REMARKS by MRS. GORE
PHILADELPHIA MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. ASSOCIATION LUNCHEON
JANUARY 18, 1999
Thank you, Dr. Tucker, for that kind introduction and thank you for your friendship. Whether as president of the Philadelphia Martin Luther King, Jr., Association or as president & CEO of the National Political Caucus of Black Women, you have contributed your strong voice and caring heart to improving the lives of all Americans.
I would also like to acknowledge and thank Mayor Ed Rendell for the warm personal friendship he and his wife Midge have extended to Al and me, and for his leadership on behalf of the people of Philadelphia. I would like to especially thank him for taking up President Clinton's challenge to make this holiday a national day of service by mobilizing tens-of-thousands of Philadelphia citizens into service projects all across the city.
I would also like to acknowledge all of the state and local elected officials who have joined us here today.
Ladies and gentlemen, the national holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., has always been a special day for the Vice President and me. Last year, the Vice President had the pleasure of joining the King family in Atlanta, Georgia and speaking from the pulpit of Ebenezer Baptist Church. It was one of the greatest honors of his public life. I am equally honored to join you today for the only nationally designated celebration for Dr. King outside of Atlanta.
It is a fitting tribute to Dr. King that we celebrate his life and legacy in the city of Philadelphia where our nation's founding principles were established. Dr. King believed in the American dream. He both witnessed and experienced much of what was wrong with America -- the indignity of segregated schools and housing, the injustice of being denied the right to vote, and the violent terror of church bombings and cross burnings -- but he never lost his faith in what was right with America. Accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, Dr. King said: "I accept this award today with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind.....I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality."
Dr. King understood that America was founded on the ideal that freedom and opportunity are the natural birthright of all men and women. He understood that America's mission is to keep that ideal alive -- and to prove that men and women of all races and ethnic backgrounds, and all faiths and creeds, can work and live together and create a more perfect union.
But Dr. King also understood that the American dream would not be achieved without hard work and sacrifice. Men and women of all races and religions had to come together, roll up their sleeves, and defeat the demons of racism, intolerance, and hatred plaguing the soul of our country.
I know we are all inspired by, and share in, Dr. King's faith in America and his ability to understand that the ideals that bind us together are ultimately stronger than the forces that pull us apart.
Harnessing the strength of our racial and cultural diversity, and building One America, is one of the Clinton/Gore Administration's highest priorities and a deeply personal commitment shared by President Clinton, First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, my husband Vice President Al Gore and me.
In fact, the Vice President learned some early lessons in the importance of justice and equality from his father, Senator Albert Gore, Sr. One day, one of the Senator's constituents who did not share his belief in racial justice and equality dropped by his office. In colorful terms, the man told Senator Gore that he did not want to eat with African Americans, he did not want to live with African Americans, and he did not want his children to go to school with African Americans.
In response, my father-in-law gently asked the man, "Do you want to go to heaven with African Americans?"
Realizing that we all share a common destiny is one of the first steps along the road to racial harmony and One America. Dr. King's teachings help Americans realize that when one of our brothers or sisters is held down by the weight of racism and intolerance, we all lose individually and collectively.
Dr. King's life continues to teach us that with courage, vision and determination, every one of us has the power to help change the course of our nation and the world. I am most inspired by Dr. King's ability to motivate children and young people and instill in them the notion that they can make a difference in our nation's life by taking action.
As many of you know, following a courageous act of defiance by one of America's greatest heroines, Rosa Parks, Dr. King organized the Montgomery bus boycott at age twenty-six. His home was bombed by the opponents of integration at age twenty-seven. And, he won his first major battle by integrating Montgomery's buses less than a month before his twenty-eighth birthday. And throughout his life -- leading freedom marches down our city streets or preaching from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial -- Dr. King mobilized an entire generation of children and young people in the movement for racial equality.
My good friend Representative John Lewis often tells the story of how he first discovered Dr. King as a teenager. One Sunday morning in 1955, he was listening to the radio and heard the voice of a young preacher he had never heard before but whose message made him sit bolt upright with amazement. Representative Lewis said Dr. King's words gave voice to everythinghe had been feeling and trying to figure out about the racism and oppression he experienced every day as a young man in Alabama.
