Jimmy Carter photo

Remarks at the Signing Ceremony for the National Afro-American (Black) History Month Message

January 15, 1980

THE PRESIDENT. Dr. Picott, Dr. Thorpe, Dr. Thomas, Dr. Wesley:

I don't know if there's anyone here who hasn't got a Ph. D.— [laughter] —except the President. I don't have one.

Martin Luther King, Jr., said that in every crisis there are dangers and there are opportunities. And I think that in our own country, in the celebration of Black History Month, your own actions and your own teachings, the examples that you have set, have been a profound history lesson for our Nation in its entirety. There is no way to separate black history from the history of our country, because even in recent years the profound beneficial changes that have taken place in our societal structure have been primarily shaped by black Americans.

This is the 51st birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. My wife is in Atlanta today speaking to a group along with Coretta King. Last night she and I sat alone in my study in the White House, talking about the attitude of the great spiritual leaders that have shaped our times—the teachings of Jesus Christ, our Savior; the example set by Mahatma Gandhi, committed to nonviolence but filled with courage; in our own lifetime the leadership of many of you working along with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and others, that in a peaceful way, but an extremely courageous way, shaped the course of history.

Our Nation is theoretically a nation dedicated to equality of opportunity, to complete freedom, to the right of self-expression, to the right of progress, to a constant hope and idealism, to the resolution of differences, through love and cooperation and peace. We've not always realized that potential, as you know. But when our Nation has fallen short, there have been courageous people to come forward and say what our laws require, that practices or habits of our people are not adequate, the hope and promise of the Founding Fathers, the hope and of our constitutional principles have yet been adequately met. And our has corrected itself and repaired to our own society and to our country itself through the courage of people like many of you and people like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose birthday we celebrate today.

I'm grateful as President to the leadership represented here, because you've probed deeply within the consciousness of America and brought forward not only our fallibilities and our mistakes but action which can correct those mistakes it has not always been easy, as you well know. Sometimes black ministers, men and women of God, and sometimes black teachers, men and women of knowledge, have joined together. Sometimes you've been the same person. I don't think there's ever been a more vivid melding of teachers and worshipers in history, so far as I know, that have courageously shaped the course of the lives of human beings.

I'm very grateful to designate February again as a time for reassessment of what we are, who we are, what we've done, what our opportunities have been, those that we've realized, and the hopes and dreams that not yet have been made a part of Americans' lives. As black human rights have been ensured, all Americans have benefited, and in the process we have cleansed ourselves and taken our Nation another major step forward toward the realization of all those hopes and dreams which we share, regardless of our race or regardless of our color or regardless of our historical origins or regardless of our religious beliefs.

I'm very deeply grateful to you for being here with me today. You've honored us by coming. And I feel that I'm part of you, because, as President, I share with you the responsibility for making this a greater America, and I have no doubt that together we can accomplish that noble goal.

Thank you very much. And now I'd like to sign the proclamation.

[At this point, the President signed the message.]

Sixty-fifth year, right?

DR. PICOTT. Sixty-fifth is right.

THE PRESIDENT. I know that your

DR. PICOTT. I'd like the pen. [Laughter]

THE PRESIDENT. All right. Well, Dr. Picott, let me give you one—

DR. PICOTT. Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT. —and I'll give Dr. Thorpe the other.

DR. THORPE. Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT. I notice that your founding father has also had a very fine first name, right—Carter? [Laughter]

I'll just read the last paragraph. "I urge schools and communities throughout this Nation to encourage the study of our past, to plan projects and programs to commemorate important historical events and movements and to highlight those whose lives have made a difference. I urge all Americans to take this opportunity to learn about our heritage and to participate fully in our democratic system."

I want to thank all of you. And now, if you don't mind, I would like to stand over by the door and greet every one of you personally and shake your hand and thank you for coming.

Note: The President spoke at 3:18 p.m. in the Cabinet Room at the White House. In his opening remarks, he referred to J. Rupert Picott, executive director, Earl E. Thorpe, president, Charles Walker Thomas, former president, and Charles H. Wesley, executive director emeritus, all of the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History.

Jimmy Carter, Remarks at the Signing Ceremony for the National Afro-American (Black) History Month Message Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/249451

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