Press Releases

January 17, 2011



Remarks for MLK Day
January 17, 2011
By Congressman Jim Clyburn
Friendship Baptist Church, Kansas City, Missouri


As seen by Abraham Lincoln

If I were to try to read, much less answer,
all the attacks made on me,
this shop might as well be closed for any other business.
I do the very best I know how - the very best I can;
and I mean to keep doing so until the end.
If the end brings me out all right,
what's said against me won't amount to anything.
If the end brings me out wrong,
ten angels swearing I was right would make no difference.

“In the Arena”
Theodore Roosevelt

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds;
who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause;
who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly,
so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.

“We have nothing to fear but fear itself”
Franklin Roosevelt

“You and I have a Rendezvous with Destiny”
Ronald Reagan

The two passages and two sound bites I have just shared with you were etched into the fabric of our nation by four Presidents, who sought to address challenges that were sort of unique to the times during which they served. Although each one of them succeeded in capturing the moment they, may not have, had their words been written and spoken at a different time.

Now aside from the Bible, I cannot think of a more timeless reference for coping with times like the one within which we currently live, than one particular document written by the man we pause to honor today.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1963 letter from the Birmingham City jail offers a source for all of us to find a deeper understanding and broader context for much of the discussion that is taking place throughout our great country today.

Irrespective of what may or may not be the cause of the recent tragic and unimagined events that have brought the people of our nation into this discussion, we should find Dr. King’s words instructive, “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people.”

In recent years, the tone of our political rhetoric has become angry and personal. Court decisions have permitted media and political personalities unlimited and unattributed resources to publish blatant falsehoods regarding people and policies. We have allowed hysteria to creep into our daily political discourse.

I was born in segregated Sumter, South Carolina. I attended all-black public and private schools and was a student civil rights activist on the campus of all black South Carolina State College. While Kansas is sometimes credited as the “home” of Brown v. Board of Education, the first court case that launched a frontal attack on segregated schools, and was later incorporated into the Brown case, was named Briggs v. Elliott.

It was a case involving families who lived in Clarendon County just a few miles from my hometown of Sumter. My father, a fundamentalist minister, led us in daily prayer for their safety during those contentious years. Some of them lost their jobs, some lost their land, and many had to leave their birthplaces in search of livelihoods. I say all this to say, I know what it is like to face challenges in a difficult environment.

Recently a gentleman preferenced his question to me by stating that he could not recall the political climate ever being as bad as it is. I assured the gentleman that I could, and maybe he could not because he has not yet lived as long as I have and has not experienced some of the things that I have, and that some of you have.

Some of you, like me, lived through the 50s, 60s, and 70’s. You have your own memories of the dark days when President Kennedy was assassinated; when Dr. King was murdered, and when Senator Robert Kennedy was killed. Many of us remember the attempts on the lives of Presidents Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford.

Some of us have lived through bombings, lynchings, and mobs spewing venomous hate. And in spite of the song we regularly sung, we often wondered how, or if, we would ever overcome. But we did. We overcame by holding fast to dreams and remaining true to our principles. We overcame because we did not retreat, nor did we retaliate.

Your theme for today’s remembrance of Dr. King, “Where there is a dream, people prosper,” reminds me of the message of that time when we were faced with challenges not unlike today’s challenges. And our response must be the same.

As we pause to remember Dr. King’s legacy, let us not forget his lessons, one of which admonishes that, “the means we use, must be as pure as the ends we seek.” We should not be discouraged, we must not be deterred, and we will not be silenced by those who seek to disrupt, incite and intimidate.

When President Obama was elected in 2008, we realized a dream that was once unimaginable, an African American President of the United States. But the attainment of that dream seems to have increased the vitriol, and should remind us that the struggle hasn’t ended. If his election ushered in a post racial world, it was short lived.

