THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
|For Immediate Release|| ||November 6, 1998|
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT AT SIGNING CEREMONY
DESIGNATING LITTLE ROCK CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL
A NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE
The South Lawn
11:43 A.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. You know, whenErnie was up here introducing me, I remembered that he was the onlysenior among the Little Rock Nine. He graduated in the spring in1958, and when they called him up to receive his diploma, the wholeauditorium was quiet, not a single person clapped -- but we're allclapping for you today. (Applause.)
I would like to thank all the members of the Little RockNine who are here, including Elizabeth Eckford, Carlotta LaNier,Jefferson Thomas, Minnijean Trickey, Terrence Roberts. MelbaPattillo Beals is not here. Gloria Ray Karlmark is not here. ThelmaMothershed Wair is not here. I think we should give all of themanother hand. (Applause.)
I would like to thank Congressman Elijah Cummings,Congressman Gregory Meeks for coming; Mayor Woodrow Stanley of Flint,Michigan; Commissioner Edna Bell, the president of the NationalAssociation of Black County Officials, from Wayne County, Michigan.I'd like to thank and welcome the Mayor-elect of Washington, D.C.,Anthony Williams. (Applause.)
I told him I'd be for more federal aid if he'd teach mehow to tie a bow tie. I never learned how to do that. (Applause.)
I would like to thank Secretary of Transportation RodneySlater and the Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt for theirpresence and leadership. (Applause.) And I would like to say aspecial word of welcome and profound appreciation for his historicrole in Tuesday's historic turnout of voters, to Reverend JesseJackson. Welcome, sir, we're delighted to have you here.(Applause.)
I thank the United States Marine Band, as always, fortheir great performance, on the occasion of John Philip Sousa's birthanniversary. And let me say a special word of welcome again to theWhite House to the magnificent young people of Eastern High SchoolChoir from Washington, D.C. Thank you. (Applause.)
Let me say, since we are here to talk about ourreconciliation, I hope you will forgive me for taking just a moment-- and I know I speak for all Americans who are here -- to express mysympathy to the people of Israel, who this morning were once againthe target of a vicious terrorist attack. No nation should liveunder the threat of violence and terror that they live under everyday.
When Prime Minister Netanyahu and Chairman Arafat signedthe Wye River Agreement, they knew they would face this moment. They knewwhen they went home both of them would be under more danger and theterrorists would target innocent civilians. They knew they wouldhave to muster a lot of courage in their people to stick to the pathof peace in the face of repeated acts of provocation.
There are some people, you know, who have a big stake inthe continuing misery and hatred in the Middle East, and indeedeverywhere else in this whole world, just like some people had a bigstake in continuing it in Little Rock over 40 years ago.
I ask for your prayers and support today for theIsraelis and the Palestinians who believe in this agreement and whoare determined to carry out their responsibilities and who understandthat the agreement is the best way to protect the safety of theIsraeli people. It was tenaciously negotiated, hard fought, but itis the best way to safety for the Israelis, the best way to achievethe aspirations of the Palestinians, and in the end, the only answerto today's act of criminal terror. I hope you will all feel that inyour heart. (Applause.)
Let me say, this is a very, very happy day for thepeople who were part of the Little Rock Nine experience, for thepeople of Little Rock, all the Arkansans who are here, AfricanAmericans from throughout our country. There was an earlierreference made by Congressman Bennie Thompson -- and I thank him forhis outstanding leadership in this endeavor and for his fine remarkstoday -- about the election.
Now, most of the publicity about the election has beenthe enormous turnout of African American citizens in a midtermelection that resulted in the victories that have been wellpublicized for non-African American elected officials. And havingbeen one of those on several occasions, I am immensely grateful.(Laughter.) But what has received less publicity that I would liketo point out, because this too was a part of the road that the LittleRock Nine began to walk for us, is that on Tuesday in the state ofGeorgia, an African American was elected the Attorney General of thestate, an African American was elected to the labor commission of thestate. (Applause.)
And in the South on Tuesday, African AmericanCongressmen were reelected in majority white districts, with largemajorities -- large majorities. (Applause.) That is a part of theroad we have walked together, a part of what we celebrate today.
There are so many here who played a role in it. Onemore person I would be remiss if I did not recognize, that Hillaryand I love so much and are so grateful to, is the wonderful Dr.Dorothy Height. Thank you for being here. Let's give her a bighand. (Applause.) Thank you and bless you.
Ladies and gentlemen, there is only one bittersweetelement in this magnificent moment for Hillary and for me, and thatis that we are celebrating the last piece of legislation passed byour good friend Dale Bumpers. We have walked a lot of steps togethersince I first met Dale Bumpers about 25 years ago when he wasGovernor. And we've had a lot of laughs at each other's expense.After I became President, just to make sure that I didn't get a bighead, he went around Washington introducing me to people as thesecond-best Governor Arkansas ever had. (Laughter.) Today I toldhim that I hadn't much time to review my remarks, and thereforehadn't had the opportunity to delete all the nice things that hadbeen written for me to say about him. (Laughter.)
But I do want to tell you that this is a trulyastonishing public servant. Hillary and I admire him, admire hiswife Betty, admire the things that he's stood for and she's stoodfor, and we will miss them. Last month, in a final and, as always,brilliant speech on the Senate floor, Dale mentioned an inspiringteacher who once stopped him when he was reading out loud and said tothe whole class, "Doesn't he have a nice voice. Wouldn't it betragic if he didn't use that talent?"
