MLK Memorial Permit Signing
October 29, 2009
Speaker: Thank you very much, Dan, and thank you to all of you for being here. This is a great and momentous day in the history of our nation. And today, I am pleased to announce that the Department of the Interior National Park Service is issuing the necessary construction permits to proceed with the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial here on the National Mall where so many great heroes have been honored.
It is time to honor Martin Luther King right here in the nation’s front door. So we will do that today with the signing of this permit.
Today, we honor a dreamer, someone who knew that he could chase the dream of equality for all people and who did so much to make that happen. While we still have a long ways to go to achieve that dream, we know that we have come a long ways from the days where he sacrificed and marched and gave so much of his life with so many others, to make the possibilities of today happen.
In 1896, a sad day in the history of the United States Supreme Court, Plessy v. Ferguson was written. And there was a dissent that was written in that case by Justice Harlan. And he said, “Our Constitution is color-blind and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens.
In respect of so rights, all citizens are equal before the law, the humblest is a peer of the most powerful. The law regards man as man and takes no account of his surroundings, of his color, when his civil rights, as guaranteed by the supreme law of the land, are involved.”
And yet it would be a long time to come before we started to realize that Justice Harlan had in fact been correct in his dissent in Plessy v. Ferguson.
He wrote there as well, “The destinies of the two races in this country are indissolubly linked together and the interest of both requires that the common government of all shall not permit the seeds of race-hate to be planted under the sanction of law.”
Justice Harlan knew that to fulfill the promise of America, we must abolish segregation and guarantee each American equal protections under the law as envisioned by our Constitution.
Thomas Jefferson wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal and that they are endowed by the Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” But it was a long time in coming before these ideals were blossoming into the ideals that we see today.
Because it was more than half a century after Justice Harlan’s dissent, more than two centuries after Thomas Jefferson wrote these words, that Dr. King stood on the steps of Lincoln Memorial and challenged our country to finally rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed, the true meaning of the creed of our country with freedom and justice and opportunity for all.
As the election in 2008 of President Barack Obama demonstrates so amply to the entire planet, to the entire world, Dr. King’s life of courage and vision and sacrifice has helped moved our nation far closer to living out this creed than when he spoke these words here in 1963.
Today, as we sign this permit that will allow the construction finally to move forward here on the National Mall, we mark a very important time in our history. This 4-acre memorial will include design elements of water and stone and trees to symbolize Dr. King’s calling to our country.
Americans both born and yet to be born will come here to be reminded that his dream is our dream, that we still are on a journey to see its ultimate fulfillment because we are not there yet. And it is a reminder to us all that our journey calls on each of us to honor his legacy and making it our own.
I applaud the work of Harry Johnson and the many other members of the Washington D.C. Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation who worked tirelessly for a very long time to make this memorial happen. I commend all the individuals, companies and groups that have contributed so generously.
And today, I am particularly honored that Dr. Martin Luther King’s sister has been with us for the last hour and she will be speaking in just a few minutes about the importance of this to her and to the family. And with that, I would like to do is to formally go ahead and sign the permit.
And if I could have Harry Johnson come up here? It takes two to sign a contract, you might have been told. So I think I sign it first and then you have to accept it. So are you going to accept it, Harry?
Harry Johnson: I will accept it.
Harry Johnson: The senator said I need to think about it.
Speaker: Senator, what do you think? He better not think about this one ‘cause he has been thinking too long!!
Senator: Stop lobbying up, now sign!
Speaker 2: You better sign the date, sir.
Harry Johnson: I think you better put the date, Mr. Secretary.
Speaker 2: Alright.