As we all know, John Lewis went on to adopt Dr. King's principles of non-violent social action, lead the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and most recently, serve the people of Georgia, and America, in the United States House of Representatives.
Dr. King believed that involving children and students in the civil rights movement was one of the wisest decisions he ever made. He would tell the story of an eight-year old girl who walked proudly with her mother in a demonstration. An amused policeman leaned down to her and said with mock gruffness: "What do you want?"
The child looked into his eyes.....unafraid....and gave her answer.
"Freedom," she said.
So often, it is children whose pure and clear way of seeing the world boils even the most complicated, controversial issues down to simple and powerful truths. And so often, it is children who touch the soul of a country and change the hearts and minds of men and women forever.
How can we forget the powerful images of young children facing the punishing spray of the fireman's hose for adding their small voices to freedom's struggle; or the dignified bravery of the Little Rock Nine who struck a powerful blow to segregation; or the eager college students who braved verbal taunts and physical violence to advance integration through sit-ins and freedom rides?
How can we forget the children who paid the ultimate sacrifice for the freedom we enjoy today. On this day when we remember the life and sacrifice of Dr. Martin Luther King, I would like to pause and remember the lives of young people like Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carol Robertson and Cynthia Wesley whose lives were cut short by a bombing as they worshiped inside Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. I would like to remember civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Mickey Schwerner whose lives were cut short because they decided to spend the carefree years of their early twenties challenging the status quo and helping African American men and women register to vote and take their rightful places at the table of American democracy.
As we honor the bravery and sacrifice of young people such as these, and the life of Dr. King, I would like to ask each of you to join me in renewing our determination to make sure that all of our children feel loved and valued -- that all our children know they have an important role to play in the life of our country -- and that all of our children have the same opportunity to make the most of their God-given potential.
It has been an honor to join President Clinton, First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, and my husband, Vice President Al Gore, these past six years in working across racial, cultural and party lines to improve the lives of America's children. Whether it is making the largest investment in children's health care -- including mental health care -- since 1965; or providing Head Start opportunities to over 800,000 children; or fighting to help over one-million children participate in safe and fun after school programs; or helping open the doors of college to every young person in America, we are committed to working with you so that every child can learn, grow and make the most of their lives.
And just today, my husband was privileged to announce on behalf of the Administration that the Clinton-Gore Administration will seek a total of $663 million for civil rights enforcement in the Fiscal Year 2000 budget -- an increase of 15 percent over last year's funding levels. These funds will help ensure that no American is denied a job, a home, or an education because of their race, color, creed, gender or religion.
I am especially pleased today to be joined by one of our strongest partners in Washington, Philadelphia's own, Representative Chaka Fattah. Congressman Fattah's vision and advocacy created one of our most innovative programs aimed at children and young people --
GEAR-UP. For the few of you here who have not had the amazing experience of hearing Congressman Fattah's talk about this remarkable program, GEAR-UP is a new initiative that we fought for in last year's budget. Today, GEAR-UP is helping to create new mentoring partnerships between colleges and middle schools to help students from low income families succeed in school and prepare for college.
GEAR-UP is a shining example of what is best about America -- that people of all races and backgrounds can come together to help lift up our young people. Who knows, the mentoring partnerships created by this program may one day touch the life of a child who will go on to become the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., of the 21st Century -- and I wish her well.
I would like to end with a story that Dr. King liked to tell about the power of community spirit to change the world. Trying to better understand why students were drawn to the civil rights movement, he asked a student to find a quotation expressing his feelings for the struggle. One morning, Dr. King found this poem on his desk:
I sought my soul, but my soul I could not see;
I sought my God, but he eluded me;
I sought my brother, and I found all three.
Ladies and gentlemen, I think we should all have this poem on our desks -- and in our hearts --every day. And we should be proud that Americans from all walks of life -- from the President of the United States to your next door neighbor -- are reaching out to one another, coming together, and realizing that building One America is our country's greatest challenge and greatest opportunity as we head into the 21st Century. Thank you for doing your part. And thank you forgiving me the opportunity to join you today to honor this great American.