Bill Clinton photo

Remarks at the Bethel A.M.E. Church in New York City

September 25, 1994

The President. Thank you so much.

[At this point, the President was interrupted by the sound of a siren.]

The President. That's my introduction there, you hear it? [Laughter] Pastor Mackey, thank you. Thank you very much. Pastor Mackey, first let me say on behalf of my family, we are glad to be here in this church with its great history going back to 1819, running the Underground Railroad to help people to freedom. I'm also glad to be here in this African Methodist Episcopal church because your church has a long history with my home State, Arkansas, and my hometown, Little Rock, where Bishop Allen came a long time ago as part of his effort to found this church. I also want to thank you, if I might, for just letting us come here and worship. And I would like to say that for Hillary and for Chelsea and for me, this has been a great morning. And I'm sure I can say that all three of us are very grateful to all of you just for letting us come in here and to be with you.

I got a good lesson out of the briefest sermon I've heard in a long time. [Laughter] And I got a good lesson out of one of the most beautiful songs I have heard in a long time. I loved all the music. You know, I like music and even as I get older and I can't sing quite in tune anymore—I heard that fine man singing, "Work on Me." [Laughter] So I need to be here, and I need to hear that. And then I heard your pastor say, "There is always a word from the Lord."

I am grateful to be here with all these people who are my friends, with the Governor, about whom I will say more in a moment, and Carl McCall and my dear friend Ruth Messinger and Mark Green and Denny Farrell and Senator Paterson, Assemblyman Wright, and Karen Burstein who wants to be your attorney general. That's the best job I ever had. I was attorney general of my State, and you don't have to hire people or fire them. You don't have to raise taxes or cut programs. And if she ever does anything unpopular, she can just say the constitution made her do it. [Laughter] I hope you'll give her the chance to do it. And I want to say a special word of thanks about my friend Charlie Rangel, for what he said. You know, Charlie talked about Haiti. Let me say that for Hillary and for me, for both of us, he has been a wonderful friend and partner in so many ways. But I want to use him today in a way to get into what I want to talk about briefly.

Charlie mentioned Haiti and how the people were defenseless and poor and how hard it is for me to convince some people that our interest is at stake there, although I think more and more Americans are seeing that what we are doing there is good and supports democracy throughout our hemisphere—which is nothing more than saying our neighborhood—helps to end human rights violations that we find intolerable everywhere but unconscionable on our doorstep, and offers them a chance at stability.

But it is an example of what I ran for President about. I thought I had two jobs to get us into the next century. One is to move this country forward, just to get us to face our problems again—jobs, education, drugs, violence, crime, health care—just to face the problems and go to work on them instead of just talking about them all the time. And the other was to bring this country together instead of letting it drift apart and to try to bring the world together across the lines of race and region and income and religion.

I have just finished reading, late last night, a book about World War II and President and Mrs. Roosevelt. And I am reminded, as I think of our brave soldiers from all over the country and all their backgrounds doing their work today in Haiti, that in World War II, African-Americans were kept segregated in units in the Army until the Battle of the Bulge at the end of the war, when they had so many casualties that blacks and whites had to fight together. And they didn't do it very long before they found out they liked it very well. And the only complaint recorded in this book I read was that some of the white officers said that their black comrades were so ferocious they could hardly get them to quit fighting even when they needed to rest. I am reminded that in World War II we put Japanese-Americans in concentration camps, and then we let their children serve. And a Japanese outfit had the highest casualties of any American outfit in World War II. And in this book, I saw the picture painted by the author of the military people going to the concentration camps to give the parents of the dead boys their medals while they were keeping them behind bars because we were fighting Japan, a country they had given up.

When I was fighting to build an economic partnership with Mexico, I was reminded in so many of our endeavors, Mexican-American soldiers have had the highest rate of casualties. I look at Charlie Rangel who served his country in uniform bravely and his son who served as a United States Marine, and I think to myself, this is a country that, if we can figure out how to live together, will be strong all the way through the next century; because the world is getting smaller, and if people who are different can find oneness, there is nothing that can stop them.

