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Pelosi Remarks at the Dedication of Frederick Douglass Statue

Washington, D.C. – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi delivered remarks at the ceremony dedicating a statue of Frederick Douglass in the Capitol Visitor’s Center.  This is the first statute to represent the District of Columbia in the Capitol.  Below are the Leader’s remarks:

“Good morning everyone.  Mr. Vice President, Mr. Speaker, Leader Reid, Leader McConnell, Senator Schumer – the Senate sponsor of the bill that brings us here today – and of course, our colleague, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes-Norton, who has been a relentless champion.  Congratulations.  This is your day.

[Applause]

“Dr. Medford, Nettie congratulations to you and to your family.

“One hundred and fifty years ago, as New Year’s approached, as midnight approached in 1863, Frederick Douglass gathered with fellow abolitionists in Tremont Temple in Boston.  With great anticipation, they awaited the official news of emancipation, knowing that freedom of a people and the character of a nation hung in the balance.  Describing the spirit in that room, Frederick Douglass would later write: ‘We were waiting and listening as for a bolt from the sky.  We were watching by the dim light of the stars for the dawn of a new day.  We were longing for the answer to the agonizing prayers of centuries.’

“Since escaping slavery, he had acted and agitated to usher in the dawn of a new day.  And as the clock struck midnight, an agonizing prayer was answered: President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.  It would take more than two years for the proclamation to reach the slaves in Galveston, Texas, on June 19th, 1865 – ‘Juneteenth’ – a celebration of freedom we mark today so appropriately.

“This year, on New Year’s Eve, a number of Members, a bipartisan group of Members went to the National Archives to ring in the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and to recognize all who helped make it a reality.  Certainly, more than central to that cause was Frederick Douglass.  In that time, Frederick Douglass stood tall at the center of the battle for abolition and civil rights, for an America that lived up to the creed of equality.  Starting today, Frederick Douglass will stand tall in the U.S. Capitol: a tribute to his leadership, to his prominent place in the pantheon of history.  Frederick Douglass earned fame and recognition as an abolitionist and a leader.  But he was also a leader in the fight for women’s suffrage, as has been acknowledged.

“Many of us celebrated Frederick Douglass another time by visiting Seneca Falls on the 150th anniversary of his speech to the first Women’s Rights Convention, a speech that recognized women’s rights and civil rights as connected chapters in the struggle for equality.  We celebrate him when we visit the Frederick Douglass National Historical Site right here in Washington, D.C.  And of course, as a person born in Baltimore and Maryland, I know [Democratic Whip] Steny [Hoyer] and [Congressman] Elijah [Cummings] and [Congresswoman] Donna Edwards and our other colleagues from Maryland, certainly Senator Mikulski, take pride in his Maryland associations as well. 

“When it comes to equality in our country, Frederick Douglass’ voice is still being heard.  Indeed, it is appropriate that his statue would represent the District of Columbia for his advocacy of D.C. voting rights and his decision to spend the last years of his life at Cedar Hill in Washington.  Today, the more than 600,000 citizens of Washington will see a statue finally representing them in Emancipation Hall in the Capitol – a tribute to him and again, to the relentless leadership of Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton.  We know that a single statue is not enough.  What Frederick Douglass and so many of us want is full representation in the halls of Congress.  As Frederick Douglass wrote of the people of D.C., start quote, ‘They have neither voice nor vote,’ closed quotes.  And it is incumbent upon all of us to right this wrong of history and to afford the District of Columbia the voice it deserves.

[Applause]

“Fifty years ago this month, President Kennedy spoke for the first time of civil rights – this was just a week ago, 50 years ago, a week ago.  He spoke for the first time of civil rights as ‘primarily a moral issue.’  He reminded us that our ‘nation will not be fully free until all of our citizens are free.’

“Today, with the statue of Frederick Douglass, we honor a man of moral vision, known by many as the ‘father of the civil rights movement,’ a leader who worked to make our nation fully free.  He joins fellow heroes on that journey who have been acknowledged, who [are] present in the Capitol: Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.; Sojourner Truth; Rosa Parks – each now with a rightful place in the Capitol, and that, as has been indicated by Senator Schumer, we want more.  Each understood the truth of Douglass’ statement: ‘Power concedes nothing without a demand.  It never did and it never will,’ he said. Frederick Douglass demanded freedom.  He demanded a nation that stayed true to its ideals.  He demanded and helped achieve a ‘more perfect union.’  And we still have work to do.

“On this statue – there are many things that are on this beautiful – isn’t it beautiful statue.  It says on the side that: ‘The soul that is in me, no man can degrade.’  ‘The soul that is in me, no man can degrade.’  How perfect, how beautiful.

“May this statue long stand as a testament to the inspirational life, the timeless message, and the extraordinary leadership of Frederick Douglass.  Thank you.”