Washington, D.C. – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi delivered remarks at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Ceremonial Swearing-In. Below are the Leader’s remarks:
“Good morning everyone. Happy New Year. It is a Happy New Year indeed, isn’t it, that we have an ever expanding Congressional Black Caucus. Congratulations to all of the Members on their reelection who are coming back and congratulations to the new Members of the Congressional Black Caucus.
“I’m honored to be joined by the Assistant Democratic Leader of the House, Jim Clyburn. We pay our respects to Emanuel Cleaver, thank him for his tremendous leadership of the CBC in the last two years; thank you, Emanuel Cleaver. And we all look forward to the great work of the new chair, Marcia Fudge. Congratulations.
“This is going to be a great year as we swear-in these new Members, and re-swear-in other Members, it’s going to be a great year because, once again, we’re going to inaugurate Barack Obama as the President of the United States. It is always an honor for me to be able to participate in this important ceremony and, as mentioned, the President, I mentioned the New Year, the other day, as I was talking to the President about legislation that imminent in the Congress, that was on New Year’s Eve, he said: ‘so, what are you doing for New Year’s Eve?’ I said: ‘as a matter of fact’ – this is like 1 o’clock at night, he says what are you doing to ring in the New Year? I say: ‘well, what we’re doing is, a large number of Members of the House are going to the National Archives and we’re going there because only for several hours at the end of every year, is the Emancipation Proclamation out for display.’ And this year, because of this, as the President knew: the 150th anniversary of President Lincoln signing the Declaration of Independence, excuse me, well, the newest version of it, the Emancipation Proclamation. There was a special ceremony, that at midnight, at midnight, ringing in the New Year, Harriet Tubman would ring the bell – a reenactment of Harriet Tubman ringing the bell that as soon as midnight struck, freedom would prevail.
“Hundreds of people came for this, hundreds of people came that night to the National Archives a couple nights ago, and a large number of Members of Congress. We all agree, listening to the singing – first of people in bondage, and then the singing of songs of freedom and throughout – ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,’ that it was the best possible way to ring in the New Year, and an unforgettable, unforgettable, moment for all of us. The Emancipation Proclamation [issued] by Abraham Lincoln 150 years ago.
“That same year, the Statue of Freedom, that President Lincoln insisted that though the Civil War was going on they would continue with construction of the dome of the Capitol as a sign that our country was moving forward and was strong. The same year they began the transcontinental railroad, all things like that, this statute of Liberty was placed, statue of freedom was placed on top of the Capitol – showing a promise of the Emancipation Proclamation, the promise of equality.
“One hundred years later, a century later, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – the very other end of the Mall – he would stand at the other end, tell our nation about his extraordinary dream. He implored us to keep fighting for civil rights, to cash in on the ‘promissory note’ of equality passed down by our founders. He urged us to act with the ‘fierce urgency of now.’ In the time since then, Members of Congress, the President, men and women inside and outside of government have been led by Members of the Congressional Black Caucus – carried forth that torch of progress and equality for all Americans. We are all in your debt for that.
“You have taken up the cause of President Lincoln and Dr. King and countless others, and countless others, making strides in civil rights, and voting rights, in education and public safety, in jobs and opportunity. And standing at the forefront every step of the way, every step of the way, have been the Members of the Congressional Black Caucus – the ‘conscience of the Congress.’ We thank you. It is a tradition, that was well established by the founders of the CBC, a legacy that continues today.
“In our time, the CBC has led the way in protecting the most vulnerable, working to strengthen the middle class and those striving to get into what the CBC has stood for: better jobs, and growing small businesses, not only through job growth but equity, equity for all, better schools and greater access to medical care. The CBC has promoted diversity in government – exemplified by our Democratic Caucus, now the first in history, this is the first time in history that the Democratic Caucus in the House will be made up of a majority of women, minorities, and members of the LGBT community.
“As the CBC knows, we have a tremendous amount of work to do today – I don’t know if Representative Lewis is expected; as you know, his dear wife Lillian passed. But in his name we will be talking about empowerment of voters working with Leader Clyburn on that subject. So, we can’t separate the politics from the policy because we want more openness in our politics so that our policy is better. We’re still fighting to ensure that the contributions of African Americans and the African-American community are recognized in the halls of Congress.
“We are fighting to protect equal access to the ballot – to end attempts at voter suppression and make sure every person who is eligible to vote can vote and that their vote is counted as cast. We’re fighting for fairness in the workplace, growth in our economy, jobs for our workers, and opportunity for every family no matter where they live, or what their race.
“The strength of our democracy – the promise of freedom, the promise of freedom, when Lincoln [issued the Emancipation Proclamation] he talked about the rebirth of freedom, ‘a new birth of freedom’ in our country, that all, that promise of freedom depends on, not only leading the fights, but winning the fights. With the CBC in the lead, I have no doubt that we will win. As we all take the oath of office today, let us come together to protect and defend what President Lincoln and Dr. King promoted and preached: our Constitution, our freedom, our values, our people, as we do the Lord’s work.
“Let us secure a future of prosperity and progress for all Americans. Let us build a brighter future for our country and our democracy. These are words, but these people act upon them, act upon them, they’re driven by their values, by their commitment, this sense of urgency – the fierce urgency of now, from years ago, almost 50 years ago.
“So, I thank the chair, Emanuel Cleaver once again, for his tremendous leadership. Congratulate and welcome to the leadership, as we all do, and are very proud, I see one of her mentors, one of the persons that brags about her all the time, here today, Congresswoman Louis Philips. We’re all so proud of Marcia Fudge.
“So thank you CBC, thank you CBC Foundation for your leadership, thank you for strengthening our democracy, making the future better for all Americans. Congratulations. God bless you. God bless America. And thank you.”