Bill Clinton photo

Remarks on Receiving a Henry Ossawa Tanner Painting for the White House Collection

October 29, 1996

Let me just say, very briefly, I want to thank Dr. Rae Alexander-Minter for her moving tribute and for making this possible. I want to thank her mother for taking good care of this picture.

Thank you, Edward Bell, for being a good American citizen and asking questions, which is what we need our citizens to do. Thank you, Rex Scouten; and thank you, David Driskell; thank you to the late Sylvia Williams. I'd also like to thank my wife for her insistence that we take up Mr. Bell's suggestion.

Tonight is a happy night for us, to be here, to be a part of this. Tonight reminds us, in all humility, that we are simply tenants here passing through—even though we're trying to get our lease renewed at the moment. [Laughter] There is, in any case, a limit on the lease, and it's a very short period in the very long life of our great country.

And in so many ways, everything that represents America sooner or later has to come to represent a better America, has to come to reflect our ongoing journey. And I was thinking tonight that Thomas Jefferson, whose statue looks directly into the second floor Oval Room, right above us here, would be smiling. You know, on the memorial they have that wonderful quote, when Jefferson said, "When I think of slavery, I tremble to think that God is just." He knew better. And it took us a long time to come to grips with all that.

And this magnificent artist whom we honor tonight had to live in the afterwash of the Civil War and our continuing struggle to come to grips with our obligations as a people, both moral and constitutional. Now, a long time after that and too long in coming, this great painting will hang in the Green Room and over 1 1/2 million visitors will see it every year. Most of them, but not all of them, will be Americans. Of the Americans, they will come from more than African-American and Caucasian-American stock. They will now come from a myriad of racial and ethnic and religious groups. But when they stop in the Green Room and look at this beautiful work of art, they will know that America here in the people's house is moving again toward its ultimate destiny and living closer to its ideals.

To all of you who have made that possible, I thank you. I thank you for being here tonight. And I ask you now to join us in the reception. Thank you very, very much.

NOTE: The President spoke at 6:52 p.m. in the East Room at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Rae Alexander-Minter, grandniece of the artist and former owner of the painting Sand Dunes at Sunset, Atlantic City; Edward Bell, who wrote to the President informing him that no works of African-American artists were included in the White House collection; Rex Scouten, White House Curator; David Driskell, expert on African-American art; and Sylvia Williams, former director, Smithsonian Institution Museum of African Art.

William J. Clinton, Remarks on Receiving a Henry Ossawa Tanner Painting for the White House Collection Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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