Secretary Andrew Cuomo's Speech to the
2500 Calvert Street, N.W.
Southern Christian Leadership Conference
July 28, 1998
P R O C E E D I N G S
MARTIN LUTHER KING III: ... Let me now introduce a man who has
the rarest form of political courage, the courage to stand up
for what is right, the courage to take on the unpopular fights,
the courage to 'Be' in a real sense. Let me say that I'm proud
to introduce our friend. Let's give him an SCLC welcome. Secretary
SECRETARY CUOMO: Thank you. Thank you all very much and good
afternoon. It's truly my pleasure and my honor to be here today,
first with all the members of board of directors and the honorees
today, especially Dr. Price who's an inspiration to all of us.
Mayor Emanuel Cleaver is a phenomenal mayor for his city, Kansas
City, but he's also a phenomenal mayor for every city in this
nation because he speaks about issues that no one else speaks
to. He's a light for all of us to follow and it's my pleasure
to be with him. Thank you, very much, Mayor.
The whole King family, especially Mrs. Coretta Scott King who
has been the sustaining strength for all of us for all these years.
It's a pleasure to be with you.
Martin Luther King, III, who in my opinion is uniquely qualified
to lead the SCLC now because he truly stands on the shoulders
of giants to reach heights that we've never reached before. I'm
excited to follow you, Martin. On behalf of President Clinton,
let me say it's going to be our pleasure to work with you and
the SCLC over these many years. Thank you, very much.
We have with us today some people from HUD. We have Alvin Brown
who's been here today and yesterday and last night working to
make the conference a success.
We have Father Joseph Hacala who's here with us from the Department.
The Father is the only member of the religious order who is actually
a political appointee in this government. What the Father is
trying to do is make new marriages between government and faith-based
In many communities, the church is the strength. The church is
the anchor. Let's use that as the foundation and build on that
foundation and let's make those marriages more than ever before.
Before I begin today; listening to Martin and listening to the
mayor, it reminds me of the Mississippi story of the farmer and
the flood. You know the story of the farmer and the flood? You're
going to know it now.
Down in Mississippi, a farmer is on his farm, the farm was in
his family for generations, his father's generation, generation
before that. It starts to rain in Mississippi. It's raining
and it's raining and it's raining harder and it's raining harder.
It's now raining for a number of days and the officials are getting
nervous because the river is starting to swell and they're forecasting
So the local officials go out, get in this big truck and say to
the farmer 'Get in the truck and pack up your belongings. We're
going to take you to safety because it's been raining so hard.
The river is cresting and it's going to flood and we're going
to bring you to safety.'
The farmer looked back at the officials and said, 'No. I go to
church on Sunday. I'm a God fearing man and the Lord will take
care of me.'
They said, 'Please get in the truck.' He said, 'No. The Lord
will take care of me.' They left a little disappointed. It kept
raining and raining and raining. Now it's 30, 40 days of rain.
The rain is now five, six feet on the crest and the river's coming
The officials come back in a boat and they go back to the farm
and they see the farm and they say 'Please get in the boat, grab
whatever belongings you can.' But the rain continued and now
there's going to be a flood for sure. But we can still take you
to safety. Please get in the boat.
The farmer says, 'No. I go to church on Sunday. I'm a God fearing
man. The Lord will take care of me.' They said I know that, but
please get in the boat. He said no.
They leave. The rain keeps coming. Now the farmer is standing
on the roof of the farmhouse and the water is up to his neck and
only his head is above the water. He's looking up. Almost miraculously
out of the clouds comes a helicopter. The helicopter drops down
a rope. The helicopter says 'Grab the rope. We can still save
you. Please grab the rope, farmer.'
The farmer looks up with just his head of above the water and
the farmer says, 'No. I go to church on Sunday. I'm a God fearing
man. The Lord will take care of me.' They said, 'Forget that.
Grab the rope.' He said, 'No, the Lord will take care of me.'
Next scene the farmer is at the Pearly Gates and he sees our Lord.
He says, 'Lord. I'm confused. I went to church every Sunday.
I prayed. I was a God fearing man. What happened?' Our Lord
looked back at the farmer and he said, 'You're confused? I'm
confused. I sent a truck, a boat and a helicopter.'
I'm going to come back to the farmer because the moral really
is, in the final analysis, it's up to you. We can work together.
We can have a great organization. We can have great leadership.
But in the final analysis, it's up to you. You have to grab
the rope. You have to get in the truck. You have to get in the
boat. I'll come back to that.
This nation is doing extraordinarily well on one set of books,
by one calibration. Truly, this economy is hitting all sorts
of historic highs. If you had forecasted this type of economic
growth four years ago, they would have said you're smoking something
funny. It's impossible that the economy is going to be this high.
Great story of economic success.
But at the same time, you have a lot of places in this nation
and a lot of people who don't share in that success. As strong
as the story is of success, is the story of the people who are
in the shadow of that success
who haven't had that great
boom, who haven't seen their income skyrocket and the repugnance
between the haves and the have nots has gotten so bad that it
borders on the obnoxious at times.
If you look at the story of America right now, you have almost
two realities, dual realities. You have more millionaires than
ever before in the history of this nation. But you also have
the greatest income inequality in 20 years where ten percent of
the population now owns more than 90 percent of the wealth.
You have the highest home ownership rate in the nation. 66 percent
more Americans own their own homes today than ever before, but
you also have 600,000 homeless people who we still allow to sleep
on the street every night. You're not a success.
I don't care how high the Dow Jones gets, 8000 points, 9000 points,
that's a new record. You're not that rich when you still have
one out of every five children sleeping in poverty tonight. You
can't say that you have the strongest economy when you have this
many people left out.
African Americans happen to be left out disproportionately. The
numbers are staggering. Eighty percent of those people living
in urban poverty are African Americans. African American babies
are twice as likely to die as white babies. African American
children are five times as likely to get shot as non African Americans.
African American teenagers are ten times more likely to drop
out of school. The murder rate for African American males 18
to 24 is ten times what it is for non-African Americans.
You can't say that you are a success as a nation when you have
that kind of discordant growth. You can't say you're a success
when you have that disparity. You have more people in prison
in this nation than any other industrialized nation on the globe.
You can't say you're a success and disproportionately they are
You as a nation are spending more to keep a person in a jail cell
than it would have cost to educate them at Harvard University.
You are not a success.
It is not a coincidence that disproportionately you have African
Americans and Latinos in the class that is left out. The hard
painful truth, but the unavoidable truth is that racism is alive
and well in America 1998, and it hurts to admit it. We wish that
it was gone. We thought that we got past this ugly stain on this
nation. People died so that we shouldn't be here today.
But we are here today. If we don't admit it, what it said on
the screen, if we don't admit that discrimination is alive and
well, we will never solve it. If you refuse to recognize the
problem, you are condemned to live with it forever.
The first step towards the solution is the recognition. Discrimination
in one way is as ugly as it's ever been, but in one way it's grown
a little and it's a little more sophisticated than it has been.
We now call it discrimination with a smile. It's the '90s version
It's the landlord who smiles and says I'm sorry, but that apartment
is already rented when it's still going to be vacant. It's the
bank officer who looks at the application and looks at you and
says I'm sorry. You don't qualify for the loan. But the bank
officer didn't look at the application. He looked at the color
of your skin. That was the basis of the determination.
It's the cab driver who drives down the block and goes right past
you as you're hailing the cab like you're invisible. Never saw
you, is going right past you.
That is a discrimination with a smile, just as destructive and
just as dangerous as the old type of discrimination with a fist,
with a voice, with an anger. A little more subtle, but just as
We still have the old-fashioned discrimination. We still have
what we had in the '60s. We have a New Orleans apartment complex
where you walked in, if you were black, they put you on one side
of the complex. You walk in, you're white, they put you on the
other side of the complex. Two swimming pools, one for the blacks
and one for the whites. That's 1998 New Orleans. That's not
The voice you heard on the tape [of a HUD public service announcement],
the woman in Buffalo, New York, showed an apartment to an African
American woman. They said if you rent that apartment to the African
American, we're going to blow up the apartment and we're going
to blow up your house.
1998 America. Portuguese woman. In Missouri, moved in. She was
Portuguese. They thought she was African American. They planted
a seven foot cross in her lawn and burned it.
Then if you had any doubt, any doubt whether or not it was still
with us, you have Jasper, Texas. Jasper, Texas did not get the
kind of attention that it should have in this nation. Because
we don't want to hear this and we don't want to talk about it
and we certainly don't want to see it on the national news. But
just as ugly as anything that happens in the '50s and '60s.
You took an African American man. You dragged him to death with
a chain around his neck until you decapitated him. His only crime
was the color of his skin. Just as ugly. That is the painful
This is not going to go away unless we have the courage to step
up and address it. That's why this convening is so important.
We tried leaving it alone in the '70 and '80s. We were lulled
into a false sense of security. Well, maybe this is gone. Maybe
racism is a thing of the past. Maybe we solved it
resolved. It's not. It's not. It is still with us. We have
to confront it. We have to resolve it once and for all.
Two steps. One, opportunity for all. Opportunity for all. That
was the promise of the nation. It's not a reality yet. We have
to work to make it a reality. It's not going to happen by itself.
We need an affirmative government partnership to make this happen.
It's going to start with education. In this new economy, more
than ever before, if you don't have an education, you're not going
to make it. This is not the information economy. It's about
what you know. It's about how well you think.
You're not going to work your way out of poverty the way you could
with a shovel or a cart. You're going to have to think your way
out of poverty which means everything is going to be the education.
Education always was the great equalizer in this society. Didn't
matter who you were, where you came from. You could go to a public
education system and wind up a mayor of a city or wind up President
of the United States.
Not anymore. You look at this public education system. It's
moving to two education systems. A rich education system and
a poor education system. If you go to the rich education system,
you'll get the best education in the world. If you go to the
poorer education system, you can't compete with a Third World
You go to one rich education system, first grade, you walk in,
they put you on the Internet. You walk to the poor side of school,
you can't even get a basketball net. You go to school in the
rich district, they'll sit you down with a Pentium processor.
Talk to countries all across the globe. You go to the poorer
school, the most sophisticated piece of electronic equipment is
the metal detector you walk through on the way to the classroom.
That is not America. That is not an education for all. That
has to be solved. That has to be solved now.
That's why President Clinton said, I want more schools, more classes,
more teachers. Get that staffing to one teacher for 18 students
so they can learn. We can do that by investing. We have to do
it. We have to do it now. Education, education, education.
Jobs, jobs, jobs.
You want to talk about welfare reform? You signed welfare reform
three years ago in this town. It was a big success. Beat your
chest. We solved welfare. You solved nothing.
First of all, nobody ever wanted to be on a welfare check. I've
been all over this nation. Nobody ever once came up to me and
said, Mr. Cuomo, do me a favor. Can you help me get a welfare
Mr. Cuomo, help me get a job. Help me get education. Help me
get day care. Help me get transportation. Help me get health
care. Help me become something with myself. Help me have the
pride and dignity of earning my own bread. I want my children
to see me leave the house everyday and do well and have a career
and succeed. Help me get a job. But where are the jobs?
Help me get housing. That's where it all starts. That's where
my family's together. I can't go anywhere until we're together
and we're safe. Help me get housing. You know how many units
of affordable housing we produce now per year? New units of affordable
housing. Zero. You know how many people need it? 5.3 million.
More families than ever before in the history of the nation.
We need education. We need jobs. We need housing. We need an
opportunity agenda to reach out to the people who have been left
There are no more excuses. We can't say, well, we don't have
money to do that. We did that in the '80s and the early part
of the '90s. Oh, we'd love to do that. We'd love to help. But
see, government doesn't have any money. You know, it's the deficit.
Remember the deficit? Whenever you had a good idea, they had
the deficit. Whenever you needed funding, they had the deficit.
Whenever you needed a new program, they had the deficit. We
have to pay off the deficit. We can't help you get housing because
we have to pay off the deficit. We can't provide day care because
we have to pay off the deficit. We can't help you get a job because
we have to pay off the deficit.
Well, you paid off the deficit. God bless President Clinton.
When he took office, the deficit had eleven zeros. Now it's just
zero. The excuse is gone. Now let's get back to work and let's
invest in this nation. No excuses.
The nation is doing so well the Congress wants to talk about a
tax cut for the very rich. Forget the tax cut for the very rich
and let's talk about education and jobs and housing for the people
who want to be rich. Isn't that fair? Isn't that justice?
The second piece that we have to work on together, if number one
is the opportunity agenda, number two is enforce the laws, enforce
the laws. We have the laws on the books.
Martin Luther King, Jr. died and we had the fair housing laws
passed one week after his death inspired by him. Let us now have
the courage as a nation just to enforce the law like we do for
everyone else. We have equal opportunity laws. Let's enforce
the laws. Put our muscle behind our intent and our rhetoric.
Enforce the laws. That's what we have to be working on together
and that's what this partnership is going to be all about.
When people say 'Why should we do that for African Americans?
Why should we do that for Hispanic Americans?' You say 'We're
not doing it for African Americans. We're not doing it for Hispanic
Americans. We're not doing it for Italian Americans or Jewish
Americans. We're doing it for all Americans.'
Because that's what this nation was all about. Opportunity for
all. Once you lose that, you lose everything. The nation will
not stand without that. The founding fathers said 'E pluribus
unum.' One out of many. You lose that premise, we're all gone.
This nation is going to be a majority minority in 20 years. Majority
minority. Whites will not be a majority. It's going to be red
and black and brown and yellow and if we can't live together,
we certainly will come apart.
That's what we have to work on together. It is going to happen,
I can feel it. It's going to be in this room. It's with this
leadership. It's with this board of directors because you have
all the elements. The right intent, the right drive and the new
intelligence and the new tools.
You have the energy and the vision of Martin Luther King, Jr.
You have the outrage of Fannie Lou Hamer. You have the wisdom
of Thurgood Marshall. You have the conviction of Medgar Evers.
But you also have the tools and the information and the technology
of the '90s. That is the winning formula. That is the new synthesis
that the SCLC and Martin Luther King, III represent. That passion,
that fire, that drive of the '60s and the knowledge of the '90s
to compete in this new world.
You have a friend and a partner in President Clinton. You have
a federal administration committed to putting out their hand and
arm in arm we will solve this once and for all. Thank you for
# # # #
Content Archived: January 20, 2009