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Speech of Rep. John Lewis
50th Anniversary March on Washington Commemoration – U.S. Capitol
WASHINGTON—Today the U.S. Congress held its commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. House and Senate leadership spoke and Rep. John Lewis was the keynote speaker. His statement follows:
When I look back on August 28, 1963, the day of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, I see it as one of this nation’s finest hours. The American people pushed and pulled, they struggled, suffered, and some even died, to demonstrate their desire to see a more fair, more just society.
Their effort and their commitment ushered in a spirit of bipartisanship, collaboration and meaningful change into the Congress, and that period became one of the finest hours of American democracy. As Members of Congress who represent all the people of this country, we owe it to ourselves to take a moment to contemplate the meaning of this 50th anniversary.
What it will take for us to come together and make that kind of progress for the American people once again?
In 1963 leading up to the March on Washington, there had been an unbelievable amount of action on the part of the Movement. People were sitting-in at lunch counters, standing-in at theaters. They were beaten, arrested and jailed by the hundreds and thousands by state and local government officials. Medgar Evers had been assassinated in June of 1963 by agents of hate allowed to run rampant in Mississippi.
Eugene “Bull” Connor, the Commissioner of Public Safety for the city of Birmingham, had used fire hoses and police dogs on women and children involved in peaceful, non-violent protest. Martin Luther King Jr., Rev. Ralph Abernathy, Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth and other leaders had been arrested and jailed.
In 1963, millions of American citizens could not register to vote simply because of the color of their skin. Lawyers, doctors, college professors, high school principals, maids, butlers, sharecroppers and tenant farmers stood in unmovable lines all across the South just trying to register to vote.
Intimidation and fear surrounded the democratic process. People were afraid of losing their jobs, being run off their land, being beat or even killed for trying to register to vote. How did a society, committed to liberty and justice, allow the idea to take hold that the differences between us have some bearing on the value of human life?
Those of us in the movement made a decision that we had to do what we could, give our very lives if necessary, to demonstrate that those kinds of ideas are not true. The morning of the march we met with Democratic and Republican leaders right here on Capitol Hill on the House and Senate side.
If you come to my office, you will see a photo of the end of our meeting with Senator Everett Dirksen, a Republican who played a major role in helping to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And the only member still here who voted for that act is the dean of this Congress and my dear friend, Rep. John Dingell.
The plan was that we would leave the Senate, walk down Constitution Avenue and lead people to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. But when we stepped out into the streets, we saw hundreds and thousands of people pouring out of Union Station.
They were black and white, Latino, Asian and Native American. There were members of every faith, speakers of many different languages. American citizens, especially those living in Europe, came from abroad to participate. Celebrities were there, but mostly there were countless and nameless thousands of ordinary people with extraordinary vision who came.
They wanted to bear witness to the truth that we are one people, one family, the human family. We are one people, one house, the American house. We were supposed to be leading them, but they were already marching.
At that moment, the people were leading us and they literally pushed us down Constitution Avenue up to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
About that time another colleague of ours, Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, then a distinguished law student was probably already on the mall working as a volunteer for march organizer Bayard Rustin. Two months before the march, members of the so-called Big Six civil rights organizations met with President John F. Kennedy at the White House. Just days before, I had been elected chair of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, and meeting with the President was my first official act. It was at that meeting that A. Philip Randolph, the founder of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and the dean of our delegation, told President Kennedy that we were going to march on Washington.
The President was concerned. He started twisted and turning in his chair. He asked us whether we thought there would be violence. Mr. Randolph said in his baritone voice, “Mr. President this will be a peaceful, nonviolent protest.”
Public officials were not so sure. Six thousand police were deployed in Washington. 15 thousand troopers were surrounding the city. Liquor sales were banned, a major league baseball game was cancelled, and police even rigged our sound system so they could pull the plug if necessary.
But a spirit had engulfed the leadership of the Movement and the participants. People came to that march like they were on their way to a religious service, like they were going to a camp meeting. As Mahalia Jackson sang, “How We Got Over,” she drew thousands of us together, and in a strange sense it seemed like the whole place started rocking. Somehow and some way, the philosophy of peace, love, and non-violence had been instilled in the very being of all the participants.
We truly believed that in every human being–even those who were violent toward us–there was a spark of the divine, and no person had the right to scar or destroy that spark. We had a right to protest for what was right, Dr. King would say.
