President Obama is among the speakers at the grand opening of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall. The ceremony also features readings and musical performances.
President Obama’s remarks, and the full text of his speech, are below.
Links to coverage and commentary on the the event are below and in the comments.
Harlem has multiple and layered meanings in our world of black art, history, and socio-political activism. Recent events surrounding attempts to rescue and preserve Langston Hughes’ Harlem brownstone from encroaching gentrification raise questions, and hopefully will evoke more interest in a powerful legacy that should be preserved for us all—no matter our race or location.
(From WikiMedia: clockwise from top left, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Carol Denise McNair)
These girls were killed for one reason: hatred of the color of their skin.
We are often called upon to forgive (and forget – now that we are post-racial!) but these four girls should never be forgotten and their murderers should never be set free.
Say their names:
– Addie Mae Collins
– Cynthia Wesley
– Carole Robertson
– Carol Denise McNair
We must never again allow racism and bigotry to be accepted as the norm. We must forcefully reject a political party, the Republican Party, where politicians who embrace the rhetoric of white supremacy can be nominated for the highest office in the land. Reject hatred, reject bigotry, reject Republicans.
The only way to end discrimination is to keep the power to make laws out of the hands of those who do not recognize the worth of every person.
Vote. And then when you finish voting, help someone else to vote.
Yesterday, Elie Wiesel, Nobel laureate and witness to the horrors of the Holocaust, died at the age of 87. As his words filled the news feeds, in images and text, the reminder of the horrors of state sponsored hate resonated with many who are watching the rise of Trumpism and the Republican Party’s cynical political choices that enables it.
… if we forget, we are guilty, we are accomplices …
I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.
On what we owe those who are denied justice and dignity:
One person – a Raoul Wallenberg, an Albert Schweitzer, one person of integrity, can make a difference, a difference of life and death. As long as one dissident is in prison, our freedom will not be true. As long as one child is hungry, our lives will be filled with anguish and shame. What all these victims need above all is to know that they are not alone; that we are not forgetting them, that when their voices are stifled we shall lend them ours, that while their freedom depends on ours, the quality of our freedom depends on theirs. […]
Our lives no longer belong to us alone; they belong to all those who need us desperately.
In June, 2009, President Obama and Elie Wiesel visited the site of the Nazi extermination camp at Buchenwald.
President Obama, seven years ago, still true:
… to this day, there are those who perpetuate every form of intolerance — racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, xenophobia, sexism, and more — hatred that degrades its victims and diminishes us all. In this century, we’ve seen genocide. We’ve seen mass graves and the ashes of villages burned to the ground; children used as soldiers and rape used as a weapon of war. This places teaches us that we must be ever vigilant about the spread of evil in our own time, that we must reject the false comfort that others’ suffering is not our problem and commit ourselves to resisting those who would subjugate others to serve their own interests.
In 1995, then First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing China.
Today, as we celebrate International Women’s Day, it is a good time to reflect on her words:
Those of us who have the opportunity to be here have the responsibility to speak for those who could not. As an American, I want to speak for those women in my own country, women who are raising children on the minimum wage, women who can’t afford health care or child care, women whose lives are threatened by violence, including violence in their own homes.
I want to speak up for mothers who are fighting for good schools, safe neighborhoods, clean air, and clean airwaves; for older women, some of them widows, who find that, after raising their families, their skills and life experiences are not valued in the marketplace; for women who are working all night as nurses, hotel clerks, or fast food chefs so that they can be at home during the day with their children; and for women everywhere who simply don’t have time to do everything they are called upon to do each and every day.
Speaking to you today, I speak for them, just as each of us speaks for women around the world who are denied the chance to go to school, or see a doctor, or own property, or have a say about the direction of their lives, simply because they are women. The truth is that most women around the world work both inside and outside the home, usually by necessity. […]
We need to understand there is no one formula for how women should lead our lives. That is why we must respect the choices that each woman makes for herself and her family. Every woman deserves the chance to realize her own God-given potential. But we must recognize that women will never gain full dignity until their human rights are respected and protected. […]
It is time for us to say here in Beijing, and for the world to hear, that it is no longer acceptable to discuss women’s rights as separate from human rights. […]
Let this conference be our — and the world’s — call to action. Let us heed that call so we can create a world in which every woman is treated with respect and dignity, every boy and girl is loved and cared for equally, and every family has the hope of a strong and stable future. That is the work before you. That is the work before all of us who have a vision of the world we want to see — for our children and our grandchildren.
