Transcript of Video for the Western Regional Housing Summit
REMARKS PREPARED FOR
STEVE PRESTON, SECRETARY OF HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT
TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 23, 2008
Thank you, Kim (Kendrick). Thank you for coming. This is a great day, an historic day, for our department.
Forty years ago, Congress passed the "Fair Housing Act of 1968." This was a necessary law to end racial division. It extended constitutional protection to all Americans in the housing market. It is one of the most important pieces of legislation of the Twentieth Century. And today we recall the struggle for passage and the courage of the bill's co-sponsors, Senator Edward Brooke and Senator Walter Mondale.
Harry Carey has told you the history. Thanks, Harry, for doing that. It is an amazing story. The bill had a long wait before passage...decades. In fact, it was stalled in Congress as legislators were fearful of the backlash of segregation's supporters. Even though Brown v. Board of Education ended segregation more than fourteen years earlier, in 1954, segregation still had a stranglehold on the South, even beyond the Southern states. As one civil rights leader, Dr. Benjamin Elijah Mays, put it, discrimination had its "tentacles" out everywhere, twisting and turning, reaching out to stop any advancement toward integration, pulling back the gains in equal opportunity, preventing any efforts to create a just society.
Of course, many Americans realized the value of a fair housing law. The debate over fair housing was a central part of the political dialogue throughout the 1950s and 1960s. But discussion did not lead to progress until a fateful day, April 4th, 1968. On that day, in Memphis, Tennessee, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was martyred, a shameful act designed to silence the civil rights movement. But it didn't work. Instead, the violence inflamed the nation. More than 40 major cities ignited in flames the night of his assassination, including Washington, D.C. Just blocks from here, H Street was in ruins, 7th Street and 14th Street were on fire, large parts of the downtown area were burning, and members of the National Guard stood on street corners, armed with weapons to restore peace.
Somehow, the nation made it through that night. Tension was high the next morning, the morning of April 5th. President Johnson convened a meeting with Congressional leaders to discuss the situation. He convinced them that further inaction could spark a second civil war. Senators Brooke and Mondale stepped forward and boldly pushed the legislation through, utilizing their considerable legislative skills.
Their leadership and vision made the difference. Less than one week later, the "Fair Housing Act" became law on April 11th.
President Johnson knew the power of that law. As he wrote in his autobiography, the law helped create a "new mood" that brought peace back to our cities. He said that it was a law that healed the nation, ended the violence, and gave our nation powerful constitutional protection against prejudice and discrimination. The "Fair Housing Act," made this country nobler, stronger, better, and more just.
So I pleased that we meet here today, forty years on, to reflect on this major milestone in American Constitutional Law. And to reflect on the sacrifice of Dr. King, and the way that Senators Brooke and Mondale united this country with a commitment, a constitutional promise, of fair housing.
Today, we are the successors of those two senators. It is our job to make that document live and grow, to protect Americans of all classes, ethnicity, and situations against housing discrimination, against its pernicious and hateful manifestation, to remove the tentacles that strangle our nation, and free our people from the legacy of segregation and racism. It falls to this department to promote and enforce the "Fair Housing Act." We proudly accept that responsibility. And by dedicating this auditorium to those intrepid warriors, Senator Edward Brook and Senator Walter Mondale, we do more than honor their memory and their achievement. We remind ourselves every day that fair housing is part of our work and must be a part of every dealing in the housing market.
To the HUD staff here, I want to thank all of you again for your dedication and service. I want to especially thank Kim Kendrick and her staff for their leadership and hard work.
On behalf of the President and the American people, thank you all for coming to this building every day to make a difference, providing a high standard of public service.
So, today, I dedicate this auditorium as the "Edward Brooke-Walter Mondale Auditorium." Thank you for joining me as we dedicate this auditorium, our auditorium, in the name of two great American public servants.
Thank you. Kim (Kendrick) and Roy (Bernardi), will you join me as we unveil the plaque.