John F. Kerry photo

Address to the Greater Bethlehem Temple Church in Jackson, Mississippi

March 02, 2004

Good morning and thank you for inviting me into this house of God and home of good works.

And thank you Bishop Coleman, for being the rock upon which this community of worship was built.

On a Sunday thirty-nine years ago today, a courageous flock of God's children set out on Highway 80 to live the words that still call out to the faithful today:

'When you pray, move your feet.'

Led by my friend John Lewis and his fellow civil rights activist Hosea Williams, the 600 men and women crossed over the Edmund Pettis Bridge from Selma searching for freedom, justice, and equality at the gates of Montgomery, Alabama.

But on that Sunday in March, they did not find any of those things. Instead, they found billy clubs, tear gas, and blood.

Bloody Sunday was a turning point. Within forty-eight hours, demonstrations in support of the marchers were held in eighty cities across America. Within ten days, a federal judge ruled that they be permitted to march peacefully toward Selma. And within five months, the Voting Act of 1965 was signed into law.

And if anyone ever asks you what it means to match words with deeds, tell them about Bloody Sunday - a day when faith was lived by the people who held it. A day when prayers were spoken with feet.

And brothers and sisters, when they ask you if we can change America, if we can march forward for the vision we hold true today, just make it clear: if they could do that, if they could stand on that bridge, surely we know we can do this.

We need to remember that it was hope that conquered the despair of the marchers as they looked towards the entrance of Selma.

Everywhere I go, I've seen the pain of America. I have seen it in the eyes of families who send out unanswered resumes week after week or take a job at one third of what they used to make just a couple years ago. I have felt worry in the embrace of children who've watched their father bury his head in his hands when he opens their mother's hospital bill. And I have heard despair in the voice of parents who work themselves to the bone until they cannot come home in time to tuck their children into bed.

But in every corner of this country, in every home, on every farm and in every factory, there was one sound in America that rings out louder than the pain and the worry and the despair. It was the sound of hope. Hope that we can bring change to America.

I know we can get there. But to do it we need to find just a tiny bit of the courage of those marchers who knew they had to stand tall on that bridge on Bloody Sunday.

We're going to be tested - tested today, and tomorrow, and the next day. Tested in our faith, tested in our commitment to something bigger than ourselves - tested to find out whether our hope for the future is stronger than our fellow citizens' pessimism about the present.

We'll be tested to see how much we really remember the words of the scripture, 'What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?' [James 2:14]

We need to remember those words so we march forward against a sorry politics where too often words suffice where deeds are demanded. Remember 'a uniter not a divider?' 'Compassionate conservative?' 'Clear Skies?' 'Healthy Forests?' 'A humble foreign policy?' 'Leave No Child Behind?' 'Weapons of Mass Destruction?' We have to march against not just a credibility gap, but a credibility Grand Canyon. We have to march against cynicism and disaffection, so we can show those who've stopped believing in our nation's common cause that we're different, that we will match our faith with our deeds.

But it won't be easy. You've lived with the attacks, the distortions, and the hollowness of a politics of last resort that divides black from white, rich from poor, Massachusetts from Mississippi. Some people want us pointing fingers at each other - so no one points the finger at them. We can do better than that. In this campaign, I've been reminded of something I first learned as a young man on a Navy boat on the other side of the world - that what holds us together as one people is so much more powerful than what divides us.

We're marching with faith - and determination that together we've come too far not to mean what we say and say what we mean. So we will restore a government that is a provider of opportunity instead of a tool of the privileged. We will honor hard work and mainstream values. We will give middle-class families a tax break and we will bring back lost jobs. We will make sure that your family's check-up doesn't empty the family checkbook. We will wake up every day ensuring that our communities are safe and America is protected.

And we will walk towards a brighter tomorrow together because we will answer the call that President Kennedy spoke so long ago - that here on Earth, God's work must truly be our own.

After being beaten to within an inch of his life on Bloody Sunday, the story is told that John Lewis woke up in a hospital bed with Dr. King by his side. As Lewis opened his eyes and turned to his friend, Dr. King said, 'We'll make it to Montgomery, John. They're not going to stop us now.' My brothers and sisters, our time has arrived: we can bring change to America. And if we live by our faith and pray with our feet, no one's going to stop us now.

John F. Kerry, Address to the Greater Bethlehem Temple Church in Jackson, Mississippi Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/216717

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