Washington, D.C. - Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, House Republican Leader John Boehner, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, and House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn joined together under the Capitol Rotunda this morning to commemorate President Truman's executive order 60 years ago that marked the beginning of racial integration in the armed services. Below are the Speaker's opening remarks:
“Today, under this temple of democracy, we observe the 60th anniversary of President Truman's executive order desegregating the United States Armed Forces.
“We are so honored that each and every one of you is here. We're especially proud of those who have served in the military who are with us, and those who are serving now and their leadership. Thank you all for being here. We're honored by your presence.
“And we're honored by the presence of the Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. Thank you, Secretary Gates for being here with us today.
“And has been mentioned by the Leader, we're joined by the former Secretary of State, former Joint Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff, Colin Powell. Thank you for your leadership. Thank you for honoring us with your presence.
“I think, though, that all of the leaders who are present here know that our very special guests are Captain Spencer Moore and Sergeant A. William Perry, Buffalo Soldiers of the 92nd Infantry Division.
“They are part of America's story. The American story is filled with paradoxes, but none more tragic than the tale of African Americans who fought for our nation at a time when our nation was not fighting for them.
“We must not only acknowledge this injustice today, but rededicate ourselves to redeeming our Constitution's promise of equal rights for every American.
“During World War II, 1 million black men served in our nation's armed forces in segregated units.
“The Tuskegee Airmen who received the Congressional Gold Medal last year and the Buffalo Soldiers are a part of our nation's proud military history, and many of our Buffalo Soldiers are with us today.
“Millions of black women worked on the home front, supplying the war effort and many served in uniform themselves.
“African Americans were not alone. Japanese Americans also served with honor, despite those who questioned their loyalty, and we all appreciate the contribution of the Hispanic American community to the war effort.
“While defending America, these patriots confronted racism that conflicted with the ideals for which we fought that war.
“They did not endure discrimination without protest. Even during the war, black soldiers and sailors challenged segregation policies while serving admirably in combat.
“By war's end, African Americans faced delays securing discharges and most returned to segregated communities.
“Their experiences in war led black World War II African American veterans to continue to the fight for freedom here at home, including civil rights leader Medgar Evers.
“Evers enlisted in the Army at age 17, fought Nazi tyranny, and returned home a 21-year old veteran prepared to cast his very first vote, only to be denied the franchise by an armed mob.
“He would later write, ‘I made up my mind then that it would not be like that again--at least not for me. I was committed…to change things.'
“Thousands of World War II veterans were committed to that ‘change.'
“They became the cornerstone of the civil rights movement, allowing us to observe today's anniversary and celebrate the victories that followed, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
“When called on their country to serve, African Americans did so with courage, honor and distinction--just as many do today.
“When called by conscience to serve the civil rights movement, they provided indispensable moral leadership, defended liberty, and redefined America for the better.
“To all those who fought in the struggle for freedom, God has truly blessed America with the service of all of our men and women in America, and God truly blessed America with the leadership of President Truman. Thank you.”