Kamala Harris photo

Remarks by the Vice President at the NAACP South Carolina State Conference on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Columbia, South Carolina

January 15, 2024

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Hello, everybody. Good afternoon. (Applause.) Good afternoon, South Carolina. Good afternoon. Please have a seat.

It is so good to be back. It is so good to be back.

I want to thank Grace Fellowship Choir for lifting our hearts with your beautiful voices. And I just want to thank all of the leaders who are here for the work that you do every day.

To Senator Devine, I thank you for that beautiful introduction and, most of all, for your courageous leadership and, of course, all the history that you make every day. Can we please applaud Senator Devine for her work -- (applause) -- and her recent election?

And to President Murphy and all the leaders of the South Carolina NAACP, thank you for welcoming me today. (Applause.)

And, of course, it is always an honor to be in the home state of Assistant Leader Jim Clyburn. (Applause.) I do not need to tell South Carolina what a powerful leader he is. And, of course, he is one of the closest advisors and friends to President Joe Biden and to me.

Today, we celebrate the legacy of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a visionary who saw what could be unburdened by what had been; an organizer who moved the minds, the hearts, and the feet of the American people; a leader who dedicated his life and, in the end, gave his life to advance one of our nation's highest ideals: the ideal of freedom.

Freedom is fundamental to the promise of America. Freedom is not to be given. It is not to be bestowed. It is ours by right. (Applause.) And in many ways, the story of America has been a story of our fight to realize that promise.

As Dr. King wrote in the Letter from Birmingham Jail, "The goal of America is freedom." And so, we gather this afternoon to honor his legacy. And I therefore pose a question that I do believe Dr. King would ask today: In 2024, where exactly is America in our fight for freedom? How are we doing?

Well, as Vice President of the United States, I'd say, at this moment in America, freedom is under profound threat.

Today, in fact, we are witnessing a full-on attack on hard-fought, hard-won freedoms. Consider, in states across our nation, extremists attack the sacred freedom to vote. They pass laws to ban drop boxes, limit early voting, and restrict absentee ballots.

In Georgia, extremists had the gall to pass a law to even make it illegal to simply offer food and water to people standing in line for hours to exercise their basic civic duty.

I ask the friends, whatever happened to "love thy neighbor"? The hypocrisy abounds.

And please note, the governor in Georgia signed that law on the 56th anniversary of the march from Selma to Montgomery.

Today, in states across our nation, extremists propose and pass laws to attack a woman's freedom to make decisions about her own body -- laws that would even make no exception for rape and incest.

And let us all agree: One does not have to abandon their faith and deeply held beliefs to agree the government should not be telling her what to do with her body. (Applause.)


Every person in our nation has a right to live safe and to live free from the horror of gun violence. And yet, today, these so-called leaders stand by and refuse to pass reasonable gun safety laws to help protect our children and places of worship.

Every person in our nation has a right to be who they are and love who they love openly and with pride. And yet, this past year, extremists have proposed or passed hundreds of laws targeting LGBTQ people.

Every person in our nation has a right to be free to learn and acknowledge our country's true and full history. (Applause.) And yet, today, extremists pass book bans -- book bans in this year of our Lord 2024.

And then they even try to erase, overlook, and rewrite the ugly parts of our past. For example, the Civil War, which must I really have to say was about slavery? (Applause.)

All the while, they tell our children that enslaved people benefited from slavery. They insult us in an attempt to gaslight us in an attempt to divide and distract our nation with unnecessary debates.

Fundamental freedoms under assault: freedom from fear, violence, and harm; freedom to vote, to live, to learn, to control one's own body; and the freedom to simply be.

And understand the profound impact these attacks have had on the next generation of leaders. So many of our young leaders are here this afternoon.

This past fall, I met with more than 15,000 young leaders in my "Fight for Our Freedoms College Tour," including at the College of Charleston. (Applause.) From our young leaders, I heard that the assault on freedoms, well, it's a lived experience. It's not just hypothetical.

Think about it. During the height of their reproductive years, this generation has witnessed the highest court in our land -- the court of Thurgood -- take a constitutional right that had been recognized from the people of America, from the women of America.

This generation now has fewer rights than their mothers and grandmothers. That is not a hypothetical.

That from kindergarten to 12th grade, this young generation has had to endure active-shooter drills. Our children, who should be in a classroom, fulfilling their God-given potential to explore the beauty of the world, and instead have to worry that someone might bust through their classroom door with a gun.

And when students go to vote, they often have to wait in line for hours because of laws that intentionally make it more difficult for them to cast a ballot. It is not a hypothetical.

But even though our young leaders are clear-eyed about these challenges, I will share with you: They will not be discouraged. They will not be deterred. Standing on the shoulders of the generations who came before, our young leaders are prepared and ready for this fight -- (applause) -- as are we.

Six decades ago, from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Dr. King spoke to our nation, to the thousands of Americans who had marched that day on Washington. And he spoke of what he called a "promissory note" -- a promissory note, a check that had been signed to the American people in the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution.

Dr. King's voice rang out when he, quote, said, "We refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt." "So, we've come to cash this check," he said, "a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice."

And, of course, less than a year later, because of the movement that Dr. King and so many other great American leaders helped to build and sustain, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed. And in the decades since, inspired by the power and the purpose of that movement, together, we have won many victories to make our nation more free, more equal, and more just, from the passage of the Voting Rights Act, to -- yes, Senator, to the appointment of the first Black woman to serve on the highest court in our land. (Applause.)

So, if he were here, I think Dr. King would be the first to say that, yes, we have come far. And though we have come far, in this moment, it is up to us to continue that fight to cash that promissory note.

And like Dr. King, even through the struggles and the setbacks, even during the pain and the heartbreak, even when our feet grow weary and our legs grow tired, we will march forward for freedom. Because I do believe -- I do believe the true power behind the promise of America is in the faith of her people. The promise of America, I do believe, is in the faith of the people -- our faith in the founding principles of our nation and our profound commitment to make those principles real.

Generation after generation, on the fields of Gettysburg, in the schools of Little Rock, on the grounds of this state house, on the streets of Ferguson, and on the floor of the Tennessee House of Representatives, we the people have always fought to make the promise of freedom real.

And so, today, we must do so once again.

The great Coretta Scott King once said, "Freedom is never truly won. You earn it and win it in every generation." And at this moment in history -- (applause) -- at this moment in history, in the relay race of history, I say, then, let us not throw up our hands, because it's time to roll up our sleeves. (Applause.) And we were born for a time such as this.

And so, with faith, with hope, and optimism, we will fight. And when we fight, we win. (Applause.)

May God bless you. And may God bless the United States of America. Thank you. (Applause.)

Kamala Harris, Remarks by the Vice President at the NAACP South Carolina State Conference on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Columbia, South Carolina Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/369284

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