with, and ability to deliver, that Southern white vote.  And at the beginning of the Kennedy administration, he shared with President Kennedy a caution towards racial controversy.

But marchers kept marching.  Four little girls were killed in a church.  Bloody Sunday happened.  The winds of change blew.  And when the time came, when LBJ stood in the Oval Office — I picture him standing there, taking up the entire doorframe, looking out over the South Lawn in a quiet moment — and asked himself what the true purpose of his office was for, what was the endpoint of his ambitions, he would reach back in his own memory and he’d remember his own experience with want.

And he knew that he had a unique capacity, as the most powerful white politician from the South, to not merely challenge the convention that had crushed the dreams of so many, but to ultimately dismantle for good the structures of legal segregation.  He’s the only guy who could do it — and he knew there would be a cost, famously saying the Democratic Party may “have lost the South for a generation.”

That’s what his presidency was for.  That’s where he meets his moment.  And possessed with an iron will, possessed with those skills that he had honed so many years in Congress, pushed and supported by a movement of those willing to sacrifice everything for their own liberation, President Johnson fought for and argued and horse traded and bullied and persuaded until ultimately he signed the Civil Rights Act into law.

And he didn’t stop there — even though his advisors again told him to wait, again told him let the dust settle, let the country absorb this momentous decision.  He shook them off.  “The meat in the coconut,” as President Johnson would put it, was the Voting Rights Act, so he fought for and passed that as well.  Immigration reform came shortly after.  And then, a Fair Housing Act.  And then, a health care law that opponents described as “socialized medicine” that would curtail America’s freedom, but ultimately freed millions of seniors from the fear that illness could rob them of dignity and security in their golden years, which we now know today as Medicare.  (Applause.)

What President Johnson understood was that equality required more than the absence of oppression.  It required the presence of economic opportunity.  He wouldn’t be as eloquent as Dr. King would be in describing that linkage, as Dr. King moved into mobilizing sanitation workers and a poor people’s movement, but he understood that connection because he had lived it.  A decent job, decent wages, health care — those, too, were civil rights worth fighting for.  An economy where hard work is rewarded and success is shared, that was his goal.  And he knew, as someone who had seen the New Deal transform the landscape of his Texas childhood, who had seen the difference electricity had made because of the Tennessee Valley Authority, the transformation concretely day in and day out in the life of his own family, he understood that government had a role to play in broadening prosperity to all those who would strive for it.

“We want to open the gates to opportunity,” President Johnson said, “But we are also going to give all our people, black and white, the help they need to walk through those gates.”

Now, if some of this sounds familiar, it’s because today we remain locked in this same great debate about equality and opportunity, and the role of government in ensuring each.  As was true 50 years ago, there are those who dismiss the Great Society as a failed experiment and an encroachment on liberty; who argue that government has become the true source of all that ails us, and that poverty is due to the moral failings of those who suffer from it.  There are also those who argue, John, that nothing has changed; that racism is so embedded in our DNA that there is no use trying politics — the game is rigged.

But such theories ignore history.  Yes, it’s true that, despite laws like the Civil Rights Act, and the Voting Rights Act and Medicare, our society is still racked with division and poverty.  Yes, race still colors our political debates, and there have been government programs that have fallen short.  In a time when cynicism is too often passed off as wisdom, it’s perhaps easy to conclude that there are limits to change; that we are trapped by our own history; and politics is a fool’s errand, and we’d be better off if we roll back big chunks of LBJ’s legacy, or at least if we don’t put too much of our hope, invest too much of our hope in our government.

I reject such thinking.  (Applause.)  Not just because Medicare and Medicaid have lifted millions from suffering; not just because the poverty rate in this nation would be far worse without food stamps and Head Start and all the Great Society programs that survive to this day.  I reject such cynicism because I have lived out the promise of LBJ’s efforts.  Because Michelle has lived out the legacy of those efforts.  Because my daughters have lived out the legacy of those efforts.  Because I and millions of my generation were in a position to take the baton that he handed to us.  (Applause.)

Because of the Civil Rights movement, because of the laws President Johnson signed, new doors of opportunity and education swung open for everybody — not all at once, but they swung open.  Not just blacks and whites, but also women and Latinos; and Asians and Native Americans; and gay Americans and Americans with a disability.  They swung open for you, and they swung open for me.  And that’s why I’m standing here today — because of those efforts, because of that legacy.  (Applause.)

