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19th Annual DoD Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast
Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, The Pentagon, Washington DC, Thursday, January 22, 2004

Rumsfeld:  Thank you very much, Ray [DuBois]. 

     Good morning and welcome to the, I guess you said the 19th annual celebration of the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

     Ray, I thank you for what you do, and Chaplain Potter for that invocation.  Chaplain Black, good morning.  And special greetings to, and thank you, to young Kendall Cunningham and all of the essay contest finalists.  You're certainly proof that the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King lives on.

     Dr. King was many things.  Certainly a spellbinding preacher -- I had the privilege of hearing him -- a courageous leader, to be sure.  But he was also a freedom fighter, as Ray suggested.  Not just a fighter for freedom in the sense that he battled evil and segregation and discrimination, but a champion who challenged every American to live up to the promise of freedom.

    He believed in the promise of America, to be sure.  He said, "We refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt.  We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity, so we've come to cash this check.  Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy," he said. 

     It was. And, to a large extent, he did -- by setting in motion the forces of freedom. 

     Not too long ago I was involved in award for Jimmy Doolittle, the famous American general, and I had to admit that I'm so old I knew Jimmy Doolittle.  It wasn't too long ago I was at a session that involved Charles Lindburgh, the man who flew the Spirit of St. Louis across the Atlantic, and I'm so old I had to admit that I worked with Charles Lindburgh back in 1969 and 1970.

     Well, I'm faced with that again today.  I was a Congressman back in 1963, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, during the period of the civil rights efforts in the United States that Dr. King was so deeply involved in.  And he used to come to the Capitol and he'd bring with him a number of the civil rights leaders he was working with -- Jim Farmer and Reverend Abernathy and so many others.  We'd meet with them, a group of us that were involved with the civil rights legislation.

     It was a complicated time.  Most people think that it happened during President Kennedy's Presidency, but in fact of course it didn't.  He was killed in 1963 and the legislation was during the Presidency of, actually it started with President Eisenhower in 1958 with the first piece of civil rights legislation in a great many years, and then it mostly was passed during the Lyndon Johnson period.  It took a lot of effort by a lot of people.  There were a group of us, young Congressmen that were involved, and we'd meet fairly regularly with the leadership.

     There was one man named Clarence Mitchell who was head of the NAACP in Washington or Maryland -- I've forgotten -- but he was kind of Dr. King's man in Washington.  He was the one who was constantly working the problem to see that the legislation was not weakened excessively by amendments. And we all came to know Clarence Mitchell very very well, and through him Dr. King.

     So while we've not really yet achieved the completely color blind society that Dr. King envisioned when he spoke to America from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, we have made important strides forward.  Today, as Ray suggested, we face another challenge to freedom, one that is truly deadly.  Even more deadly than could have been imagined during that period.  It's a challenge not just to the freedom that we enjoy but also to the very idea of living free and being able to say what you wish and go where you wish and behave as you wish.  We're fighting it by setting in motion the forces of freedom and trying to help make that freedom real to others.

     All of you today are freedom fighters in a sense because you believe, as he did, in the dream of freedom, and because in your own way you're engaged in the great battle to protect and expand freedom.

     In Afghanistan, if one thinks about it, the young women who by virtue of their sex were denied the right to study, they were denied the right to practice medicine, to appear on the street except in certain dress.  They're now attending schools and they're pursuing careers as equals.

     In Iraq, the Kurds and the Shias, many of whom were oppressed because of their religion or ethnicity, now have an opportunity to participate fully in the life and governing of their country.

     So I thank all of you for all you do here in America and around the world.  It's important, and it's particularly important that you remember the important legacy of Dr. Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.

     So I'm delighted to be here.  I wish you all well, and I thank you for everything you do.

 
 
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