Washington, D.C. – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi delivered remarks at a ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington in 1963. Below are the Leader’s remarks:
“Good afternoon Senator Reid, Leader Reid, and Leader McConnell, Leader Clyburn, Speaker Boehner, thank you – Mr. Hoyer – thank you for bringing us together for this congressional bipartisan observance of the 50 year anniversary of the March on Washington. Wasn’t it exciting to see the enthusiasm in the film of the people of the day? And who could suspect that so many of us would be here who had ties to all that was going on? Who would suspect we would all be here with Member of Congress, John Lewis?
“Attorney General, Mr. Mayor, you honor us with your presence. ‘The fierce urgency of now.’ The words rang out across the National Mall; the call echoed in households across America; the summons ignited a movement to make real the promise of democracy. Of course, everyone knows the ‘I Have a Dream’ Speech, but ‘the fierce urgency of now’ part of it was not only an inspiration, it was a motivation to act. It was not the first time Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. urged his fellow travelers to reject the status quo – to, in his words at the march, refuse to ‘take the tranquillizing drug of gradualism.’
“Seven years earlier in the Civic Auditorium in San Francisco, my hometown, in 1956, Dr. King delivered this same message to the delegates of the NAACP convention. He said: ‘Now, I realize that there are those all over who are telling us that we must slow up,’ he said. ‘But we cannot afford to slow up. We have a moral obligation to press on…because of our love for America and our love for the democratic way of life…We must keep moving.’
“From San Francisco in 1956, to the Mall in 1963, to America today, Dr. King’s message endures – and we must keep moving. We have kept moving forward on jobs and justice, on opportunity and economic prosperity, and equality, our heritage and our hope.
“At the time of the march, there were no, there was no landmark legislation advancing civil rights or voting rights. Yet within two years after the march, there would be the historic Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. That’s why I think it’s very important that Congress observe this 50 year anniversary and what followed. There were signs of progress, but there were not enough. At the time of the march, in Congress, there were five African-American Members of the House of Representatives. Today, there are 43, led by Chairwoman Marcia Fudge. That is a sign of progress, but that is not enough. That is not enough.
“At the time of the march, John Lewis was the Chairman of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. Today, he is the distinguished, very senior, very respected Member of the House of Representatives, representing the Fifth District of Georgia. That is a sign of progress. We want more. At the time of the march, the Congressional Black Caucus did not exist. Today, the CBC is well-identified as the ‘conscience of the Congress.’
“With the CBC’s leadership, Congress has acted to break down barriers in education and housing. The list goes on. Congress has worked to reduce disparities in healthcare and open new doors of equality in the workplace. We have kept moving forward. Each step is a sign of progress. And we have a moral obligation to press on. We must keep moving. We must embrace ‘the fierce urgency of now.’
“Inscribed on the east entrance to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in San Francisco is another statement from Dr. King’s visit to our city in 1956. He said this: ‘I believe that a day will come when all God’s children, from base black to treble white, will be significant on the Constitution’s keyboard.’
“That reference to music reminds me that, standing in the crowd in the March on Washington, I had the privilege of being at the crowd, I don’t want to say that I heard the speeches because I had to go home and get married. So, I always know how many years ago the march was as I celebrate now, my husband and I, our 50th wedding anniversary.
“But anybody, anyone who was there standing in the crowd at the March on Washington would remember the solemnity and the sounds of the day, hearing the music – you’ve heard the music in the film – listening to the people sing, hopeful about the future, determined to act to strengthen our democracy.
“Today, the music of the march, the harmony of the civil rights movement, the notes of Dr. King’s inspirational words must continue to inspire us to compose, as Dr. King said in his words on that August afternoon, ‘a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.’