Pelosi Remarks at Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony Honoring Dr. & Mrs. Martin Luther King, Jr.

June 24, 2014

Washington, D.C. – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi delivered remarks today at the Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony honoring the life and legacy of Dr. & Mrs. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Below are the Leader’s remarks:

“Good afternoon.  Thank you all.  Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for bringing us together in the Rotunda.  And just think of it: we’re sitting under the gaze of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. and Abraham Lincoln.  They’re looking at each other directly across the Rotunda.  And here we are.


“It’s an honor to be here with you with Senator Reid, Senator McConnell, and also with Senator Levin, our dear colleague John Lewis, the Chair of our Congressional Black Caucus, Marcia Fudge.


“And with our Democratic Assistant Leader, Mr. Clyburn – awfully honored that he is here as well.  I want to join my colleagues in thanking the King family for sharing your mother and father with us.  We are deeply in your debt.  As Senator Levin said: this is the Congressional Gold Medal – it’s certainly not enough thanks, but is a token of our appreciation to Martin, to Dexter, to Bernice, and to Dr. King’s sister, Christine King Farris.  Thank you for being with us today.  This day would, of course, not be possible without your parents, and certainly would not be possible at all without President Lyndon Johnson.  So thank you, Lynda Johnson Robb, and Senator Robb for being with us.

“Again, as we gather in the Rotunda, under the gaze of Reverend King and of President Lincoln, we recall the Gettysburg Address, where the Great Emancipator hearkened back not to the Constitution but to the Declaration of Independence.  Ours was ‘a new nation,’ he said. ‘Conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.’

“That is the promise of America.  And in making that promise come true – that was the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King.  A century after the Gettysburg Address – a century later – Dr. King stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and called our nation to act on those words – to reassert the vision of our founding fathers.  A year later, Dr. King stood as an honored guest as President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law.

“Fifty years later, here we are – the law stands as a pillar of fairness, justice and equality; an enduring testament to the soul force of Dr. King, and Coretta Scott King.  The Civil Rights Act transformed our country.  It made America more American.

“In 1959, the Kings travelled to India – Mr. Lewis referenced nonviolence – they traveled to India to study Mahatma Gandhi’s principles of non-violent persuasion, so they could apply it to the civil rights struggle here at home.  Actually, the Indians and the Kings learned from each other.  It’s interesting to note that in in Sanskrit, the word for non-violence, Satyagraha – that same word, it means ‘non-violence’ and it means ‘insistence on the truth.’


“Though they knew it would mean sacrifice and struggle for their family, and for many others across America, and for the Kings – that they would insist on the truth at the heart of our nation: ‘that all men’ –  and women – ‘are created equal.’  Dr. King was not only non-violent in his actions, but non-violent in his words.  That was a source of great strength to him and Coretta, and to the movement.

“When the Civil Rights Act was passed, we would never have dreamed -- some of you weren’t born, for the rest of us it was our youth, right Steny? – we would have never dreamed that on this 50th anniversary, we would look out on the Mall and there would be a monument, a memorial, to Reverend Martin Luther King – as a neighbor to the Lincoln Memorial, to President Lincoln.  And referencing again what Mr. Lewis said: and what would President Lincoln think, and what would Reverend King think, that on that day – when that Martin Luther King memorial was dedicated – it was dedicated by President Barack Obama!


“All of this progress was made possible because of Dr. King’s insistence on the truth.  And that insistence on the truth stirred the leadership of President Kennedy and the legislative virtuosity and leadership of President Lyndon B. Johnson – and because of the courage of civil rights activists across the country, including this week, we mourn James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman – they and so many others made this possible.

“At the time all acknowledged that the Civil Rights Act was incomplete without the Voting Rights Act.  President Johnson and Dr. King would press for the Voting Rights Act’s passage in the next Congress – it was only a matter of months later – and today, these twin triumphs of civil rights stand among the greatest legislative accomplishments of our country.


“And so, as we bestow the Congressional Gold Medal on Dr. Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King, we must insist on the truth: and that truth is to truly celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, we must pass the bipartisan Voting Rights Act in this Congress.  Thank you all.”