WASHINGTON, DC – Leaders of the U.S. House & Senate held a ceremony this afternoon marking the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The event took place in National Statuary Hall, also known as the Old Hall of the House of Representatives.
Following are House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-OH) remarks opening the ceremony, as prepared for delivery:
“Ladies and gentlemen, honored guests, my colleagues and fellow citizens:
“Fifty years ago this month, a simple banner was hung from a third-story window in Harlem. It read: ‘March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom – August 28th.’ Organizers were ambitious. Plans were made for 100,000.
“When the day came, more than two-and-a-half times that amount poured into Washington … stepping off buses and out of train doors, entering on foot from as far away as Alabama. Those swells of humanity converged on this great Mall singing, 'Woke up this morning with my mind set on freedom.'
“It was a day for the ages.
“Today, you and I have the honor of paying tribute to this event. Let us start by acknowledging the debt we owe to all those men and women. Let us start by saying ‘thank you’ to John Lewis.
“And let us challenge ourselves to recall the larger story. In a way, it all begins right here in the old House chamber. This is where a freshman representative from Illinois, Mr. Lincoln, files a bill giving the president power to emancipate the slaves of the District of Columbia. It goes nowhere, but the New York Tribune takes note of this ‘strong but judicious enemy to slavery.’
“Come 1863, this back-bencher is now president, and he judiciously signs a national Proclamation of Emancipation. ‘I can only trust in God,’ he says, ‘that I have made no mistake.’ And wouldn’t you know it – a century later, Reverend King begins his address at the March on Washington by invoking that very proclamation while standing in the shadow of that very president.
“Of course, things are never that tidy. Between those two turning points lie chapters of struggle by ordinary Americans committed to the promise that ‘all men are created equal.’ Among them: Rosa Parks and Frederick Douglass, whose statues we dedicated this year.
“Parks, who said ‘no’ because she was tired of giving in; and Douglass, who escaped slavery to become its most eloquent opponent. She would go on to walk with King and Lewis; he would advise Lincoln. He served as a tireless shepherd for the Proclamation; she was introduced at the March as a ‘fighter for freedom.’
“This is the story of how a president, a slave, a seamstress, and a minister locked arms across time to deliver us from oppression… a story that shakes us forward and shakes us free… a story with room enough for each of us to press on for some cause – some dream – bigger than ourselves.
“Thank you all for being here, and welcome to the United States Capitol.”