Michelle Obama photo

Remarks by the First Lady at Decatur House

May 22, 2013

MRS. OBAMA: Good morning. (Applause.) Thank you so much. Good morning, everyone. Thank you. I am truly delighted to be here.

But before I begin, I want to just take a moment to say that our thoughts and prayers are with all of the people in Oklahoma. And as you all know, my husband and his team continue to monitor the situation, and he has directed the full resources of the federal government to be there for the people of Oklahoma as they begin to recover and rebuild.

And it's important to remember during these times that the spirit of unity and resolve and resilience that has defined that situation as we watch the people in Oklahoma recover and work together, that that's the kind of resilience that has defined this country since its inception. It's who we are as Americans. And it's that history that brings us together today.

So I want to start by thanking Fred for that very kind introduction, but more importantly, for his leadership throughout so many presidents to tell the story of this country; as well as Ken and Stephanie for their leadership and hard work to make this day possible. We should give them all another round of applause for their efforts. (Applause.)

For nearly 200 years, as our country has grown and evolved, the Decatur House has grown and evolved right along with it. This house has hosted parties and social events with some of our nation's foremost leaders. It's been a residence for secretaries of state, and at one time, it served as headquarters for the Army Subsistence Department of the Civil War.

But from the back of the house, from a structure far less lavish, comes even more history -- the kinds of stories that too often get lost, the kinds of stories that are a part of so many of our families' histories, including my own. I'm talking about the slaves here at Decatur House who spent their lives within shouting distance of one of the most powerful buildings on the planet -- a bastion of freedom and justice for all.

Yet, within this very place, about 20 men and women spent their days serving those who came and went from this house and their nights jammed together on the second floor of the slave quarters, all the while holding onto a quiet hope, a quiet prayer that they, too, and perhaps their children, would someday be free. These stories of toil, and sweat, and quiet, unrelenting dignity -- these stories are as vital to our national memory as any other. And so it is our responsibility as a nation to ensure that these stories are told.

So more than anything, today, I simply want to say thank you. Thank you for coming together to preserve these stories for years to come. Thank you to everyone from American Express for making such a generous commitment to honor all of our nation's history. Of course, thank you to the White House Historical Association and the National Trust for Historic Preservation for finding new ways to engage with our past.

And finally, I want to thank all of you for all of the educational opportunities you're giving to our young people. I'm about to go on a wonderful tour with some students from Willow Springs Elementary School in Fairfax, Virginia. And what's most exciting is that they're not just going to look at some pictures on a wall, they're going to take part in the re-enactment of the Emancipation Proclamation. I'm not sure what I'm going to do while they do it. (Laughter.) I'm going to look on.

So truly, it is this type of engagement that you all are providing for young people that will continue to draw them into these spaces and give them an opportunity to really grow and understand, and understand the stories that create this country and their place in that history.

So you all aren't just teaching our young people about history, you're inspiring them to believe that they can make history as well. And that's really what history is for -- it's for the next generation, it's for us to continue to learn and grow. So these spaces are critical. The work that you all are doing is vital. They would not exist without the work that you do, and we couldn't be more grateful.

So with that, I guess I get to go do the fun thing -- I get to go hang out with some kids, which is my favorite thing to do and one of the reasons why you've done all this work. But I want to thank you all for your continued efforts. There are many more spaces that need this kind of attention and this kind of support. I hear it all the time, and those conversations do not fall on deaf ears. I know that these resources are vital to this country, so you all should be very proud of the work you have done and I hope you continue to do for centuries to come.

Thank you all. Take care.

Michelle Obama, Remarks by the First Lady at Decatur House Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/320159

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