And that means we’ve got a debt to pay.  That means we can’t afford to be cynical.  Half a century later, the laws LBJ passed are now as fundamental to our conception of ourselves and our democracy as the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.  They are foundational; an essential piece of the American character.

But we are here today because we know we cannot be complacent.  For history travels not only forwards; history can travel backwards, history can travel sideways.  And securing the gains this country has made requires the vigilance of its citizens.  Our rights, our freedoms — they are not given.  They must be won.  They must be nurtured through struggle and discipline, and persistence and faith.

And one concern I have sometimes during these moments, the celebration of the signing of the Civil Rights Act, the March on Washington — from a distance, sometimes these commemorations seem inevitable, they seem easy.  All the pain and difficulty and struggle and doubt — all that is rubbed away.  And we look at ourselves and we say, oh, things are just too different now;  we couldn’t possibly do what was done then — these giants, what they accomplished.  And yet, they were men and women, too.  It wasn’t easy then.  It wasn’t certain then.

Still, the story of America is a story of progress.  However slow, however incomplete, however harshly challenged at each point on our journey, however flawed our leaders, however many times we have to take a quarter of a loaf or half a loaf — the story of America is a story of progress.  And that’s true because of men like President Lyndon Baines Johnson.  (Applause.)

In so many ways, he embodied America, with all our gifts and all our flaws, in all our restlessness and all our big dreams.  This man — born into poverty, weaned in a world full of racial hatred — somehow found within himself the ability to connect his experience with the brown child in a small Texas town; the white child in Appalachia; the black child in Watts.  As powerful as he became in that Oval Office, he understood them.  He understood what it meant to be on the outside.  And he believed that their plight was his plight too; that his freedom ultimately was wrapped up in theirs; and that making their lives better was what the hell the presidency was for.  (Applause.)

And those children were on his mind when he strode to the podium that night in the House Chamber, when he called for the vote on the Civil Rights law.  “It never occurred to me,” he said, “in my fondest dreams that I might have the chance to help the sons and daughters of those students” that he had taught so many years ago, “and to help people like them all over this country.  But now I do have that chance.  And I’ll let you in on a secret — I mean to use it.  And I hope that you will use it with me.”  (Applause.)

That was LBJ’s greatness.  That’s why we remember him.  And if there is one thing that he and this year’s anniversary should teach us, if there’s one lesson I hope that Malia and Sasha and young people everywhere learn from this day, it’s that with enough effort, and enough empathy, and enough perseverance, and enough courage, people who love their country can change it.

In his final year, President Johnson stood on this stage, racked with pain, battered by the controversies of Vietnam, looking far older than his 64 years, and he delivered what would be his final public speech.

“We have proved that great progress is possible,” he said.  “We know how much still remains to be done.  And if our efforts continue, and if our will is strong, and if our hearts are right, and if courage remains our constant companion, then, my fellow Americans, I am confident, we shall overcome.”  (Applause.)

We shall overcome.  We, the citizens of the United States.  Like Dr. King, like Abraham Lincoln, like countless citizens who have driven this country inexorably forward, President Johnson knew that ours in the end is a story of optimism, a story of achievement and constant striving that is unique upon this Earth.  He knew because he had lived that story.  He believed that together we can build an America that is more fair, more equal, and more free than the one we inherited.  He believed we make our own destiny.  And in part because of him, we must believe it as well.

Thank you.  God bless you.  God bless the United States of America.  (Applause.)

END
12:46 P.M. CDT

History Buzz February 24, 2014: Is Black History Month still needed?

HISTORY BUZZ: HISTORY NEWS RECAP

History Buzz

HISTORY BUZZ: HISTORY NEWS RECAP

Is Black History Month still needed?

