Remarks of Secretary Julián Castro
48th Martin Luther King, Jr. Annual Commemorative Service
Ebenezer Baptist Church
Monday, January 18, 2016
Atlanta, GA

As prepared for delivery

To Reverend Rice and Reverend Warnock; to Dr. Christine King Ferris, Dr. Bernice King, members of the King family and everyone with the King Center; distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.  

On behalf of President Obama, it is with deep gratitude and great humility that I join you today to honor a son of Atlanta, a champion for justice, and a hero to all of us - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I'm especially humbled to be with you here at Ebenezer Baptist Church where Dr. King preached, prayed and expressed his faith in a God that loves all his children. 

His was an extraordinary faith, a faith that was tested time and again, but was never defeated.

In times of despair, Dr. King remained hopeful. When subjected to violence, he remained peaceful. And despite our nation's painful past, he believed that we could come together to shape a fairer future.

This meant equal justice under the law. Equal treatment in the voting booth. Equal access to public facilities. And it also meant securing every American's right to housing that's free from discrimination. 

You see, Dr. King knew that housing was more than bricks and mortar. He knew that, if you tell me where a family lives, I'll tell you what jobs are available to them, where their children go to school, the quality of the air they breathe, the odds they face. 

And the walls of segregation left many Americans stuck, without a chance to get ahead in life. Not just in the South, but everywhere, including our cities. 

When he visited Chicago 50 years ago to highlight the need for fair housing, Dr. King saw this with his own eyes. He moved into an apartment on the West Side and later described seeing a daily battle against depression and hopelessness.

Babies attacked by rats. Children in clothes too thin to protect them from the cold Chicago wind.

A young man murdered while looking for a job. And the toll it all took on families forced to live in an emotional pressure cooker. 

The conditions were deplorable. But many black families, many people of color, had no way out. Nobody would rent to them in the other parts of town. So in the summer of 1966, Dr. King launched a campaign for open housing.

Right away, he faced incredible opposition. Marchers were taunted and threatened. Hit with bricks and with bottles. But they pushed ahead anyway. And eventually they got the powerful Chicago Real Estate Board to stop opposing open housing laws.

"This is the first step in a 1,000-mile journey," Dr. King declared. And 50 years later, I stand before you-one voice of a generation gifted with opportunity by Dr. King and so many others in this room-to say that this journey continues.

Last year during a visit to Ferguson, I learned that a child growing up in the upscale Clayton area of St. Louis can expect to live 18 years longer than a child living just eight miles away in the JeffVanderLou neighborhood.

And a few months ago, the Washington Post ran a story comparing life expectancy rates in Baltimore's neighborhoods to that of nations around the world. They found that fourteen Baltimore neighborhoods, including Sandtown-Winchester, where Freddie Gray grew up, have lower life expectancies than North Korea.

In these United States, the wealthiest, most prosperous nation on earth, that's unacceptable. At HUD, we enforce the Fair Housing Act. Last summer, I went to Chicago to announce a new federal rule called "Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing."

It says clearly to every city and community who receives our funding, you must work with us to eliminate segregation, to invest in struggling neighborhoods, and to give every family real opportunity.

It means that from the South Side of Chicago to West Philadelphia, from Harlem to the Sweet Auburn District, every child will have a better shot.

This is 2016. Where a child grows up should never determine where she ends up. And we'll help help carry the torch that Dr. King lit so that fair housing for every family becomes a reality in our great nation, in our time. 

Today, we gather, as we always do when we remember Dr. King, in part with heavy hearts that a young man who made such a profound difference in our world was taken too soon.

But we also gather with joy. For though his life may have been taken, Dr. King's spirit moves us still.

There is hope in that. And there is a resolve: that we will keep fighting, keep marching, keep strategizing, keep energizing, keep galvanizing, keep humanizing, keep catalyzing, keep sermonizing, never apologizing, always organizing. 

Until we complete the journey that Dr. King started and make America's promise real for every fellow American. I know we'll get there.

Thank you.


Content Archived: February 9, 2018