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Office of the Vice President

For Immediate Release March 5, 2000


All through the years of our nation's history, the American dream has unfolded with a deeper meaning. It is a mystery that Thomas Jefferson could have written the powerful and inspiring words of our Declaration of Independence -- and not free his slaves. It is a mystery that our founders in Philadelphia could have written the United States Constitution -- yet not allowed women to vote. Yet America has taken the inner meaning and power of our founding documents, and given them new life in each generation.

Today, we commemorate those brave citizens -- of all ages -- who stood up to evil and hate in order to make the reality of America meet the great promise of America.

Thirty-five years ago, Hosea Williams and my friend John Lewis led hundreds of men and women to the Edmund Pettus Bridge -- the gateway out of Selma toward Montgomery, the gateway toward freedom. They marched peacefully for that most basic of human rights, the right to vote. And on that bridge, they were met with the vicious swings of the billy club and the searing burn of tear gas.

This brutality shocked the nation, and moved it to action. Some 400 rabbis, ministers, and nuns joined hundreds of everyday Americans of all races and came to Selma. Hundreds more descended on their representatives in Washington. Marches sprang up across the nation. And one week after Bloody Sunday, President Lyndon Johnson told the nation that the time had come "to make good the promise of America," and pass a voting rights bill.

On March 21, 1965, three thousand people -- of all races, of all ages, of all religions -- gathered to continue the march to Montgomery that was stopped on Bloody Sunday. Speaking to the crowd before they left, Martin Luther King, Jr. said: "Walk together children, don't you get weary, and it will lead us to the Promised Land. And Alabama will be a new Alabama, and America will be a new America."

Thanks to their courage -- thanks to the sacrifice of Jimmie Lee Jackson, Reverend James Reeb, Viola Liuzzo, and the countless other martyrs for the cause, we are a new America. We are a strong nation not in spite of our diversity, but because of it.

But let us not confuse the wilderness with the Promised Land. The journey to justice that began 35 years ago continues. There are still barriers that must be removed, wrongs that must be righted, potential that must be unlocked. That is why today I ask all Americans to rededicate themselves to the spirit of the march from Selma to Montgomery.

Let us to march on to deepen and broaden our prosperity so that everyone can partake of the feast; to fling open the doors to opportunity and give all our children the world-class education they deserve; and to banish hate not just from our laws, but from our hearts. Let us to march on to the drumbeats of hope and opportunity, equality and justice, fairness and dignity.

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