|The American Presidency Project|
|• Jimmy Carter|
|Atlanta, Georgia Remarks Accepting the Martin Luther King, Jr. Nonviolent Peace Prize.|
|January 14, 1979|
Prime Minister Ullsten, Foreign Minister Frydenlund, members of the diplomatic corps from throughout the world, Senator Talmadge, Congressman Levitas, my good friend and mentor, Dr. Benjamin Mays, my friend Daddy King, Coretta King, Chairman Jesse Hill, Reverend Dr. Roberts, ladies and gentleman:
I'm indeed glad to be back in this historic church where I have attended many inspirational and delightful services.
I would say two or three things. First of all, that I would like to donate this money, if Coretta has no objection, to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Social Change, and I appreciate it very much.
Coretta referred to things that don't change and the proper correlation of them with values which change. Today I had lunch with my own family, many of whom live in Georgia—my sons, my daughter, my three grandchildren. During lunch, I held my new granddaughter, Sarah. Daddy King, I looked at her very closely. She looks like me. I'm sure she's authentic. [Laughter] It did take me a few minutes to get my suit cleaned before I could come to this meeting, but those kinds of close, personal family relationships do not change. And the worldwide family that has already been described by Jesse Hill as a family of Martin Luther King, Jr., changes only in its dynamic growth and inspiration. But its basic principles don't change.
I've been President now almost exactly 2 years. I'm delighted to come back to Georgia. I was reading a 2-year analysis of my own personal character this morning in the newspaper. It reminded me somewhat of Daddy King. First of all, the commentator said I was getting older. He said I was getting grayer. He said I was getting wiser. And he said I was getting leaner. [Laughter] At least I heard three amens. [Laughter]
I come here grateful, and I accept this award not as an honor that I have earned, but as an affirmation, publicly, that I share the hopes and dreams of Martin Luther King, Jr., and I recognize the tremendous progress still left to be made. And together, you and I, millions of people around the world will continue to make that progress, and we will also realize those hopes and dreams.
Martin Luther King, Jr., looked about him in his young life and saw great injustice. Many others before him had seen, and some—too few—had deplored racial prejudice, which resulted in deprivation of some and hatred among many. But for generations, little of that had changed. He looked about him and saw many of his own people who couldn't sit down at a lunch counter, who couldn't drink from a water fountain, some of whom were afraid to register and to vote in the self-professed greatest democracy on Earth. He saw a people without power or influence who were branded as inferior by both law and custom.
But when he looked at his own people, he saw not powerlessness or weakness, he saw potential. And he believed in the great power of ordinary people who combine together to fight for what they know to be right.
He showed all of us that we are not powerless if we care enough and if we are willing to sacrifice enough and if we are willing to risk public failure and disappointment and condemnation and criticism and, sometimes, humiliation, and if we are always ready to come back and fight again and try again.
Martin remembered the words of Jesus, "Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." And he was able to inspire the quiet and the timid folks by the truth of these words, proven by his own courageous actions.
We remember him marching on as people spat on him, emerging triumphant time after time from jail, having defeated his enemies with his simple and his peaceful refusal either to stop what he was doing, to yield to pressure, or to descend to the violence of those who persecuted him.
We remember him moving great crowds and even an entire nation with his eloquent words.
But it's important for us to remember that he tasted defeat as well as he tasted victory. When he said, "How long, 0 Lord, how long?", it was not just a rhetorical flourish. It was an anguished cry of a heart that knew too much suffering in between those rare victories.
He called out to the best in people, even those who looked the other way at the time. He called out to courage that many people did not know they had. He called upon their endurance and their patience and their simple goodness. He spoke of the America that had never been, but he spoke of the America that we hope in the future will be.
We have survived as an increasingly free people now for 200 years, and we will prevail in the struggle for human rights, because men and women like Daddy King, Martin Luther King, Jr., Coretta King, Andy Young, and all those in the civil rights movement will never stop believing in the promise of our democracy, even in its darkest days. And others like me have learned from you; together we will prevail.