Source: USA TODAY, 2-24-14

They were born long after the Jim Crow laws that officially divided American society were banished to history’s dustbin. Their lives began more than 20 years after Martin Luther King was assassinated, and just 20 years before the nation….READ MORE

History Buzz February 18, 2014: Black History Month: 6 Facts About The Origins Of The Black History Celebration

HISTORY BUZZ: HISTORY NEWS RECAP

History Buzz

HISTORY BUZZ: HISTORY NEWS RECAP

Black History Month: 6 Facts About The Origins Of The Black History Celebration

Source: International Business Times, 2-18-14

Every February, people across the nation celebrate Black History Month with lectures, parades, award ceremonies and numerous other events, all aimed at preserving and highlighting the immeasurable contributions of African-Americans to U.S. History….READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency January 31, 2014: President Barack Obama Issues Presidential Proclamation for National African-American / Black History Month 2014

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Presidential Proclamation — National African American History Month, 2014

Source: WH, 1-31-14

NATIONAL AFRICAN AMERICAN HISTORY MONTH, 2014

– – – – – – –

BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

A PROCLAMATION

Americans have long celebrated our Nation as a beacon of liberty and opportunity — home to patriots who threw off an empire, refuge to multitudes who fled oppression and despair. Yet we must also remember that while many came to our shores to pursue their own measure of freedom, hundreds of thousands arrived in chains. Through centuries of struggle, and through the toil of generations, African Americans have claimed rights long denied. During National African American History Month, we honor the men and women at the heart of this journey — from engineers of the Underground Railroad to educators who answered a free people’s call for a free mind, from patriots who proved that valor knows no color to demonstrators who gathered on the battlefields of justice and marched our Nation toward a brighter day.

As we pay tribute to the heroes, sung and unsung, of African-American history, we recall the inner strength that sustained millions in bondage. We remember the courage that led activists to defy lynch mobs and register their neighbors to vote. And we carry forward the unyielding hope that guided a movement as it bent the arc of the moral universe toward justice. Even while we seek to dull the scars of slavery and legalized discrimination, we hold fast to the values gained through centuries of trial and suffering.

Every American can draw strength from the story of hard-won progress, which not only defines the African-American experience, but also lies at the heart of our Nation as a whole. This story affirms that freedom is a gift from God, but it must be secured by His people here on earth. It inspires a new generation of leaders, and it teaches us all that when we come together in common purpose, we can right the wrongs of history and make our world anew.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim February 2014 as National African American History Month. I call upon public officials, educators, librarians, and all the people of the United States to observe this month with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this thirty-first day of January, in the year of our Lord two thousand fourteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-eighth.

BARACK OBAMA

Political Musings August 29, 2013: President Barack Obama honors 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington

POLITICAL MUSINGS

https://historymusings.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/pol_musings.jpg?w=600

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

Obama honors 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington (Video)

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Martin Luther King, Jr. on the steps of Lincoln Memorial where he delivered his “I Have a Dream Speech” (Getty Images)

VIEW SLIDE SHOW

President Barack Obama honored the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington on Aug. 28, 2013 at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC….READ MORE
President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the "Let Freedom Ring Commemoration and Call to Action" ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, Aug, 28, 2013.

Political Headlines August 28, 2013: Where Martin Luther King Stood at Lincoln Memorial, President Barack Obama Reframes a Dream for a New Era

POLITICAL HEADLINES

https://historymusings.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/pol_headlines.jpg?w=600

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

Where King Stood, Obama Reframes a Dream for a New Era

Source: NYT, 8-28-13

President Obama commemorated the 50th anniversary on Wednesday of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
Doug Mills/The New York Times

President Obama commemorated the 50th anniversary on Wednesday of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

President Obama stepped into the space where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once spoke and summoned his iconic dream of a colorblind society in a celebration of a half-century of progress….READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency August 28, 2013: President Barack Obama’s Speech at the Let Freedom Ring Ceremony marking the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington & Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” Speech — Transcript

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

FULL TRANSCRIPT: President Obama’s speech on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington

ALeqM5ii7j1nmsE46NWe13HCoigweTZ4Nw

Source: WaPo,  NYT, 8-28-13
Video: During his speech commemorating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, President Obama says that while no one can match Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s brilliance, the spirt from 50 years ago lives on.

President Obama delivered the following remarks at the “Let Freedom Ring” ceremony to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington on Aug. 28, 2013, at the Lincoln Memorial.

Special coverage: March on Washington anniversary

Special coverage: March on Washington anniversary

The latest on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.

Video playlist: Memories of the march

Hear memories of the 1963 march and how it altered the lives of those who attended.

1963 march: Historical photos

1963 march: Historical photos

PHOTOS | The landmark civil rights protest on drew more than 200,000 people to the District.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: To the King family, who have sacrificed and inspired so much, to President Clinton, President Carter, Vice President Biden, Jill, fellow Americans, five decades ago today, Americans came to this honored place to lay claim to a promise made at our founding.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

In 1963, almost 200 years after those words were set to paper, a full century after a great war was fought and emancipation proclaimed, that promise, those truths remained unmet. And so they came by the thousands, from every corner of our country — men and women, young and old, blacks who longed for freedom and whites who could no longer accept freedom for themselves while witnessing the subjugation of others. Across the land, congregations sent them off with food and with prayer. In the middle of the night, entire blocks of Harlem came out to wish them well.

With the few dollars they scrimped from their labor, some bought tickets and boarded buses, even if they couldn’t always sit where they wanted to sit. Those with less money hitchhiked, or walked. They were seamstresses, and steelworkers, and students, and teachers, maids and pullman porters. They shared simple meals and bunked together on floors.

And then, on a hot summer day, they assembled here, in our nation’s capital, under the shadow of the great emancipator, to offer testimony of injustice, to petition their government for redress and to awaken America’s long-slumbering conscience.

We rightly and best remember Dr. King’s soaring oratory that day, how he gave mighty voice to the quiet hopes of millions, how he offered a salvation path for oppressed and oppressors alike. His words belong to the ages, possessing a power and prophecy unmatched in our time.

But we would do well to recall that day itself also belonged to those ordinary people whose names never appeared in the history books, never got on TV.

Many had gone to segregated schools and sat at segregated lunch counters, had lived in towns where they couldn’t vote, in cities where their votes didn’t matter. There were couples in love who couldn’t marry, soldiers who fought for freedom abroad that they found denied to them at home. They had seen loved ones beaten and children fire- hosed. And they had every reason to lash out in anger or resign themselves to a bitter fate.

And yet they chose a different path. In the face of hatred, they prayed for their tormentors. In the face of violence, they stood up and sat in with the moral force of nonviolence. Willingly, they went to jail to protest unjust laws, their cells swelling with the sound of freedom songs. A lifetime of indignities had taught them that no man can take away the dignity and grace that God grants us. They had learned through hard experience what Frederick Douglas once taught: that freedom is not given; it must be won through struggle and discipline, persistence and faith.

That was the spirit they brought here that day.

That was the spirit young people like John Lewis brought that day. That was the spirit that they carried with them like a torch back to their cities and their neighborhoods, that steady flame of conscience and courage that would sustain them through the campaigns to come, through boycotts and voter registration drives and smaller marches, far from the spotlight, through the loss of four little girls in Birmingham, the carnage of Edmund Pettus Bridge and the agony of Dallas, California, Memphis. Through setbacks and heartbreaks and gnawing doubt, that flame of justice flickered and never died.

And because they kept marching, America changed. Because they marched, the civil rights law was passed. Because they marched, the voting rights law was signed. Because they marched, doors of opportunity and education swung open so their daughters and sons could finally imagine a life for themselves beyond washing somebody else’s laundry or shining somebody else’s shoes. (Applause.) Because they marched, city councils changed and state legislatures changed and Congress changed and, yes, eventually the White House changed. (Cheers, applause.)

Because they marched, America became more free and more fair, not just for African-Americans but for women and Latinos, Asians and Native Americans, for Catholics, Jews and Muslims, for gays, for Americans with disabilities.

America changed for you and for me.

And the entire world drew strength from that example, whether it be young people who watched from the other side of an Iron Curtain and would eventually tear down that wall, or the young people inside South Africa who would eventually end the scourge of apartheid. (Applause.) Those are the victories they won, with iron wills and hope in their hearts. That is the transformation that they wrought with each step of their well-worn shoes. That’s the depth that I and millions of Americans owe those maids, those laborers, those porters, those secretaries — folks who could have run a company, maybe, if they had ever had a chance; those white students who put themselves in harm’s way even though they didn’t have to — (applause) — those Japanese- Americans who recalled their own interment, those Jewish Americans who had survived the Holocaust, people who could have given up and given in but kept on keeping on, knowing that weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning — (cheers, applause) — on the battlefield of justice, men and women without rank or wealth or title or fame would liberate us all, in ways that our children now take for granted as people of all colors and creeds live together and learn together and walk together, and fight alongside one another and love one another, and judge one another by the content of our character in this greatest nation on Earth.

To dismiss the magnitude of this progress, to suggest, as some sometimes do, that little has changed — that dishonors the courage and the sacrifice of those who paid the price to march in those years. (Applause.) Medgar Evers, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, Martin Luther King Jr., they did not die in vain. (Applause.) Their victory was great.

But we would dishonor those heroes as well to suggest that the work of this nation is somehow complete. The arc of the moral universe may bend towards justice, but it doesn’t bend on its own. To secure the gains this country has made requires constant vigilance, not complacency. Whether it’s by challenging those who erect new barriers to the vote or ensuring that the scales of justice work equally for all in the criminal justice system and not simply a pipeline from underfunded schools to overcrowded jails — (applause) — it requires vigilance.

(Cheers, applause.)

And we’ll suffer the occasional setback. But we will win these fights. This country has changed too much. (Applause.) People of good will, regardless of party, are too plentiful for those with ill will to change history’s currents. (Applause.)

In some ways, though, the securing of civil rights, voting rights, the eradication of legalized discrimination — the very significance of these victories may have obscured a second goal of the march, for the men and women who gathered 50 years ago were not there in search of some abstract idea. They were there seeking jobs as well as justice — (applause) — not just the absence of oppression but the presence of economic opportunity. For what does it profit a man, Dr. King would ask, to sit at an integrated lunch counter if he can’t afford the meal?

This idea that — that one’s liberty is linked to one’s livelihood, that the pursuit of happiness requires the dignity of work, the skills to find work, decent pay, some measure of material security — this idea was not new.

Lincoln himself understood the Declaration of Independence in such terms, as a promise that in due time, the weights should be lifted from the shoulders of all men and that all should have an equal chance.

Dr. King explained that the goals of African-Americans were identical to working people of all races: decent wages, fair working conditions, livable housing, old age security, health and welfare measures — conditions in which families can grow, have education for their children and respect in the community.

What King was describing has been the dream of every American. It’s what’s lured for centuries new arrivals to our shores. And it’s along this second dimension of economic opportunity, the chance through honest toil to advance one’s station in life, that the goals of 50 years ago have fallen most short.

Yes, there have been examples of success within black America that would have been unimaginable a half-century ago. But as has already been noted, black unemployment has remained almost twice as high as white employment (sic), Latino unemployment close behind. The gap in wealth between races has not lessened, it’s grown.

As President Clinton indicated, the position of all working Americans, regardless of color, has eroded, making the dream Dr. King described even more elusive.

For over a decade, working Americans of all races have seen their wages and incomes stagnate. Even as corporate profits soar, even as the pay of a fortunate few explodes, inequality has steadily risen over the decades. Upward mobility has become harder. In too many communities across this country in cities and suburbs and rural hamlets, the shadow of poverty casts a pall over our youth, their lives a fortress of substandard schools and diminished prospects, inadequate health care and perennial violence.

And so as we mark this anniversary, we must remind ourselves that the measure of progress for those who marched 50 years ago was not merely how many blacks had joined the ranks of millionaires; it was whether this country would admit all people who were willing to work hard, regardless of race, into the ranks of a middle-class life. (Applause.) The test was not and never has been whether the doors of opportunity are cracked a bit wider for a few. It was whether our economic system provides a fair shot for the many, for the black custodian and the white steelworker, the immigrant dishwasher and the Native American veteran. To win that battle, to answer that call — this remains our great unfinished business.

We shouldn’t fool ourselves. The task will not be easy. Since 1963 the economy’s changed.

The twin forces of technology and global competition have subtracted those jobs that once provided a foothold into the middle class, reduced the bargaining power of American workers.

And our politics has suffered. Entrenched interests — those who benefit from an unjust status quo resisted any government efforts to give working families a fair deal, marshaling an army of lobbyists and opinion makers to argue that minimum wage increases or stronger labor laws or taxes on the wealthy who could afford it just to fund crumbling schools — that all these things violated sound economic principles.

We’d be told that growing inequality was the price for a growing economy, a measure of the free market — that greed was good and compassion ineffective, and those without jobs or health care had only themselves to blame.

