My career in public service began more than 40 years ago at the height of the civil rights movement. As a legislative assistant in the U.S. Senate, I worked on landmark civil rights legislation and as Director of the U.S. Office for Civil Rights, I had the responsibility to enforce those laws.
At that time, I saw how one man, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., could make a difference. He did so by challenging his fellow citizens to reflect on what it means to be American. Faced with opposition, he did not threaten violence, but rather gained strength from the truth of his convictions. His powerful ideas and lyrical words compelled our nation to live by its founding principle: that we are born with equal rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In the end, he changed not only the law of our land, but also struck a note for freedom that still resonates in the hearts and minds of the American people and the entire world. That’s a legacy worth celebrating.
Dr. King renewed the promise of America’s dream. His example inspired a movement for our country to reclaim its fundamental pledge – so that we might live as one nation, with liberty and justice for all. Every man and woman at the Department of Defense should strive to uphold these fundamental ideals.
One of my proudest moments was the opportunity to meet Dr. King and years later, as a congressman, to cast my vote to set aside a day dedicated to Dr. King’s memory. This weekend, I hope each of you will think about just how much this one man’s life and accomplishments have meant to our country. The nation we work so hard to protect is a better place because of him. In fighting for equal justice, he was fighting for all of us.