We can speak out now as a nation with one voice on the sensitive issue of human rights all around the world, because Martin Luther King, Jr., and the civil rights movement helped to liberate all Americans from the chains of official racism here at home.
Had he not lived, had his voice not been heard, had his actions not prevailed, it would now be an embarrassment for the United States to mention the words "human rights" in international councils.
Daddy King spoke the truth when he said, "Too many people think Martin frees only black people. In truth, he helped to free all people."
Now the challenge facing all of us today, and particularly government, is to stay true to the trust placed in America by the civil rights movement and Martin Luther King, Jr. He trusted our country. He trusted our Government. He trusted our people, even when an objective observer would say in complete truth, there were times when our Government, its laws, and many of its people didn't deserve to be trusted.
Let no one doubt where I stand. My administration and I personally stand with you. We are committed to civil rights. We are committed to equal opportunity. We are committed to equal justice under the law, and you can depend on it.
As President of the United States, representing now 220 million people, I pledge to you that I will continue to strengthen and to enforce the civil rights laws of the land, firmly and without equivocation, not only the letter of the law but the spirit of the law as well.
Many of those responsible for enforcing civil rights laws in our Government today are people who struggled alongside you in the battle for civil rights—people like Eleanor Holmes Norton and Drew Days and Wade McCree and many others. And I pledge to you that they not only have my full support as President, but they have the encouragement of many others who work with me in Government like John Lewis, who's here, Andy Young, in the enforcement of equal opportunity.
I might say that Andy was planning on being here today, but about 2:30 this morning, the Secretary of State had to call Andy for a special assignment, and he's not able to be here. But his spirit is with us. And Jean, his wife, is here.
In our Government, we will not authorize Federal tax money, your tax money, to fund or pay for discrimination. It's difficult to root out, because sometimes it's hard to find, and influential people benefit from different aspects of discrimination—in hiring practices, in promotion of employees, in housing, in redlining bank loans. But we must do more than correct these defects. For too many years we have passed equal rights laws and administered equal rights laws from a city where 700,000 Americans are denied their full right to vote. It's time to give the people of the District of Columbia their full voting rights.
But we must, and we will, do more. We cannot overcome 200 years of discrimination simply by writing the promise of justice into the laws of our land. We must and we will fulfill that promise, not just through administering the law but through vigorous affirmative action programs in all elements of government.
President Lyndon Johnson put it very well in the last public speech he made when he was no longer President. And he said, "To be black in a white society is not to stand on level and equal ground. While the races may stand side by side, whites stand on history's mountain, and blacks stand in history's hollows."
The only way to overcome unequal history, which leaves discrimination when the laws are equal, is to promote and defend and enforce the equal opportunity for all disadvantaged Americans in this land. And that, again, is what we will do.
But we must and we will do more, much more. It's not enough to have a right to sit at a lunch counter if you can't afford to buy a meal. And a ghetto looks the same, even when you're sitting in the front end of a bus.
Martin Luther King, Jr.'s dream lives among us today. But too many individual dreams have died. In rat-ridden slums and decaying homes and rotting neighborhoods, dreams are dying. There are still hundreds of thousands of young people, many of them minority youth, in our country who have never had a chance to hold a decent job. They learn in our streets, not in our schools. And they learn about drugs and alcohol and crime and not about religion or medicine or mathematics or law. We cannot permit another generation of Americans to grow up with no hope.
In the last 2 years, we have been able to add more jobs in this country than any other time in the history of our Nation. But we've still got a long way to go. And I'm proud that we joined together, Coretta King, I, the Members of the Congress, Senator Talmadge, Elliott Levitas, and many others, last year, and wrote the promise of full employment into the laws of our land by passing the Humphrey-Hawkins bill.
We have begun to put our people back to work, but we must do more. We must stop the inflation that's robbing the poor and those who live on a small, fixed income and the aged who are retired and the young people who are still struggling economically to find a future that will make them happy and fulfill their expectations and their potential.
