Saturday, April 5, 2008
Sens. John McCain and Hillary Rodham Clinton were in Memphis yesterday to mark the 40th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s death. Sen. Barack Obama campaigned in Indiana and talked about King during a speech in Fort Wayne.
On his initial opposition to a King holiday:
"We can be slow as well to give greatness its due, a mistake I made myself long ago when I voted against a federal holiday in memory of Dr. King. I was wrong and eventually realized that, in time to give full support for a state holiday in Arizona. We can all be a little late sometimes in doing the right thing, and Dr. King understood this about his fellow Americans. But he knew as well that in the long term, confidence in the reasonability and good heart of America is always well placed. And always, that was his method in word and action -- to remind us of who we are and what we believe. His arguments were unanswerable and they were familiar, the case always resting on the writings of the Founders, the teachings of the prophets and the word of the Lord."
On learning of King's death while a POW in Vietnam:
"In our circumstances at the time, good news from America was hard to come by. But the bad news was a different matter, and each new report of violence, rioting and other tribulations in America was delivered without delay. The enemy had correctly calculated that the news from Memphis would deeply wound morale, and leave us worried and afraid for our country. Doubtless it boosted our captors' morale, confirming their belief that America was a lost cause and that the future belonged to them."
On meeting King when she was a teenager:
"I stood in line for a very long time that night to shake his hand. And he was gracious, and he was kind to lean over to shake the hand of a 14-year-old girl . . . from the suburbs of Chicago, who went to an all-white church and an all-white school, and lived in an all-white suburb. But he didn't ask me, as I reached out my hand, 'Where do you live, what is your experience?' He just took it and looked in my face and thanked me for coming."
On hearing that King had been shot:
"Like many of you here who are of a certain age, I will never forget where I was when I heard Dr. King had been killed. I was a junior in college. And I remember hearing about it and just feeling such despair. I walked onto my dorm room, took my book bag and hurled it across the room. It felt like everything had been shattered, like we would never be able to put the pieces together again.
"I joined a protest march in Boston. I wore a black armband. I worked to convince my college to recruit more students and faculty of color, but it felt like it wasn't enough."
Remembering Robert F. Kennedy after King was killed:
"In few places was the pain more pronounced than in Indianapolis, where Robert Kennedy happened to be campaigning. And it fell to him to inform a crowded park that Dr. King had been killed. And as the shock turned toward anger, Kennedy reminded them of Dr. King's compassion, and his love. And on a night when cities across the nation were alight with violence, all was quiet in Indianapolis."
On the politics of division:
"Part of the problem is that for a long time, we've had a politics that's been too small for the scale of the challenges we face. This is something I spoke about a few weeks ago in a speech I gave in Philadelphia. And what I said was that instead of having a politics that lives up to Dr. King's call for unity, we've had a politics that's used race to drive us apart, when all this does is feed the forces of division and distraction, and stop us from solving our problems. That is why the great need of this hour is much the same as it was when Dr. King delivered his sermon in Memphis. We have to recognize that while we each have a different past, we all share the same hopes for the future."