Six hundred marchers assembled in Selma on Sunday, March 7, and, led by John Lewis and other SNCC and SCLC activists, crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge over the Alabama River en route to Montgomery. Just short of the bridge, they found their way blocked by Alabama State troopers and local police who ordered them to turn around. When the protesters refused, the officers shot teargas and waded into the crowd, beating the nonviolent protesters with billy clubs and ultimately hospitalizing over fifty people.
“When I take Malia and Sasha down with Michelle next week, down to Selma, part of what I’m hoping to do is to remind them of their own obligations. Because there are going to be marches for them to march, and struggles for them to fight”
Demonstrating for women’s rights has a long storied past, probably because “just asking politely”, while more pleasing to some people, was not a very effective strategy.
Here is what National Organization for Women President Patricia Ireland said about marching and demonstrating:
“When women work to mobilize and fund a group of local participants for a big event like our March for Women’s Lives, they are often transformed from enthusiastic but inexperienced activists into community leaders.”
“I’ve seen it happen over and over again. We count on it. The other transformation I have seen hits everyone from the most seasoned pioneer activist to the college sophomore. Standing side by side with a sea of kindred spirits, each of us finds renewed strength to wage the struggle for women’s equality.”
Women have been marching for their causes for a long time.
Official White House photographer Pete Souza posted his year-end retrospective on medium.com a few days ago (Behind the Lens: 2015 Year in Photographs). People were posting and Tweeting and blogging their favorites and there were a lot of excellent ones to choose from: families, babies, poignant moments, celebrations. These two stood out for me:
On March 7, 2015, the president and First Family traveled to Selma Alabama to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, part of the march that led to the passage of the Voter Rights Act. Nothing is more sacred in a democracy than the right for all citizens to vote. As we enter an election year where we will decide whether we move forward or if we will cast aside the advances of the last 150 years, preserving and protecting the right to vote is our most important job.
The president spoke …
… and we need to listen:
Selma shows us that America is not the project of any one person. Because the single-most powerful word in our democracy is the word “We.” “We The People.” “We Shall Overcome.” “Yes We Can.” That word is owned by no one. It belongs to everyone. Oh, what a glorious task we are given, to continually try to improve this great nation of ours. […]
We honor those who walked so we could run. We must run so our children soar.
Black, beautiful, and wild described Pombagira Rodriguez. Her promiscuous nature would have doomed her to perpetual pregnancy if it hadn’t been for a certain medical procedure a year ago; as it was, she was known for staying out all night and then gaining access to the house by climbing a tree and entering through a partly open window.
“She’s a second-story cat,” Celine Rodriguez would say with a sigh. “What a naughty girl!”
“You treat that cat as if she were your child,” people would say from time to time. “What a pity you never had children of your own.”
“I teach, I blog, I write. I have brain-children, and I labor just as hard bringing them into the world as women who give birth to physical children,” Celine would reply. She was referring to intensity of effort, not physical discomfort, although she did sometimes have to retire to her bed with headaches.
Happily, Pombagira and the dogs, Joel Collie and Eleanor Labrador, were available for the cuddles that books, posts, and lectures couldn’t supply.
Five minutes before the knock sounded on the front door, Celine gazed out the window at the rain blowing through the front yard. “Remind me again why we got married in October?”
“Because we got a fifty percent discount on a last-minute deal for a cruise to the Bahamas,” Eduardo reminded her. “We decided to make that our honeymoon. Stop worrying—the weather forecast says the rain will stop at six o’clock. We can still go out to dinner to celebrate our anniversary.”
“And that will be the only good thing about this gloomy fall Saturday,” Celine said.
But she was wrong, because the knock on the front door turned out to be the United Parcel Service delivering a package addressed to her and Eduardo.
“Who’s it from, Celine?”
“It’s from my sister priestess Serafina,” Celine said. “How nice of her!”
“You open it, dear,” Eduardo said, handing her the box cutter. “Knowing her, it could be anything.”
Eagerly Celine undid the wrappings, slit open the seams of the box, opened it, and gasped in delight.
On Wednesday, the President travelled to the U.S. Capitol to deliver remarks at an event commemorating the 150th anniversary of the 13th Amendment. The President was be joined by Members of both the House and Senate, including Congressional leadership and the Congressional Black Caucus, in marking this historic event.
(President Obama delivers remarks at the U.S. Capitol to commemorate the abolition of slavery in 1865.)
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. […]
… for decades, America wrestled with the issue of slavery in a way that we have with no other, before or since …
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.
The president described the long struggle to move from freedom to full citizenship, paying homage to the civil rights leaders, and ordinary men and women who pursued justice for people of color. He cited the uneven progress, the ugliness that still “bubbles up” and concluded:
… 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.