Head of the Civil Rights Division Vanita Gupta Delivers Remarks at the Justice Department’s Commemorative Program
Honoring Martin Luther King Jr.
Washington, DC United States ~ Thursday, January 14, 2016
Good morning. Thank you, [Deputy Director] Denise [Abrams], for your kind words and for your outstanding leadership, along with [Director] Richard Toscano, of the Equal Employment Opportunity Staff at the Justice Management Division. I also want to acknowledge Reverend Phillip Daniels, for his inspiring invocation. And of course, I must thank Attorney General [Loretta E.] Lynch and Deputy Attorney General [Sally Q.] Yates, for their exemplary leadership and for their unwavering support of our civil rights work.
It’s truly a pleasure to join you all today as we come together to celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. King. Each day – throughout the Department of Justice and all over the country – we breathe life into Dr. King’s vision. We uphold the laws he championed. And we bring America closer to realizing the dream he shared.
Fueled by courage and hope, Dr. King changed the course of history. And his legacy reminds us of the unique role that each of us can play when we embrace those same powerful forces. As public servants and private citizens, we hold the power to shape our country into a more perfect, more free and more just union. Today presents an opportunity to honor Dr. King’s life and to commemorate what he accomplished. But it also provides a chance to remember how he lived, to reaffirm the values he stood for and to draw strength from the leadership he provided.
Dr. King’s life and legacy exemplify the power of courage. He never shrunk from the moral responsibility to confront injustice. Dr. King saw clearly the painful inequalities of his time. But he also saw the path forward, to a world filled with freedom. He favored truth over timidity. He diagnosed problems and devised solutions. He met challenges with candor. And he called on millions of Americans – of every race, creed and background – to live up to our identity as a courageous and compassionate nation.
Dr. King also embodied hope. Confronted by daunting opposition, he responded with unwavering optimism in America’s ability to overcome. Facing bigotry, he chose tolerance. Threatened by violence, he chose peace. Surrounded by hate, he chose love. And pressured by fear, he chose faith. Even in trying times that felt hopeless to so many Americans, Dr. King saw a nation at the brink of opportunity and a people on the cusp of change. From the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, he told us to focus on “the fierce urgency of now,” declaring, “now is the time to make real the promises of democracy.”
For more than half a century, courage and hope have also fueled the Civil Rights Division as we work to protect the most vulnerable among us, to defend the foundation of our democracy, and to expand opportunity for all people. We vigorously defend the right to vote, ensuring that all people eligible to vote can elect the candidates of their choice. We work tirelessly to combat discrimination and ensure equal opportunity in every corner of our society – from schools and governments, to banks and businesses, to courts and jails. We ensure that all people can have equal access to housing, credit and employment. We combat hate crimes that target vulnerable communities, including our LGBTI brothers and sisters and people with disabilities. And in cities across America, we continue to advance constitutional policing that builds trust between law enforcement officers and the communities they serve. Within the Civil Rights Division, across U.S. Attorneys’ Offices around the country, and throughout the entire Justice Department, courage and hope continue to drive us as we make real strides of progress.
But we did not come here today simply to take a victory lap around our civil rights achievements. Because in the 21st century – at the Department of Justice – we understand firsthand the work that remains to bring America ever closer to its founding ideals of equal justice, equal opportunity and fundamental fairness for all.
To quote the words of Dr. King’s Nobel Peace Prize Lecture at Oslo in 1964, we must “press on until every valley of despair is exalted to new peaks of hope … until the rough places of injustice are transformed into a smooth plane of equality of opportunity; and until the crooked places of prejudice are transformed by the straightening process of bright-eyed wisdom.” Today, let us rededicate ourselves to “press on” until all people in this country – regardless of where they come from, what they look like, whom they love or which God they worship – can live free from discrimination and fear; and until people from every walk of life can stand together and say that at last in America, Dr. King’s dream has become reality.
As we reflect on the history of the civil rights movement, let us acknowledge that realizing the unfulfilled promise of Dr. King’s dream will not come easily. The road ahead contains no comfortable and convenient solutions. Yet looking throughout this hall, seeing so many dedicated colleagues and sharing the stage with our outstanding Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General, I know that we will continue to forge on – with courage and with hope – to deliver real results for those in our great country.
We are honored to be led by an Attorney General who has devoted her career in public service to using the law as a lever for justice. Attorney General Lynch has never shied away from the tough cases or run from the complex decisions. She keeps a relentless focus on the problems facing our most vulnerable communities – problems too often hidden in the shadows of our society. And so despite the many serious and pressing challenges our country faces today, her leadership gives me great optimism in our ability to tackle them in the days and months ahead.
Please join me in welcoming to the stage the 83rd Attorney General of the United States, Loretta Lynch.