This President has been accused of being foreign born, of being a socialist, and of being "one of the most corrupt presidents in modern times." Such hysteria and hyperbole are not only blatantly false but serve no useful purpose. But to his credit, none of this opposition has discouraged or deterred President Obama. He continues his pursuit of “a more perfect Union” implementing an inclusive agenda and producing significant successes.

In the aftermath of last November elections, I have heard lots of theories about why the results were what they were. One explanation that I find particularly bothersome is that it was not wise for the President took on so much, so soon.

Those who subscribe to this theory argue that he should have taken a slower approach to making dramatic changes to the health care system. We shouldn’t have rushed to pass legislation to stimulate the economy or save the banking or auto industries.

These arguments are not new.

In fact they are the arguments that incented Dr. King to write his timeless letter. That letter was not written in a vacuum. It was not addressed “to whom it may concern.” It was not written to the editor of the local newspaper or in response to a “letter to the editor.” Oh no!!!!

Dr. King’s letter was in response to a letter he had received from eight fellow clergymen urging him to leave Birmingham.

And why were they asking him to leave? They were asking him to leave because he was an “extremist.”

And why did they consider him an extremist? Because he did not wish to accept second-class citizenship.

They wanted him to leave because he was “a disruptive force.” And what made him a disruptive force? Because they considered his quest for dignity and respect “unwise and untimely.”

In his letter, Dr. King said, “time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel,” he continued, “that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will… We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.”

In 1966, Dr. King expressed his concerns about this very issue. In a speech to the Medical Committee for Human Rights, Dr. King said, “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.”

Our nation had waited for nearly a century to find a way and the means to provide all citizens access to an affordable, quality health care system.

The President felt that the time was ripe to do right.

What can be more inhumane than telling a family that because of the treatments required by the illness of their eight-year old child they have used up all of their healthcare benefits for life?

What can be more shocking than getting dropped by your insurance company after getting pregnant or contracting breast or prostate cancer?

Is it right to discriminate against young adults who are still in school after their 21st birthday by kicking them off of their family’s policy?

Is it right to discriminate against a child born with diabetes by not allowing them onto their family’s health insurance policy?

The time was ripe, and getting rid of these discriminatory practices was the right thing to do.

On the day that we passed the Health Care Bill out of the House, I spoke on the floor calling it the Civil Rights Act of the 21st Century.

Did I feel that there could be political consequences? Yes I did.

Does that mean we should not have done the right thing? Absolutely not.

I remember that after the 1968 elections, the senior United States Senator from my home state of South Carolina stood on our Statehouse steps vowing to return to Washington to lead the efforts to repeal the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

We are hearing some of the same rhetoric today regarding that Act, and the recently enacted health care law, and I believe the results will be the same.

Does this mean some changes should not be made? Absolutely not!!!

When the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964, it did not cover public employees. Bi-partisan changes were made in order to do so.

When the 1965 Voting Rights Act became the law of the land, it was not broad enough to provide me, and many others, the opportunity to serve in Congress. Bi-partisan changes to the Voting Rights Act made our elections possible.

The Fair Housing law has been tweaked, and amended, from time to time to make it more efficient and effective. We can defend our positions, and have vigorous debate without personal attacks. Splicing and dicing people’s words and images go beyond free speech and fair comments.

I believe it is just as wrong to give absolute First Amendment protections to vicious bullies and professional prevaricators who operate in the political arena, as it would be to do so for those bullies who misuse the internet to drive vulnerable school students to suicide and those perverts who prey upon innocent children.

So as we hear the vitriol of bygone days being blasted across our airways today, let us remember a few other words of Dr. King that are also found in that letter, “it is just as wrong, or perhaps even more so, to use moral means to preserve, and I will add achieve, immoral ends.”

As we pursue our dreams let us not trammel upon the rights of others. As we seek perfection for our Union, let us not forget that, as Dr King extolled, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Let us “keep our eyes on the prize.” Let us hold fast to our dreams, and maintain our pursuit of, “a more perfect Union,” where the people – all the people – can prosper.

Thank you, and Godspeed.