MARCH 10, 1990

On behalf of President Bush and Attorney General Thornburgh, I commend the SCLC and the organizers of this event. More personally, as one whose professional life was energized 25 years ago by the events we celebrate today, I thank you for the rare honor and privilege of participating in this celebration. As you heard in the introduction, I have been continuously in the business of enforcing civil rights laws since the days 25 years ago when I was sent here by the Justice Department to conduct a grand jury investigation of the events of bloody Sunday and to serve on the team of federal prosecutors that finally brought to justice the klansmen who murdered Viola Liuzzo -- a Detroit woman who was gunned down on Route 80 after the Selma march.

In 1965, black people in this State lived at the lowest level of a pervasive caste system -- invisible to the law and unacceptable to society. The Civil Rights movement -- the idea whose time had come -- eliminated that system forever.

Within months of the Montgomery March President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, the strongest civil rights bill ever conceived in this country. In Alabama alone, black registration increased from about 92,000 in 1964 to nearly a quarter of a million in 1967. Nationwide, the number of black elected officials has leaped from 103 in 1964 to 7226 today. In Alabama, there were no black elected officials in either the Alabama House or the Alabama Senate at the time of the Voting Rights Act. Today, there nre five black state senators and eighteen black house members. After the census counts in 1970 and 1980, hundreds of units of state and local government across the South were reconstituted, but on these occasions the Voting Rights Act required that every single plan be inspected for racial fairness by the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division. For example, we found that one Congressional district in Atlanta was drawn to minimize the chance that a black congressman could be elected. We required the lines to be drawn fairly and in 1972 that district elected Andrew Young and today it is served by none other than John Lewis -- whom I first met as one of the leaders of the bloody Sunday march.

And, under other provisions of the Act, unfair voting systems may now be challenged in federal court. For example, we are today completing a trial in Los Angeles, California where we contend that a county of seven million people has been divided purposefully into five election districts in a way that fragments two million Hispanic residents to prevent their representation. In Selma, where it all began, after ten years of contested litigation, the Department of Justice was finally able to get a fair districting plan in place and just last year I had the honor of attending the swearing-in of three new black members of the five-person Dallas County Commission -- a swearing-in conducted by Alabama's first black federal district Judge, U. W. Clemon.

So I want to join with you today in celebrating the monumental events which led to these historic changes in American life. They happened, of course, because of the exercise of the rejuvenating right to petition for redress of grievances contained in our Constitution and enforced by our courts. The rights of all Americans were enhanced when the marchers crossed the Pettus Bridge to expose the oppression of Selma and begin a quest for justice in Montgomery and beyond. But such events also happened because of the inspired vision of Dr. King and the others who literally devoted their lives to exercising the power of freedom. In one of his finest moments, Dr. King stood in this historic spot in March of 1965 and declared to the world:

They told us we wouldn't get here. And there were those who said that we would only get here over their dead bodies. But all the world today knows that we are here, that we are standing before the forces of power in the state of Alabama, saying "We ain't goin' let nobody turn us around."
And, that is truly a story that deserves the telling, and the retelling, lest anyone forget that it is the miracle of freedom that its power grows strongest when it is threatened most.

The cause of racial justice was pushed -- firmly but peacefully. The tactics were as straightforward as a simple plea for fairness: truth was preached in the churches; oppression was demonstrated in the streets; justice was practiced in the courts. And with a grace that was truly amazing, an entire nation peacefully healed itself.

I like to think that the spirit of the Montgomery March is the true spirit of democracy that the ideas unleashed 25 years ago here in Alabama surfaced again in Tiananmen Square; that the march of ideas that started here are now reverberating in Johannesburg and Prague; nnd that the first cracks in the Berlin Wall had their seismic origins in Selma, Alabama in 1965.

But such claims are perhaps too grandiose. Let me settle for the thought that the events we celebrate today should inspire all of us to have a higher faith in America.

For my part, I renew to you my personal promise, and the firm commitment of the Justice Department, that the civil rights laws of this great country will be vigorously enforced. To ensure that the precious gains of black voters are not lost in post-1990 redistricting, we will faithfully review every new district formed after next month's national census to ensure full compliance with the Voting Rights Act. With the FBI, we will relentlessly search for the killers of Judge Vance and civil rights attorney Robert E. Robinson. We will bring those responsible to justice.

Today, we join together not so much to celebrate the succesful completion of a chapter of national life, as to renew the overarching commitment to equal justice under law. We know thnt this goal has yet to be realized, but I hope that each of us leaves here with a revitalized determination to continue to work for the dream of justice and racial understanding envisioned by the marchers from Selma.

Thank you.

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