We had a right to demand that this nation respect the dignity and the worth of every human being. People were moved and inspired by that vision of justice and equality, and they were willing to put their very lives on the line for a cause greater than themselves.
Dr. King inspired all of us that day with words that embodied what we all believed. He was the last speaker, but I was number six. I was the young upstart who said, “We march today for jobs and freedom, but we have nothing to be proud of for hundreds and thousands of our brothers are not here for they are receiving starvation wages or no wages at all….
Near the end of my speech I said, “Where is our party? Where is the political party that will make it unnecessary to march on Washington?”
I said, “We must seek more than civil rights; we must work for the community of love, peace and true brotherhood. Our minds, souls and hearts cannot rest until freedom and justice exist for all people.”
We have come a great distance since that day, but many of the issues that gave rise to that march are still pressing needs in our society—violence, poverty, hunger, long-term unemployment, homelessness, voting rights, and the need to protect human dignity.
We have come a great distance, but we are not finished yet. We still need to usher in a revolution of values, a revolution of ideas. We still need to find a way to humanize our political institutions, our businesses and our system of education.
50 years later, those of us who are committed to the cause of justice need to pace ourselves because our struggle does not last for one day, one week or one year, but it is the struggle of a lifetime, and each generation must do its part. There will be progress, but there will also be setbacks. We must continue to have hope and be steeled in our faith that this nation will one day become a truly multiracial democracy.
But until that day we must continue to work. We must not give up or give in, but keep the faith. And when we see people hurting and suffering, we must be ready to take action. We must have a sense of urgency to use the power granted us to help end human suffering.
What the March on Washington is saying to us today is that we are at our best as a people and as a Congress when we understand that our differences do not divide us. We will be at our best when we finally accept that we are one people, one family, the American family. We all live in the same house, the American house, the world house.
It is saying that no one but no one is worthless and that everyone can make a contribution. The March on Washington is saying to us today that we, as a nation and as a people, can come together. We can unite for the common good. We can believe again in that divine spark within us all to use the authority granted us to accomplish great things for all Americans and not just for some.
After the march was over when the speeches were done, when the singing had finished, President Kennedy invited us all to the White House and he was standing in the door of the Oval Office beaming. He looked like a proud father. He shook each of our hands and said, “You did a good job….
“You did a good job. And to Martin Luther King Jr. he said, “And you had a dream.” Let’s continue the work that has already begun to build a Beloved Community, a nation and a world community at peace with itself that values the dignity and the worth of every citizen and every human being. Thank you.
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 31, 2013
Statement by the President on the Confirmation of Todd Jones as the Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives
Todd Jones is a tough and tested law-enforcement professional with decades of experience, and his confirmation to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is both welcome and long overdue. For nearly seven years, Senate Republicans had refused to confirm an ATF director – not because they thought the nominees weren’t qualified, but because they put politics ahead of the agency’s law enforcement mission.
I applaud Senator Reid, Senator Leahy, Senator Klobuchar, and the bipartisan group of senators who broke through that gridlock to give Todd Jones the up or down vote he deserved. But while Todd’s confirmation will help ATF apply the tools it needs to protect our communities from dangerous criminals and reduce gun violence, we can’t stop there. I will continue to stand with the majority of Americans who support common-sense reforms to keep dangerous weapons out of the hands of criminals. And I will continue to do everything in my power to keep our children and our communities safe.
By: April Ryan, aprildryan.com
President Obama announced the latest components of his Economic plans with a visit to the Republican city of Chattanooga, Tennessee. As the President was in red territory, he spoke to a packed house of 2,000 at the Amazon facility.
The latest installment of the Obama economic speeches are not being received well by GOP Hill leaders. They are upset with the proposal feeling some small businesses will be left behind. The President also hit a nerve with Republicans when he said, “an oil pipeline coming down from Canada that’s estimated to create about 50 permanent jobs — that’s not a jobs plan.”
At the end of the President’s remarks, House Speaker John Boehner tweeted his response with a link to infrastructure construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.
Also during the Presidents speech today, Obama asked, “How bout a Grand Bargain for Middle Class jobs?” The President said he is willing to work with Republicans to reform the Corporate Tax Code with any savings earmarked to create Middle Class jobs through infrastructure building.