And then there were those elected officials who found it useful to practice the old politics of division, doing their best to convince middle-class Americans of a great untruth, that government was somehow itself to blame for their growing economic insecurity — that distant bureaucrats were taking their hard-earned dollars to benefit the welfare cheat or the illegal immigrant.

And then, if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that during the course of 50 years, there were times when some of us, claiming to push for change, lost our way. The anguish of assassinations set off self-defeating riots.

Legitimate grievances against police brutality tipped into excuse- making for criminal behavior. Racial politics could cut both ways as the transformative message of unity and brotherhood was drowned out by the language of recrimination. And what had once been a call for equality of opportunity, the chance for all Americans to work hard and get ahead was too often framed as a mere desire for government support, as if we had no agency in our own liberation, as if poverty was an excuse for not raising your child and the bigotry of others was reason to give up on yourself. All of that history is how progress stalled. That’s how hope was diverted. It’s how our country remained divided.

But the good news is, just as was true in 1963, we now have a choice. We can continue down our current path in which the gears of this great democracy grind to a halt and our children accept a life of lower expectations, where politics is a zero-sum game, where a few do very well while struggling families of every race fight over a shrinking economic pie. That’s one path. Or we can have the courage to change.

The March on Washington teaches us that we are not trapped by the mistakes of history, that we are masters of our fate.

But it also teaches us that the promise of this nation will only be kept when we work together. We’ll have to reignite the embers of empathy and fellow feeling, the coalition of conscience that found expression in this place 50 years ago.

And I believe that spirit is there, that true force inside each of us. I see it when a white mother recognizes her own daughter in the face of a poor black child. I see it when the black youth thinks of his own grandfather in the dignified steps of an elderly white man. It’s there when the native born recognizing that striving spirit of a new immigrant, when the interracial couple connects the pain of a gay couple who were discriminated against and understands it as their own. That’s where courage comes from, when we turn not from each other or on each other but towards one another, and we find that we do not walk alone. That’s where courage comes from. (Applause.)

And with that courage, we can stand together for good jobs and just wages. With that courage, we can stand together for the right to health care in the richest nation on earth for every person. (Applause.) With that courage, we can stand together for the right of every child, from the corners of Anacostia to the hills of Appalachia, to get an education that stirs the mind and captures the spirit and prepares them for the world that awaits them. (Applause.) With that courage, we can feed the hungry and house the homeless and transform bleak wastelands of poverty into fields of commerce and promise.

America, I know the road will be long, but I know we can get there. Yes, we will stumble, but I know we’ll get back up. That’s how a movement happens. That’s how history bends. That’s how, when somebody is faint of heart, somebody else brings them along and says, come on, we’re marching. (Cheers, applause.)

There’s a reason why so many who marched that day and in the days to come were young, for the young are unconstrained by habits of fear, unconstrained by the conventions of what is. They dared to dream different and to imagine something better. And I am convinced that same imagination, the same hunger of purpose serves in this generation.

We might not face the same dangers as 1963, but the fierce urgency of now remains. We may never duplicate the swelling crowds and dazzling processions of that day so long ago, no one can match King’s brilliance, but the same flames that lit the heart of all who are willing to take a first step for justice, I know that flame remains. (Applause.)

That tireless teacher who gets to class early and stays late and dips into her own pocket to buy supplies because she believes that every child is her charge — she’s marching. (Applause.) That successful businessman who doesn’t have to, but pays his workers a fair wage and then offers a shot to a man, maybe an ex-con, who’s down on his luck — he’s marching.

(Cheers, applause.) The mother who pours her love into her daughter so that she grows up with the confidence to walk through the same doors as anybody’s son — she’s marching. (Cheers, applause.) The father who realizes the most important job he’ll ever have is raising his boy right, even if he didn’t have a father, especially if he didn’t have a father at home — he’s marching. (Applause.) The battle-scarred veterans who devote themselves not only to helping their fellow warriors stand again and walk again and run again, but to keep serving their country when they come home — they are marching. (Applause.) Everyone who realizes what those glorious patriots knew on that day, that change does not come from Washington but to Washington, that change has always been built on our willingness, we, the people, to take on the mantle of citizenship — you are marching. (Applause.)

