Many outstanding Americans and their individual accomplishments have been acclaimed in the United States Capitol. Signers of the Declaration of Independence, statesmen, military leaders and others are honored with statues or busts. But who among them has done more to change America than Martin Luther King, Jr.? I believe a memorial to Dr. King in the Capitol is appropriate and long overdue.
Martin Luther King Jr. was a man of vision and commitment. Dr. King and his contributions to American life have come to represent, in the hearts and minds of many Americans, their aspirations for freedom and equality.
It is fitting to honor him in the halls of the Capitol because it was Congress that translated many of his most important goals into reality. His influence on our nation's laws was profound. When Dr. King watched President Johnson sign the Civil Rights Act of 1964, he saw his own deeply held convictions and ideals take shape as federal law. When the recently extended Voting Rights Act of 1965 was enacted, Dr. King saw a legislative outcome of the epic struggle to redeem for black Americans what he called the "promissory note" of the Constitution.
I find it almost incredible that 14 years after his death Congress has still passed no legislation honoring his memory. His quest for civil rights touched the conscience of America and the world. The Congress played a pivotol role in his historic struggle, and the Capitol is therefore the most appropriate place in the nation to erect a memorial in his honor.
Many Americans today are too young to remember the atmosphere of the '60s, in which Dr. King undertook his peaceful crusade to achieve equal rights for black Americans. The air then was saturated with hate and fear. In the long march from Selma to Montgomery, every word and action of Martin Luther King Jr. was a demonstration of physical and moral courage that inspired the world.
For the third time since the death of Dr. King, the Senate is considering legislation to place his bust or statue in the Capitol. On each of the earlier occasions, the resolutions were agreed to by the Senate Rules Committee but did not make it through the entire legislative process.
The House of Representatives has entertained a resolution honoring Dr. King in every Congress since the 92nd. Rep. Jonathan Bingham (D-N.Y.) and others have introduced resolutions, but none has achieved final passage. In the 94th Congress, the House passed H. Con. Res. 96, authorizing the placement of a bust or statue of Dr. King in the Capitol. It was referred to the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, which reported it favorably without amendment. However, the resolution was amended on the Senate floor and no further action was taken. The House again passed similar legislation, H. Con. Res. 80, in the 96th Congress, which was later reported favorably by the Senate Rules Committee, but final action was never taken on that bill.
In these last days of the 97th Congress, we will try again to secure passage of this important and appropriate measure. Perhaps our third try will be charmed; I certainly hope so. Placing a bust or statue of Martin Luther King Jr. in the Capitol will not add to the luster of his deeds; nothing could. But Dr. King has earned his place among our nation's moral and social leaders, and we ought to affirm that place visibly in the halls of the Capitol building.