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Rep. John Lewis's Speech at King Memorial Groundbreaking

November 13, 2006
Press Release

Congressman John Lewis spoke in a program this morning celebrating the groundbreaking at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, DC. The memorial will be the first honoring an African American placed on the Mall and recognizes Dr. King's patriotic service to our democracy. Following is the text of the Congressman's speech:

"President Bush, President Clinton, Ms. Oprah Winfrey, Andy Young, members of the King family, members of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, and my beloved brothers and sisters, this is a great day in the history of our country.

"It is a great day because today we will break ground on this little piece of real estate we call the National Mall, this front yard of the nation, to honor one of the founding fathers of modern America. It is a day that we pay tribute not just to a man, but to the transformative power of love, non-violence, peace, and the American dream.

"I knew Martin Luther King, Jr. He was my leader, my friend, my brother, and my colleague in the struggle for civil rights and social justice in America. He was just a simple human being filled with love and compassion for all human kind.

"I will never forget the first time I met him. I was 15 years old and in the tenth grade in 1955, growing up on a farm outside Troy, Alabama when I heard the voice of Martin Luther King, Jr. on an old radio. He was talking about Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott. He was talking about the ability of a disciplined and determined people to make a difference in our society.

"When I heard his words, I felt like he was speaking directly to me. I felt like he was saying, "John Lewis, you can do it. You can make a difference in the struggle to defend the dignity of humankind."

"Growing up in the heart of the segregated South, I saw those signs that said WHITE MEN, COLORED MEN, WHITE WOMEN, COLORED WOMEN, WHITE WAITING, COLORED WAITING.

"I would ask my mother, my father, my grandparents and great grandparents, "Why segregation? Why racial discrimination?" And they would say, "That's the way it is. Don't get in trouble. Don't get in the way." Martin Luther King Jr. inspired me and thousands of other Americans to get in the way. He inspired us to get in trouble, but it was good trouble, necessary trouble.

"It seems it was only a few years ago that I stood with Martin Luther King, Jr. and eight other leaders of the Civil Rights Movement as he spoke just a short distance from here at on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. And in that now historic speech, that included the words, "I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal."

"In that speech when he said, "I have a dream today, a dream deeply rooted in the American dream," Martin Luther King, Jr., the moral leader of the nation, transformed those marble steps into a modern day pulpit. He spoke to the conscience of us all telling us that the way of peace, the way of love, the way of non-violence is a better way, a more excellent way.

"He spoke to the noble idea that we must learn to live together as brothers and sisters or perish together as fools. Through his life and through his actions, he moved the mountains of our faith by declaring that a threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

"He inspired millions of Americans across this nation and human beings around the world to believe that we could create a Beloved Community based on simple justice that values the dignity and the worth of every human being.

"That is why I think it is so fitting, so appropriate that on this sacred and hallowed ground, a memorial will be built not only to an American citizen, but to a citizen of the world who gave his life trying to protect the dignity of and the worth of all humankind.

"I want to thank Alpha Phi Alpha for its vision and thank all of those contributors who supported this project, because this monument will inspire generations yet unborn to get in the way. It will help them see that one human being can make a difference.

"But above all, this monument will serve as a reminder to each of us that it is better to love and not to hate, it is better to reconcile and not divide, it is better to build and not tear down.

"It will remind all of us that the dream of Martin Luther King Jr. is not yet accomplished, and each of us must continue to do our part to help build the Beloved Community, a nation and a world at peace with itself. Thank you.