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Special Congressional Medal Honoring Marian Anderson Remarks at the Presentation Ceremony.

October 17, 1978

The President. First of all, I'd like to ask Marian Anderson to come up with me.

On very rare occasions, there are people who appear in the world community who are an inspiration to literally millions of people because of thir superb talent, because of their sensitivity to others' yearnings for status in life or opportunity or a joy of living, and who at the same time exemplify the characteristics of citizens of a nation like our own whose ideals and aspirations and standards all of us cherish. Marian Anderson is one of those rare people. Her musical talent is exceptional, unique, recognized and enjoyed by people everywhere. She's brought joy to millions of people, and she exemplifies the finest aspects of American Citizenship.

She's never considered herself to be a crusader for the downtrodden or brown or yellow or black people of our planet. But she's done as much to elevate their souls, their spirit, and their status among other human beings as anyone else who's ever lived.

No one in this country could ever forget Easter Sunday in 1939, when Marian Anderson let her beautiful voice be heard in a quiet but forceful way, saying that black people have rights in this country that have not yet been recognized.

That was a long time ago. It was 15 years before the Supreme Court ruled that there should be equality of rights in our country. And she did it in such a way that tore the heart of those who were afflicted by their own conscience, but inspired those who wanted more courage to bring about a realization of what our Nation is, and wasn't at that time.

I think it's accurate to say that she is one who has enjoyed great success, and she's been eager to share that success with many others, through scholarships, through her own humanitarian efforts, and through the example of a life, she's expanded her influence in a beneficent way to encompass the lives of many others.

It's a great honor for me to deliver to her on behalf of the American people a special gold medal that was mandated to be designed and produced for her by the Congress of the United States. I've never had an experience like this before. This is indeed an honor for me. And I think the recognition of her and what her life means to our country by the Congress is indeed well deserved.

It's a great honor to me as President, on behalf of more than 200 million American citizens—indeed, not in a presumptuous way, on behalf of many hundreds of millions of people around the world—to give her this token of our esteem, our appreciation, our admiration, and our personal love.

Miss Anderson, it's a great honor for me to present this medal to you.

Miss ANDERSON. Mr. President and Mrs. Carter, I am without the proper words to express to you today the depth of my feelings. I have always loved America, and without getting on a soapbox to say so, we tried to do in our medium that which we felt was more like us to do. And we do hope in some places there was some good.

When Mrs. Carter spoke to me about the possibility of receiving the medal, and we waited for days, weeks, and months, I just wondered whether or not this was going to have to be given posthumously. [Laughter]

But here we all are, and this is about the happiest moment of my life. And I can't find all the words that I would like to say, but this much is true: I could not have been here at this moment on this spot without people all over the world, many of whom I did not know and never will, sending up prayers now and then, that we would be always under His protection. And I believe that we were. That President Carter and Mrs. Carter are the kind of people that they are is like a beacon in a desert. And they mean so much to so many people whom they don't know and never will know.

And I am so thrilled at this moment, that I don't know that I can get back to my seat or not. [Laughter] But I am eternally grateful, eternally grateful, because whatever has been done, so many people have had a part in it. And I thank the dear Lord up above for all that He has done, and I hope that He shall be with me forever, as I hope He will be with you, because without Him, we are naught. Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT. Miss Anderson's autobiography is entitled, "Oh Lord, What a Morning," and the final words in that autobiography, I thought, were appropriate to be read after she made her response. And I'm quoting the last paragraph in her autobiography.

"There are many persons ready to do what is right because in their hearts they know it is right. But they hesitate, waiting for the other fellow to make the first move, and he in turn waits for you. The minute a person whose word means a great deal dares to take the open-hearted and courageous way, many others follow. Not everyone can be turned aside from meanness and hatred. But the great majority of Americans is heading in that direction. I have a great belief in the future of my people and my country."

We thank you for those fine words. When the mayor of Atlanta, Maynard Jackson, was inaugurated, I was Governor. And I went to a beautiful inauguration ceremony; with two exceptions, the best one I've ever been to. [Laughter]

The entire group of thousands of people were thrilled by the beautiful voice of Mattiwilda Dobbs, who is an aunt of Maynard Jackson, the mayor of Atlanta, and a native of my own State. I think that those of you who have seen the back side of this medal, perhaps when it fell on the floor, can see a world being held in God's hands. And we have now, to close our ceremony, Mattiwilda Dobbs, who will sing, "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands."

Note: The President spoke at 3:27 p.m. in the Grand Hall at the White House.

Jimmy Carter, Special Congressional Medal Honoring Marian Anderson Remarks at the Presentation Ceremony. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/244100

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