We are blessed in our country with a strong economy, but I want to make it stronger. I want to build an economy so fair and equitable, so creative, so vital, so free, that every able American can have pride and dignity and self-respect that comes from an honest job, doing honest work, with constant growth in that person's life.
For the first time now, we are also expanding to minority-owned businesses a fair share of the benefits of our great free enterprise system, and that progress will continue.
We must and we will continue to provide every child in America a chance to learn and to flower and to grow with the best education we can provide. Last year, we added to the Federal education budget about $12 billion, more than had ever been added before, because we know that what the Negro College Fund brochures say is right: "A mind, a human mind, is a terrible thing to waste?' And that's why in a budget that will fight inflation, I have preserved and will fight for new support, increased support to educate disadvantaged children in our Nation, for Headstart, for the handicapped, and for the struggling college student that wants to realize his potential.
Dr. Benjamin Mays reminds me often that in a time of need, this Nation's historically black colleges were a haven of opportunity for all those who were denied their equal chance to learn. Here in Atlanta, the Atlanta University complex was a beacon of light and a beacon of hope when there were not many such beacons in our country. Now, in their time of need—those black colleges—we must and we will use our resources to strengthen and to preserve them and the predominantly black universities throughout our country.
There can be no better investment of limited tax funds than a broader and more productive life for the young people of our Nation who have been deprived so long of the chance for equal opportunity and to use their lives productively.
Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke out also. against what he saw as a tragic moral flaw of our country in the Vietnam war. And in a moving address, exactly 1 year before he died, he went beyond advocating an end to the war to demand what he called, and I quote, "a true revolution of values"—a world revolution, peaceful in nature, that he felt America was uniquely qualified to lead. He insisted that we look at both our political and our economic relations with other countries around the world and hold to a standard of justice, both domestic and internationally. And I'm determined, as President, to hold our Nation to a high standard of justice in dealing with other nations, to restore America's leadership in a peaceful world, a revolution that demands freedom and justice and self-determination not just for ourselves but for all people.
To help me in that effort, I've got at the United Nations a man, sometimes quiet and timid, a man as good as any who has ever represented any nation, in any government, my good friend, Andy Young.
For many people around the world, those who are poor, hungry, black, brown, yellow, from little nations, the United States Government is Andy Young. They trust him. And in their trust for him, I gain their trust. And when Andy Young and I gain their trust, the people of this Nation gain their trust. And as I have said many times, it's a delight now to face a session of the United Nations General Assembly, because we're no longer the target of every attack. We are no longer the butt of every joke. We are a people now who reach out a hand of equality and friendship and mutual respect where formerly there was antagonism and a chasm that could not be crossed. And I thank Andy Young for it. And I thank those on the stage with me, and Martin Luther King, Jr., for helping to train Andy Young so well.
This administration is working to restore America's moral authority in the world. As I've said before, human rights is the soul of our country's foreign policy. And as long as I'm President, America will continue to lead the struggle for human rights.
Martin Luther King, Jr., said, "We must lay hands on the world order and say of war, 'This way of settling differences is not just.'"
He said that the crucial political and moral question of our time was the need to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence. It's still a difficult but a crucial question.
I'm trying to perpetuate and to spread the peace which our Nation, thank God, now enjoys, to use our moral force and our good offices to get ancient enemies to lay aside their differences so that the energies and the talents of their people can be used to produce better lives instead of suffering and death.
In southern Africa, we are working with the leaders and the people there, a people long deprived of basic rights, to bring about majority rule, an end to racism and hatred, and to terminate the legal sanctioning of apartheid throughout that great continent. In Nicaragua, we are working with other countries to mediate a dispute and to bring about freedom and democratic principles in one of our neighboring countries.
