Thank you, Ray [DuBois]. Chaplain Baldwin and distinguished visitors, thank you and welcome to the Pentagon. It is a pleasure to join you to celebrate the birthday of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I thank you all for your efforts to keep Dr. King’s vision of a just and peaceful world alive.
It is often said that America is the world’s oldest democracy. In a sense that’s true. Ours was the first nation in modern times that put into practice the audacious notion that citizens should have a major voice in guiding and directing the affairs of their government.
But it took centuries to ingrain the necessity of full equality into our nation’s soul. The recognition that freedom includes all the people -- so clear today -- required the passionate efforts of millions -- some here in this room.
It called for great patience to withstand great injustice. It required the quiet power of peaceful protests. And it took the leadership of men like Martin Luther King, Jr., and the millions of Americans who joined his cause.
I’ve been around long enough to have met with Dr. King. It was when I was a member of Congress in the 1960s and part of a group of young members working on the pending civil rights legislation. Dr. King and the other civil rights leaders would meet with members during those difficult years -- 1963 to 1968.
I was here in Washington when he gave the “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, for which he will be long remembered by history.
He was a spellbinding and courageous orator, as comfortable in the halls of Congress as in houses of worship. What made his message so compelling -- and gave it such impact -- was the simple, uncomfortable truths behind it. He made Americans look in the mirror, and realize how far we had yet to travel.
Dr. King was a man of historic consequence. He gave his all for the country he loved, but which needed help in finding its way. He once said: “If a man hasn’t discovered something that he would die for, he isn’t fit to live.” He lived his beliefs.
Today, as we watch the great sweep of freedom slowly cross the world, we can still catch glimpses of Dr. King’s vision.
· We see it in the men and women in uniform who long ago recognized that skin color is of no consequence during times of great peril.
· We see it in the new hope that has arrived for Afghan women, who for the first time in their lives can sing, go to school, and vote in a presidential election.
· We see it as well in long-oppressed groups in Iraq who now have a chance to participate in their government. They are testaments to Dr. King’s adage: "Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed."
Such progress would not be possible were it not for America and her allies leading the way. And America would not have the moral authority it has, were it not for those of our citizens who forced our nation to confront its shortcomings, and realize that our dreams must include everyone.
Nearly seventy-six years ago, at 501 Auburn Avenue, in Atlanta, Georgia, a child was born with little fanfare, except among the family members who loved him. Who ever thought he might one day help change the world?
Martin Luther King, Jr. took to heart the Biblical promise: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me." And we must continue to strive to keep his vision alive in our actions and in our hearts.
Thank you, ladies and gentleman, for inviting me to join you in this celebration. And thank you for all you are doing for our great country.
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