That is why the South Africans wanted the United States to help run the election and spend a few million dollars for an honest election that produced the President, Nelson Mandela, who is coming here to see me in a few days. That is why the people in Ireland, having fought for 800 years against one another, wish the people of the United States to be involved in trying to bring an end to their conflict. That is why the Israelis and the Arabs wish the United States to be involved in bringing an end to that horrible, horrible period of violence in the Middle East. This is a very great country.

Even in the moment of great tension one week ago today in Haiti, when I did not know whether we would actually have to shoot our way in there, the de facto military leaders told our delegation there, President Carter, General Powell, and Senator Nunn, "Well, if the President is determined to do this, if the United Nations is determined to do this, we want the Americans here because we trust them." I say that because if we can just face our challenges and move forward and come together, we're going to be all right.

Now, when the pastor said, "There is always a word from the Lord," I looked at the program and I saw the word from the Lord, Isaiah 40:31, "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They will mount up with wings as eagles." But I want to talk to you about the rest of the verse, "They shall run and not grow weary. They shall walk and not faint."

Now, I have a simple message for you today. The people who don't want us to get together and who have a very different idea about moving forward than most of us do are hoping and praying that you will grow weary, that you will not run, that you will not walk, that you will just grow weary.

Look at Mr. McCall here. How many times do people all over America say, "If only our children had more role models, if only men would take responsibility for their families and their communities and set a good example and lift our children up." Oh, how many times do you hear it said? Well, folks, you've got a chance to send a message to this entire country that people who make something of themselves and who stand for something good and who work for what is right will be rewarded without regard to their background, that we are going to go forward and we are going to do it together. And if you will not grow weary, you can do it.

And let me say something about Governor Cuomo. His greatest failing is he speaks about me better than he speaks about himself. [Laughter] By the time he got through nominating me for President in New York, he had me convinced I ought to have the job. [Laughter] I grew 3 inches sitting out there in the pew today just listening to him talk.

They say, "Well, the Governor will have a hard time getting reelected; after all, he's running for a fourth term." I know about that. I did that one time. And I was out in a little booth in the State fair in Little Rock—I want you to listen to this, this could be about him instead of me, this is how it happened—and every year at the State fair in my little rural State, I would go to the fair and have a Governor's Day. And anybody could come up and talk to the Governor and say whatever they wanted. And I lived in a rural State where most people call me by my first name, including my enemies, and they said whatever they wanted. [Laughter] And so I listened to this all day. And I was having to decide whether I would run for reelection. I had been Governor a long time. And along toward the end of the day, an old man in overalls came up to me, and he said, "Bill, you going to run again?" I said, "I don't know. If I do, will you vote for me?" He said, "Yes, I will. I always have." And I said, "Well, aren't you sick of me after all these years?" He said, "No, but everybody else I know is." [Laughter] And then he said, "But what do you expect? All you have done is nag us. You're always trying to get us to do something else, always pushing us on jobs and education and taking care of kids." And he said, "You know, it's just hard to take all that. But you know something? It's beginning to work, and I'm going to stick with it." And I went all across my State and told that story on myself. But I told the last part, too, and the people sent me back.

How many times in the Bible—I think two or three times—does our Saviour say, "A prophet is not with honor except in his own land"? Most places would give anything to have a leader like Governor Cuomo. And you can say, "Well, he's been there a long time." Let me tell you something: In a lot of ways, this is his first term and it just started, because it's the first time we've had a chance to work together as partners.

I ask you to consider the problems of America, the breakdown of community, the breakdown of family, the rise of drugs and violence and gangs, the things that grip you here every day. Do you think that just started yesterday? That's been going on for 30 years. I told my wife and daughter as we were coming up here today that when I was a young man living in England, I used to come back to the United States when I was sent over there for a couple of years, and I would land in New York. And unlike most people like me, I mean, here I was—and I had an even bigger accent back then—I took the transportation, and I got off at 125th and Lennox—[laughter]—every time I came back here, and I walked alone through Harlem because I was fascinated by it. I wanted to see the people. I wanted to talk to the people. I wanted to see what they were up against. Even then I can remember some people, back when the drug of choice was heroin, leaning in corners with needles in their arms. This didn't just happen overnight, friends.

And these economic problems that we've got, they've been going—the social problems, 30 years. What are the economic problems? Not only do we have a lot of people out of work, we've got a lot of people working like crazy never getting a raise, right? And they are worried about losing their health care, or they're worried about losing their pensions. How long has that been going on? Twenty years. Twenty years we have been struggling to organize ourselves and to educate ourselves and to be competitive in a global economy.

And then our governmental policies, how long did we hear from our Government that the real answer was, to all of our problems, bad-mouth the Federal Government, lower taxes on the wealthiest of Americans, burden the middle class, reduce investment in our future, and explode the debt? And all the time, the people that were in cussed the Government as they were doing their best to stay in the Government and keep drawing those checks. That happened for 12 years, right?

I have been President for 20 months, not 30 years, not 20 years, not 10 years. When Mario Cuomo became Governor, it was all he could do to stand up against the tide of walking away from the States, walking away from the cities, walking away from the people. And in 20 months, because we're working together— my partner Mr. Rangel and I, my partner Governor Cuomo and I, we're all working together with people in the private sector—we brought our national deficit down for 3 years in a row for the first time since Mr. Truman was President. We've done something the other party said they were for, but never did: We have reduced the size of the Federal Government. It's going to be as small as it was when Mr. Kennedy was President, at the end of my term. But we gave all the money back to you to pay for the crime bill the Governor talked about. We empowered the communities and the States to hire the police, to build the prisons, to have the drug education, the drug treatment, the other programs for the kids, the job programs. We at least got the health care debate into both Houses of Congress and on the floor for the first time in American history, and we've got to keep doing that.

We've had 4.3 million new jobs, manufacturing jobs increasing for almost a year now, the longest period they've increased in a decade. Our country was voted the most productive country in the world by a panel of international economists just the other day for the first time in 9 years. Just this week, I signed a bill that will help Harlem, that will help New York City, that will point $4.8 billion into special banks to loan money to poor folks who can't borrow money to go into business, just this week, something I specifically pledged to do when I ran for President.

Now what's happening? We're having an election in which there are 30 years of social problems, 20 years of economic problems, and 12 years of politics bad-mouthing the Government. And we've done more in any 20-month period than anybody has in a month of Sundays. But a lot of people have not felt it yet, and they cannot know it, as the Governor said, because there's no way for them to get the information except in an election where we tell people.

So we now find a situation in which the people may actually go out and vote for the very things that they are against, because they don't know what has happened in 20 months and they see the wake of the last 30 years; an election which depends largely, on its outcome, on those same people's ability to bad-mouth those of us that are trying to move the country forward and bring the country together, so you will be weary and stay home and not mount up with wings as eagles, not run or walk without growing weary or fainting.

One day a long time ago, I suffered a terrible setback in my public life. I was trying to do something for the people of my State. It was a very bad day for me, not personally but because I had failed to help hundreds of people I had worked to help. And my secretary, who was a great woman of faith, kept one of those Scripture calendars on her desk. And I was alone in my office, almost in tears, and she looked at the calendar for the first time and ripped off the calendar piece and brought it into me and gave me what has ever since been my favorite verse of Scripture from St. Paul's letter to the Galatians: "Let us not grow weary in doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart."

I say to you today, my fellow Americans, we've just been here 20 months. We're 4.3 million jobs better. We're a crime bill better. We're the immunization bill better; 2 million kids are going to get their shots by '96. We're 200,000 more children in Head Start better. We're coming together more.

Do not lose heart. Show up. Talk to the people in your neighborhoods; tell them to show up. Scripture says we're supposed to be good citizens, too. Mario Cuomo is the heart that you must not lose. Mr. McCall is the heart that you must not lose. These people are the heart that you must not lose. Do not let a moment pass. When the movement is in the forward direction and the feelings are not there yet, stay strong, mount up, go forward.

God bless you.

NOTE: The President spoke at 12:39 p.m. In his remarks, he referred to Rev. O'Neil Mackey, Sr., pastor, Bethel A.M.E. Church; H. Carl McCall, New York State comptroller; Ruth W. Messinger, Manhattan Borough president; Mark Green, New York City public advocate; Herman D. (Denny) Farrell and Keith L. Wright, members, New York State Assembly; and David Paterson, New York State senator.

William J. Clinton, Remarks at the Bethel A.M.E. Church in New York City Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Filed Under



New York

Simple Search of Our Archives