In the Middle East, we are trying to act as a mediator under the most difficult possible political circumstances to bring about peace between two ancient enemies. We've made a great deal of progress because of a desire of those people for peace. This week, we'll dispatch another delegation of negotiators and mediators to the Mideast to resolve the last elements of differences on language of the peace treaty itself. And then we will address a very major political question of how to carry out the fullest terms of the Camp David accords.
At that moment, it being a political question, I'm sure that this will be elevated at least to the Secretary of State level. And, if necessary, I will not hesitate to invite President Sadat and Prime Minister Begin to meet with me again to get a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt.
A united. America, with your support, gives us a strong and a vital voice that can be heard abroad.
In closing, let me say that I was trained in the art of war, but I share this dream of Martin Luther King, Jr., that mankind can find a better way. Our generation knows too much of war. We've seen it as it is. It's thousands of tons of bombs falling in the middle of night. It's misery and death in a wet and lonely foxhole, on a frozen mountainside, or in a steaming jungle—without fanfare and without glory.
The poor who were not able to pay for a college education were the first to go to war and to give their lives to a country that had made it possible for them to be deprived of opportunity. This must never happen again.
War is a little dying child crying in a burning village, an old man burying his only son with a heart that can never be comforted. It's a destruction of the human spirit and of all that we have that's beautiful or valuable. War holds a real threat of massive nuclear annihilation. Only mad men today can believe that war is the solution of anything.
We're trying to reach out a hand of friendship to past enemies, to heal differences, and to provide for world peace. We're in the last stages of negotiating a SALT II agreement that will limit the further spread of nuclear weapons between us and the Soviet Union and will set for the world a clear example that our Nation stands for peace.
This treaty, which I have personally supervised in its negotiation, will protect our Nation's security interests. It will provide the prospect for future progress in the future, in years to come, to cut down further on nuclear weapons. And it will be presented to the Senate for ratification as a treaty as soon as it's concluded.
A rejection of this treaty would deal a severe blow to the prospects for peace around the world. It would deal a severe blow to the control and the containment of nuclear weapons. It would deal a severe blow to the peaceful interrelationships between the world's two greatest military powers. It would deal a severe blow to the opinion held of us by peace-loving people in the small and developing nations around the world. And it would deal a severe blow to the opinion and support of the United States enjoyed now by us among our Western allies and those who join with us in mutual defense treaties. It would deal a severe blow to the reputation of our country as a nation desirous of peace.
Just as Dr. King and Mahatma Gandhi knew that nonviolence was not the course of cowards, so our search for peace is a sign not of weakness, but of strength. We must also demonstrate that our national human values work so well that they are worthy for other nations to adopt, to emulate. We will never purchase a peace that's merely a surrender of our ideals and beliefs, and neither will we seek to force our values on others. That, too, would be a surrender of our commitments and our principles.
Dr. King spoke of two kinds of peace, of negative peace, which meant the absence of fear and tension, and he spoke of a positive peace, which meant the presence of justice.
It's a positive peace that we now seek-peace that keeps alive his audacious dream that all people can have food and health care for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits.
It is this ideal America—an America that has not yet been, but that can be, that will be—that we seek for our own children and for children yet to come.
As President, I will follow through on the continuing revolution that our founders started, and that many of you perpetuated, to make our Nation a standard of justice and freedom and opportunity.
Martin Luther King, Jr., his life, has become an inspiration for many people. It must never be forgotten. Tomorrow, we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr. I support the Democratic platform call for making his birthday a national holiday, and I will work for it. And I particularly hope that in this 50th anniversary year, that I will be able to sign a bill proclaiming January 15 as a national holiday in honor of Dr. King's principles and accomplishments.
We must never forget his dream. Together, Daddy King, me, Coretta, all of you, we can make it come true.
|Citation: Jimmy Carter: "Atlanta, Georgia Remarks Accepting the Martin Luther King, Jr. Nonviolent Peace Prize. ", January 14, 1979. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=32102.|
© 1999-2011 - Gerhard Peters - The American Presidency Project