I think it's fair to say that Dale Bumpers has done histeacher proud -- (applause) -- because he used that eloquent,impassioned voice to make sure that all the children of his state andour nation could make use of their God-given talents.
We owe him an enormous debt of gratitude for his nearlyfive decades of caring, often courageous public service, and I cannotthank him enough.
The bill that Senator Bumpers and Congressman Thompsonhave presented to me for signature today recognizes the courage ofthe Little Rock Nine and that of their parents, their leaders, theircommunity leaders, especially our great friend, Daisy Bates, whocould not be here today.
Because of all of them, Central High has become ahallowed place, a place every bit as sacred as Gettysburg andIndependence Hall. Interestingly enough, back in the 1920s, it wasvoted the most beautiful school in America. It is still afunctioning school -- very much so. There are some years when itsstudents comprise 25 percent of our state's entire roster of NationalMerit Scholars. It's a place where children can still go and studyGreek and Latin, something that's rare in all school districtsthroughout America. It is, I believe, about to become the only open,fully operating school that is a National Historic Site.
As Ernie said, Hillary and I welcomed the Little RockNine back to Little Rock on the 30th anniversary of the integrationof Little Rock Central High School. Then I was profoundly honored tohold open the door of the school so they could walk through on the40th anniversary. Today I was able to welcome them all to the WhiteHouse to the Oval Office and now on the South Lawn.
On the fateful day they stepped into Central High Schooland were removed by the police, President Eisenhower was on vacationin Newport. When he learned what had happened to them, and thatGovernor Faubus had turned over the streets to the mob, he realizedthat -- even as a conservative -- the federal government had to act.The next day he flew back to the White House. His helicopter landedjust a few steps from here. He had just ordered General MaxwellTaylor to put the might of the 101st Airborne Division behind theirrighteous march through the doors of Central High.
Now, thanks to Senator Bumpers and Congressman Thompson,and many others, as they said, our nation has found two very fittingways to honor that march to ensure that the memory of the Little RockNine and all they represent remains alive long after those of us withliving memories are gone.
As part of the budget I signed two weeks ago, I wasauthorized to confer Congressional Gold Medals, the highest civilianhonor the Congress can bestow, on each and every member of the LittleRock Nine. It was only a few months ago that we presented PresidentNelson Mandela with that same award, and he spoke so movingly of hislong struggle to tear down the walls of apartheid. The Little RockNine broke through the doors of apartheid.
I can't wait until the artists finish creating yourmedals and we can bestow them upon you, an honor you richly deserve.And then of course the main reason we're here today is to make aliving monument forever out of the setting of your struggle.
Again, I thank Senator Bumpers and all the others. Thebill will allow the National Park Service to work with the communityto maintain and protect Central High's magnificent building. It willalso allow the Park Service to start acquiring land in thesurrounding neighborhood to create new facilities where people canlearn about the origins and the aftermath of the 1957 crisis --
topics that simply can't be fully explored in the existing visitorcenter's limited space.
Children will never fully understand what youexperienced in 1957. Maybe that's not such a bad thing. But theyneed to know. And now, for all time to come, children will have anopportunity to walk the stairs you walked, to see the angry faces youbraved, to learn of your sacrifice, and about what, as a result ofyour sacrifice, you, your fellow Arkansans, and your nation havebecome. Perhaps they will even see what it was about the Little Rockconfrontation that made racial equality a driving obsession for somany of us who were young at the time and seared by it.
Again, I want to thank you for staying together overthese 40-plus years now, for being willing to show up and be counted,and to remind us, for showing us the shining example of your lives sothat we could never forget all those who went before you who neverhad the chance that you gave to all who came after.
Monuments and medals are important reminders of how farwe have come, but it is not enough. The doors of our schools areopen, but some of them are falling off their rusty hinges. And manyof them are failing the students inside.
The economy has never been stronger, but there are stillstriking disparities in jobs, in investments in neighborhoods, ineducation and criminal justice. Still too many break down along whatW.E.B. Du Bois first called the color line. And while the LittleRock Nine have enjoyed great success in business, in the media, ineducation, they can tell you that in spite of what we celebrated onTuesday, there is still discrimination and hatred in the hearts ofsome Americans.
All of that we found in our Presidential Initiative onRace, and we must never forget that it is our continuing obligationto the Little Rock Nine and all others who brought us to this pointto fight this battle.
The last point I want to make to you is that the face ofAmerica is changing, and changing fast. I went to an elementaryschool last Saturday to talk about the need to build and modernizeour schools. There were children from 24 nations there. Theprincipal said, Mr. President, we're so glad to have you here withall the parents here; I only wish that we could have translated yourtalk into Spanish and Arabic.
America is changing, and it is good thing, if weremember to live by the ideals on which this country was founded, ifwe remember the sacrifices of the Little Rock Nine, if we listen toour teachers like Dr. John Hope Franklin. We, in other words, have awhole new chapter in the nation's march to equality to write.
Remember what Senator Bumpers' teacher said: Wouldn'tit be tragic if he didn't use that talent. That's exactly what thestruggle for one America is all about, because that is a questionthat should be asked of every single child in our country.(Applause.)
When we ask that question with the Little Rock Nine inmind, it helps us to keep our eyes on the prize, the prize of trueequality and true freedom, that ever elusive, always worth seeking,more perfect union.
These people that we honor today, in the school we savetoday for all time, have given us all a great and treasured gift.May God bless them and the United States. Thank you very much.