Remarks of Secretary Andrew Cuomo
Ebenezer Baptist Church
in Honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.
January 18, 1999
Thank you, Mrs. Coretta Scott King, the entire King family, my brothers and sisters, my esteemed colleagues who are here today. On behalf of President Clinton, Vice President Gore, I am honored to be here this morning; on behalf of myself I'm humbled. Today would be perfect to remember that Dr. King lives on, not just the poetry of his words, but even more the prose of his deeds because he was about action, he was about changes. I think he would be proud of the progress that we have made, because there is no doubt we may not be at the mountain top, but we are climbing.
Today, we have more African Americans in the middle class than ever before. More African Americans in high level Government positions. More in the highest level the private sector positions than ever before. He would be proud of the progress because we have come far. But even more, no doubt, he would point to how much further we have to go. Harris Wofford talked about the sins of omission, what is not done. Dr. Roberts talked about the jury still being out. The painful truth is that discrimination is still alive and well in America.
It's not easy to say, it's not pleasant to say, but we will never solve a problem that we are unwilling to admit. How can we really pretend otherwise. It's true from coast-to-coast. At the Department of Housing and Urban Development we fight it every day.
We did a case in Louisiana recently. An apartment complex, when you walked in, if you were black they sent you to one side, if you were white they sent you to the other side of the complex. Two swimming pools -- one for African Americans and one for the whites. We did a case in Missouri. A woman moved into a home, welcoming committee came and visited her and planted a seven foot cross in her front lawn and burned it, why, because she was Portuguese, she was dark skinned, they thought she was black. Let us not forget Jasper, Texas where they chained an African American man to the back of a pickup truck and dragged him to his death. His only sin the color of his skin. This is not Dr. King's America of 1968, this was our America of 1998. Discrimination can be as ugly, as brutal as ever. But discrimination can also be more sophisticated and more subtle than ever before.
Today it's not just the sixties style of discrimination, we have a new brand of discrimination, it's the nineties style of discrimination. It's discrimination with a smile. Discrimination with a smile is when a banker looks at you and says, "I'm sorry, you don't qualify for the loan." But the banker never looked at the number box, he only looked at the color box.
Discrimination with a smile is when the employment officer says, "You don't qualify for this job," but really he is only looking at the color of your skin. It's the landlord who says, "This apartment is no longer available," but the apartment is available, the apartment is vacant, it's just not available to you. That's discrimination with a smile, it's just as dangerous, just as destructive, just as divisive as any discrimination we've ever faced.
And we have to march on that also. We know we can beat it. Dr. King pointed the way, Dr. King showed us the way when he said, "Man is crusading for justice, real justice." This nation hasn't done that in a long time. In Washington, DC today they will tell you that they are pursuing justice. ... But that is not justice for this nation, that is not what Dr. King was talking about when he said justice. He was talking about a higher form of justice. A deeper meaning of justice, a greater service to this nation. He was talking about economic justice.
The belief that when you have a nation with an economy that is doing as well as ours, the best economy in history where we are making more millionaires than ever before in the history of this economy, it is intolerable to have one out of five children living in poverty. Dr. King's justice, Dr. King's justice was a social justice, that said it is wrong that the United States of America should have more people in prison than any industrialized nation on the globe.
That we should send more people, spend more money to keep people in a jail cell than what it would cost to give them a Harvard education. That's a violation of social justice. And there is racial justice, a higher form of justice, and we are not getting there. We can accept no less than Dr. King's form of justice. Complacency and apathy are the enemy. It is not okay to look the other way. It is not okay just to let it be, that's Dr. King's legacy. Isaiah 56 tells us, "Thus sayeth the Lord keep in judgement and do justice."
We have the laws, we have the commitment, let's do justice in this nation. Dr. King gave us the laws. His death inspired the Fair Housing Act - passed one week after his death. Let's enforce the laws. Today in Washington, D.C. President Clinton is going to take a big step, a step that I'm proud of. He's going to be announcing the largest settlement in history against a bank that discriminated in housing, 6.5 billion - that's billion - dollars. Eighty thousand families, within one settlement eighty thousand minority families will now become homeowners, that's justice. Let this nation hear that word. Let this nation hear that definition of justice. Let's be just as consumed with social justice and racial justice and economic justice as we are with one man and his deeds, then we will live up to Dr. King's legacy. Then we will make this nation a better nation. Together, together my brothers and sisters, we will. Thank you.
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