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                            THE WHITE HOUSE
                     Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release                                   January 15, 2000
                             TO THE NATION

                            The Oval Office

10:06 A.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. On Monday, America will celebrate, through reflection and service, the birth of the 20th century's great champion for justice and civil rights, Dr. Martin Luther King. Today, I want to talk with you about new steps we're taking to fulfill Dr. King's dream and redeem America's promise.

Of course, we've come a long way. I'm joined today by a woman named Charlotte Filmore. Mrs. Filmore is 100 years old. Through the years, she has seen her share of discrimination. A good while ago, she worked at the White House -- back then, even here, she had to use a side door. Well, today, Charlotte Filmore came to the White House through the front door, and all the way to the Oval Office. But there is still more to do. So this morning, I want to tell you about what we're doing to open more doors of opportunity for more Americans.

In his last speech, Dr. King reminded us that the work of dignity and justice is as old as America itself. He said it's about going back to those great wells of democracy dug deep by our Founding Fathers and the Constitution. To draw from that well, Dr. King challenged us to dig deep within our own hearts -- to face our flaws, renew our values, live up to our nation's creed.

We are doing better. We have the strongest economy in a generation, the lowest unemployment rate in 30 years and, thankfully, the lowest African American and Hispanic unemployment rates ever recorded; the lowest African American poverty rate ever recorded and the lowest Hispanic poverty rate in 25 years. We're coming together as a community. Our social fabric is on the mend.

But still there are people and places throughout America that have been left behind by this economic recovery. Minority unemployment and poverty still is about twice the national average. Still there are too many barriers on the road to opportunity, many examples of Americans facing discrimination in everyday life.

No American in the 21st century should have to face such discrimination when it comes to finding a home, getting a job, going to school, securing a loan. That's why I'm very proud that my budget for the coming year will include the largest ever investment to enforce our civil rights laws; to help make sure that protections in law are protections in fact.

I'm proposing a 20 percent increase for the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department. That would almost double the annual budget for that office since I became President seven years ago.

Under the leadership of Acting Assistant General Bill Lann Lee, the Civil Rights Division has enforced our civil rights laws justly and fairly. And so, again, on behalf of all Americans, I ask the Senate to confirm Mr. Lee as our nation's top civil rights enforcer.

Our budget also includes a 14 percent increase for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, so that it continue its work to enforce laws prohibiting employment discrimination. And we're beefing up our other civil rights enforcements effort throughout our national government.

We must also do more to root out forces of hate and intolerance. We've seen far too many acts of violence targeted at others solely because of who they are -- from the dragging death of James Byrd to the brutal killing of Matthew Shepard to the murder of the African American basketball coach and the Korean American student in the midwest, to the shooting at the Jewish school in Los Angeles and the murder of the Filipino postal worker.

Such hate crimes leave deep scars, not just on the victims, but on our larger community -- for they take aim at others for who they are, and when they do, they take aim at America. So once again, I ask Congress to stop the delay and pass strong hate crimes legislation.

Taken together, these efforts will move us closer to building one America in the 21st century.

Dr. King taught us the most important civil right is to provide every citizen with the chance to live the American Dream. This is the best chance we've had in my lifetime -- maybe even in Mrs. Filmore's lifetime -- to give every American a shot at that dream.

So as we celebrate Dr. King's life and legacy, let's keep following his footsteps to draw from that deep well of democracy and deepen the meaning of freedom for all Americans.

Thanks for listening.

END 10:11 A.M. EST