And that’s the lesson of our past, that’s the promise of tomorrow, that in the face of impossible odds, people who love their country can change it. And when millions of Americans of every race and every region, every faith and every station can join together in a spirit of brotherhood, then those mountains will be made low, and those rough places will be made plain, and those crooked places, they straighten out towards grace, and we will vindicate the faith of those who sacrificed so much and live up to the true meaning of our creed as one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. (Cheers, applause.)

Political Headlines August 28, 2013: Former President Bill Clinton praises Martin Luther King, implores people to ‘push open those stubborn gates holding America back”

POLITICAL HEADLINES

https://historymusings.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/pol_headlines.jpg?w=600

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

Clinton praises King, implores people to ‘push open those stubborn gates holding America back”

Source: Washington Post, 8-28-13

For President Bill Clinton, this day 50 years ago in the shadows of the Lincoln Memorial, marks “one of the most important days in American history.” Clinton joined President Barack Obama and the family of Martin Luther King Jr. Wednesday….READ MORE

Political Headlines August 28, 2013: Former President Jimmy Carter pays tribute to Martin Luther King, says nation still has a ‘tremendous agenda’ ahead

POLITICAL HEADLINES

https://historymusings.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/pol_headlines.jpg?w=600

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

Carter pays tribute to King, says nation still has a ‘tremendous agenda’ ahead

Source: Washington Post, 8-28-13

Former President Jimmy Carter is paying tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. on this historic anniversary, even as he extols the nation to continue to work for a better America. Carter joined members of the King family as well as President Barack Obama….READ MORE

History Buzz August 28, 2013: 9 things about MLK’s speech and the March on Washington

HISTORY BUZZ: HISTORY NEWS RECAP

History Buzz

HISTORY BUZZ: HISTORY NEWS RECAP

9 things about MLK’s speech and the March on Washington

Source: CNN, 8-28-13

martin-luther-king-i-have-a-dream-speech

“I have a dream this afternoon that my four little children will not come up in the same young days that I came up within, but they will be judged on the basis of the content of their character, not the color of their skin.” The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr….READ MORE

Political Headlines August 28, 2013: President Barack Obama Commemorates 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington

POLITICAL HEADLINES

https://historymusings.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/pol_headlines.jpg?w=600

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

Obama Commemorates 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington

AFP/Getty Images

Wednesday marks the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and the “I Have a Dream” speech delivered by civil rights icon, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

It was King’s stirring and historic address at the Lincoln Memorial that electrified the crowd of 250,000 and helped pave the way for laws ending segregation and other indignities suffered by blacks that stretched back to the 17th century when they were first brought to the country as slaves….READ MORE

On This Day in History… August 28, 1963: 50th Anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr. delivering his famous “I Have a Dream” Speech at the Lincoln Memorial

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY

HISTORY, NEWS & POLITICS

HISTORY & POLITICAL HEADLINES

“I Have a Dream”: The 50th Anniversary of Martin Luther King’s Famous Speech

By

 
On This Day in History… August 28, 1963: 50th Anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr. delivering his famous “I Have a Dream” Speech at the Lincoln Memorial, during the March on Washington
 
martin-luther-king-i-have-a-dream-speech

Fifty years ago this week, on August 28, 1963, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his famous “I Have a Dream Speech” on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. He spoke to a crowd of more than 200,000 people who had come to the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, in what was one of the largest demonstrations the capital had ever seen. The speech has become part of our collective American memory, our national canon. We have all heard its cadences, its most famous lines, but rare is the opportunity or time to read the speech in full. To commemorate the occasion, to honor King’s memory and the continued work of the civil rights movement, we give you “I Have a Dream” as the latest in our primary text series. –The Editors

Download the Audio mp3 of Address

KING

Martin Luther King, Jr.: I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago a great American in whose symbolic shadow we stand today signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity. But 100 years later the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself in exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.”

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we’ve come to cash this check—a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God’s children. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time!

Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children. It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment and to underestimate the determination of the Negro. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality—1963 is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual.

There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the worn threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny.

They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone. And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied. As long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their self-hood and robbed of their dignity for whites only. We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.

Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racist, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day, this will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning, “My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.”

And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!

Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!

But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

For the speech sources, we used the text of the National Archives, cross-referenced with audio of the event kept at Stanford University. 

%d bloggers like this: