Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Remembrance
"A Day On...Not A Day Off"


I want to thank the Office of Departmental Equal Employment Opportunity and the Robert C. Weaver Chapter of Blacks In Government [BIG] for this event.

A special thank you to the members of the Martin Luther King Committee, and especially to new BIG President Sandra Wright. Congratulations.

Finally, thank you, Secretary Bernardi, for those wonderful remarks.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would have been seventy-nine years old yesterday. He lived a life worth celebrating�because he taught us truths worth remembering.

Dr. King said, "Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through constant struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom."

That is why his holiday is a "day on, not a day off." It is a day for all Americans to honor King by sharing our time and our talents.

What would be our excuse for doing otherwise? Ladies and gentlemen, our burden has been lightened because he lived with us. And our backs are straight and strong because he was on this earth.

That is Dr. King's legacy. He stiffened our nation's spine.

Let us not forget that in his time, service was made difficult by servitude.

Many of us could buy a starving man a meal�as long as we didn't eat at the lunch counter.

We could give a thirsty man a drink�if it came from the right fountain.

In his day, it took incredible courage for some Americans just to walk through the schoolhouse door, or to sit down on a bus seat after a weary day of work.

Dr. King inspired that courage. His life embodied James Madison's words: "Justice is the end of government." He eloquently added his own: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

We look forward to honoring him with a beautiful new memorial.

The Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial will stand on the edge of the Tidal Basin, as Dr. King takes his rightful place among the authors and the protectors of American democracy, Washington, Lincoln, and Jefferson.

Like the man himself, the memorial does not look back to our past with hazy nostalgia, but with a clear-eyed determination to do something better for our country.

His words, engraved in stone, will teach some visitors�and remind others�that America is not just a place you live in, but an ideal you perfect.

Harry E. Johnson Sr., President and CEO of the MLK National Memorial Project Foundation, will speak to you in a few minutes. I look forward to hearing from him.

Of course, America was not changed by Dr. King's words alone. It was changed by his actions.

From the Montgomery Bus Boycott to the Birmingham Children's Crusade, he mobilized his fellow Americans, many of them young, into a force more powerful than the bayonets and the batons that we faced.

One of them was a freshman at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania named Alphonso. I accepted Dr. King's calling to go to Alabama, on Bloody Sunday, with John Lewis. And I want to say this again, as I often say: We might philosophically disagree. But Congressman John Lewis is an authentic American hero.

I paid a price with a dog bite still in my left leg. It hurt for awhile. But doing nothing would have hurt more.

One of Dr. King's legacies was this Department. Forty-two years ago tomorrow, Robert C. Weaver was confirmed as the first secretary of Housing and Urban Development. He was the first black American to be in the Cabinet.

Secretary Weaver had the tragic duty of rebuilding American cities torn up after the riots following Dr. King's assassination. He also implemented the Fair Housing Act, passed just days after this senseless act.

And now Secretary Weaver's name is engraved on this building, with his bust sitting there as you come in.

Today, we continue the fight for fair housing, no matter what your level of income is. Having a roof over your head is very important. The dream of home ownership is important.

I am proud that President Bush said he was going to create 5.5 million new minority homeowners. And I can tell you that we've created 3.7 million today.

You see, some people will tell you, don't get your hopes up too high. I'll simply say what my mom taught me: it might be insane to live with a dream, but it's absolute madness to live without one.

I am proud that we created the Fair Lending Division to hold predatory lenders who try to act upon low- and moderate-income people accountable.

And I am proud of the work that Fair Housing is doing to clamp down on discrimination.

I'm also proud of "Team HUD" when they volunteer to go to Walter Reed and have dinner with people who serve our country, or teach at-risk students and tell them they have a chance to succeed.

Last fall, a walk to cure breast cancer attracted more than three hundred HUD employees. Three hundred! You have clearly heeded Dr. King's call for "creative altruism."

That's what is important about the people here at HUD. I am heartened to see so many young people carrying on King's legacy. We must never forget our history. Instead, we must apply its lessons to this century.

Our backs must be strong. And so must our character.

It was Dr. King's dream that all Americans be judged by "the content of their character," not "by the color of their skin." Those words, spoken at the Lincoln Memorial, continue to inspire us.

Soon, Dr. King will join President Lincoln on the Mall, looking over the calm waters of the nation he helped perfect�a "Stone of Hope" to anchor our nation to its best ideals.

Let us continue the legacy. You see, today, our burden is lighter. Our backs are straighter and stronger. And our task is still unfinished.


Content Archived: January 12, 2012