As the partisan haggling continues, the national June overall unemployment rate stood at 7.6 % and the Chattanooga unemployment rate in April 2013 stood at 8.4%. The June 2013 African-American unemployment rate stands at 13.7 %. At the Amazon facility, the President discussed some of the newest components that included helping those who have been unemployed for more than six months. The President discussed Tuesday, “Lets do more to help the more than 4 million long term unemployed.”
According to the White House, this Fall, President Obama will convene CEOs and others who are joining together to put in place best practices for training, recruiting and hiring the long-term unemployed. The President will be pulling together the private sector, non-profits and government for the effort.
Cheryl Franklin Key of the John P. Franklin Funeral Home, Chattanooga’s first black funeral home, believes the President’s idea is “awesome” to retrain the long term unemployed as “it benefits everybody” especially if they need to be retrained in an new field of employment. Franklin-Key adds, “The retraining of the employees who have been out for that long seems to be something that should be looked into very seriously, because the jobs that are available now verses the jobs that were available when they left or lost their jobs or could no longer work, I mean, there could be a huge difference there that could be a huge gap in there skills verses what is marketable and needed today.”
Roderick Harrison of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies finds, “The long-term unemployed are, in fact, one of the most important reasons that the recovery has been so slow.” The matter is cyclical according to Harrison, “Although the number of long-term unemployed (unemployed greater than 6 months) has declined by about a million from its peaks, this still represents one of the gravest threats in the very slow economy. Employers are less likely to hire the long-term unemployed than workers with shorter unemployment spells, and even those new to the labor force, and these workers [who] draw ever closer to becoming unable to support themselves and their families. The nation and local economies, at the same time, suffer from the lost wages that these workers can no longer spend on goods and services requiring the employment of other workers.”
No matter short term or long term, a job loss has a heavy personal impact. Some have been filling in the gap for some who fall on hard times with a job loss. In Chattanooga, the President’s plan has the support of Pastor Emeritus Virgil J. Caldwell, of New Monumental Baptist Church, a predominately black congregation of about 500 persons. Caldwell says His churches benevolent offerings have helped many parishioners after job losses saying, “The basic necessities of life, food, shelter and clothing…they needed their immediate concerns met.” Like other churches in the nation, many of the efforts are short term to pay “rent, light bill, and water bill.”
By: April Ryan, aprildryan.com
President Obama is dealing with an issue he is said to “care” a lot about, Voting Rights. President Obama convened a Roosevelt Room meeting with the the National Council of La Raza, The National Urban League, the National Action Network and The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
Participants are looking at ways to rework efforts to ensure everyone the right to vote without being discriminated against after the United States Supreme Court struck down a provision in the Voting rights Act. Democratic Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are trying to figure our a way to draft a bill that prevents discrimination in voting after last months decision. The White House says it is a “bi partisan support” for the right to vote.
The Rev. Al Sharpton offered these remarks regarding the meeting:
Marc Morial, President of the National Urban League and Janet Murguía, President and CEO of NCLR provided these remarks:
Reverend Al Sharpton says the meeting with President Barack Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder and the new Labor Secretary Tom Perez was “candid.” The meeting started out on issues of job creation but the focal point was Voting Rights after the Supreme Court decision striking down Section 4. Reverend Al Sharpton left the meeting and told reporters there is a “wound in the Voting Rights Act and it is far from dead.”
The White House contends the President and the Attorney General are working aggressively to push Sections 2 and 3 of the Voting Rights Act as there are efforts on the Hill to fix formulations of Section 4 after the Supreme Court decision.
The President saw a cross section of leaders from African Americans, to Hispanics to Asians, and Native Americans in the Roosevelt Room of the West Wing. The leaders and White House officials say this is a matter affects everyone. An example of the statement is that 1 in 3 Latinos live in areas covered by the Voting Rights Act.
Moving the issue forward, the bi partisan question now, what states will be designated in the new Congressional drafting of the new Voting Rights map. Laura Murphy of the ACLU says “My wish list would be that any jurisdiction that had a recent history of voting discrimination be put on the list, regardless of whether they were previously covered under section 5 or not. Because we’ve seen problems in Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota- with Native Americans and Arizona.”
Following the meeting, Rev. Sharpton had these remarks: