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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release February 3, 1999
                       REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
              Thurgood Marshall Federal Judiciary Building
                            Washington. D.C.    

7:15 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much, Judge Keith. It's good to be in your presence again. Mrs. Marshall, Rosa Parks. Mr. Hill, I'm honored to be in your presence, sir. President Swygert, President Reid, Mr. Mecham; to Congressman Clyburn and members of the Congressional Black Caucus and any other members of Congress who may be here; Mr. Holder, Mr. Lee, and Justice Department officials who are here. To all the members of the White House staff, but especially Thurgood Marshall, Jr. (Applause.) I thank you for permitting me to be a small part of this momentous day.

"We are all created equal" -- the simplest, most powerful idea about human beings ever articulated. Our history is largely the story of Americans of courage and vision who have stepped forward, often at risk to their lives, to lead us in our ongoing march toward justice and equality. I thank you for chronicling their journey in this exhibit.

Perhaps no one in this century did more to open the doors to "the glorious temple of American liberty" than the man we honor and remember tonight, Justice Thurgood Marshall. You honor with this exhibit the courage of a man who traveled to towns of the segregated South -- places where he couldn't find a bite to eat when he was hungry, a bed to rest when he was tired, a police officer's protection when he was threatened. He did all that to argue that we are all created equal.

We honor the genius of a man who masterminded a strategy to dismantle Jim Crow, case by case, trial by trial, decision by decision, from Baltimore to Topeka to Little Rock to the United States Supreme Court.

The 14th Amendment, with its promise of equal protection under law, was Thurgood Marshall's sword and shield. It was pretty moribund when he began to work on it, but he breathed life into it and transformed it into a living charter of freedom. The legacy of the 14th Amendment -- the legacy of Justice Marshall -- the legacy of his mentor, Charles Houston, his colleagues such as Wiley Branton and Jack Greenberg and Oliver Hill -- the legacy of others we have lost, like that great lion, Leon Higginbotham, our friend -- (applause) -- that legacy can be seen every day, everywhere in America -- in classrooms, in libraries, in restaurants, and in the lives and careers of so many of the men and women standing here tonight.

Because the road to freedom and justice is long and never ends, we can honor Thurgood Marshall best not only with grand buildings and museum exhibits, but with great vision and vigorous action, to make equality ever more real and discrimination that some day will be something that can only be found in museum exhibits. No one should be denied a home or a job, a world-class education or equal pay for equal work, or indeed any part of the American Dream, because of race, or disability, or gender, or sexual orientation or religion.

During some of the darkest days of Jim Crow, a single phrase whispered in African American communities all across the South would give hope to millions: Thurgood is coming. Today, at the dawn of a new century, it is up to each and every one of us to ensure that Thurgood is still coming. (Applause.)

So let us pick up his sword and his shield, and fight for that more perfect union, that one America that was his great and lasting gift to all of us.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

END 7:26 P.M. EST