NEW YORK—(ENEWSPF)—December 1, 2015. On the 60th anniversary of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Hillary Clinton delivered an address at the National Bar Association’s “The Role Lawyers Played in the Montgomery Bus Boycott’s Commemoration Tour” on the acts of courage and sacrifice from many throughout the civil rights movement and the work that remains. The 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott and pivotal role Rosa Parks played led to tens of thousands of African Americans mobilizing as a force for change, and ultimately led to the U.S. Supreme Court ordering full integration of the Montgomery bus system.
Please see a full transcript of the remarks below:
“Thank you. I’ll tell you what, I have to say to President Krump if this lawyer business doesn’t work out for you I imagine there’s a church or two that might call you to the pulpit instead of to the bar. This is the day the Lord has made, honestly. Wow. Let us rejoice and be glad in it. And I have to thank all of you for the great honor of participating in this anniversary tribute. What a wonderful idea, Attorney Gray, as so many of your ideas have been over the years. I listened very carefully as several speakers pointed out that it would be more than appropriate for Attorney Gray to receive a certain President Medal of Freedom. Well, I’ll tell you, I’ve already written the President telling him I think that’s a good idea. And I’ve already gotten the congresswoman to agree that when she goes to the Christmas party at the White House, she’s going to raise that – not just with the President, but importantly, with Mrs. Obama.
“It is such an honor to be here, and I want to thank everyone for this invitation and I particularly want to recognize a few people who are with us, starting with your congresswoman, whom I have had the great privilege of getting to know and working with and looking forward to be a partner with her. I want to acknowledge Mayor Strange. Thank you for having us here in your city. And Chairman Dean of the Montgomery County Commission, thank you. Mayor Ford of Tuskegee, thank you so much. I also want to thank Reverend Handy for opening up this historic church to us today. And I had a chance to visit with Reverend and Mrs. Handy, and indeed, he was called to this church, and I am looking forward to working to support the kind of mentoring and outreach programs that he is putting in place here. We need more of that for more of our children.
“And I am so pleased that Paulette Brown could be with us today. Those of us who know of her career and her rise, first through the NBA, then through the ABA, really hold her in such high esteem. And I thank you for your highlighting the many women in the civil rights movement, particularly the lawyers. Because, as Ben said, my first job out of law school was for the Children’s Defense Fund, for Marian Wright Edelman. She was someone who I heard about when I was in law school and saw one day on the bulletin board – there used to be such things in the pre-internet world called bulletin boards. I saw where she was going to be speaking at Yale Law School, where she had graduated and where I was then a student, and I went over to hear her speak and I was just so impressed. Here’s the first African American woman to pass the Mississippi bar, working on behalf of civil rights but focusing on the needs of children, which to me is the really overwhelming challenge that we face today.
“I listened to her and then when she finished, I went up to her and I said to her – I said, “I’d like to come work for you this summer.” She said, “Well, that’s fine, but I can’t pay you.” And I said, “Well, I have to get a job because I’m putting myself through law school,” and I said to her, “If I can figure out how to get paid, will you give me the job?” She said, “Well, that’s an offer I certainly won’t refuse.” So I applied for and got a law student Civil Rights Research Council grant. It enabled me to go to work that summer, and then when I graduated I went to work full-time, later chaired the board of the Children’s Defense Fund, and to this day I count myself very lucky having seen that little notice on that bulletin board all those years ago.
“And I especially am honored to be with the Reverend Bernice King, someone whose moral clarity and call to action is certainly rooted in her father’s work, but is uniquely her own. Her voice is one that deserves the closest attention, and I am grateful she is here with us.
“When I think about a lot of the great names that we have heard today, I am always impressed and, frankly, a little humbled. Attorney Gray is a distinguished man, but he was a very young man when he took on these cases. It is easy now in retrospect to somehow assume that the results were foreordained, and that the time to end segregation and oppression and inequality before the law was drawing to a close. But I don’t think we should ever assume that. It took the courage of so many, and among the most courageous were the lawyers who took on the challenges in the courts and in the streets.
“Another person I had the great privilege of working with was John Doar, who argued pivotal voting rights cases while serving in the Department of Justice, and memorably had to step in between police and protesters to stop a bloodbath in Jackson in 1963, after the murder of Medgar Evers. I remember asking John Doar once, as I was a very young lawyer at the time of this question, “Weren’t you afraid?” “Of course I was,” he said, “but I was representing the law. I was representing the constitution. If we don’t stand for that in the worst of times, how can we live with ourselves?”
“Or think about Louis Stokes, who we just lost. He was fighting stop and frisk back in the 1960s. And Elaine Jones, a dear friend who defended death row inmates and helped get the death penalty abolished in 37 states as a lawyer with the NAACP legal defense fund. I think of judges like Frank Johnson here in Alabama, who took his seat on the bench just a few weeks before Rosa Parks was arrested, and struck down the Montgomery bus segregation law as unconstitutional, then did the same for parks and restaurants, restrooms, libraries, airports, and the Alabama state police. Or his counterpart in Louisiana, Judge Skelly Wright, who overturned dozens of segregation laws there and before Brown ordered LSU to enroll black students.
“These jurists, like many of the lawyers who were taking these cases, endured death threats and cross burnings. They were reviled by many of their neighbors. They’d walk down a street and see friends they had known since childhood who would turn their backs on them. But they didn’t back down because they too believed in the Constitution, in the rule of law. And they knew that segregation was a distortion of justice, not an expression of it. They also knew that sometimes, lawmakers get it wrong. And when that happens, it’s up to lawyers and judges to make it right. That’s what many lawyers felt then and it’s what many lawyers feel now. Our work isn’t finished. We do have to pay it forward. There are still injustices perpetrated every day across our country, sometimes in spite of the law, sometimes, unfortunately, in keeping with it. There are still too many Americans, especially too many African Americans, whose experience of the justice system is not what it should be. There are still too many ways in which our laws and our policies fall short of our ideals.
“So even as we celebrate all that our country has achieved in the past 60 years, we must, in keeping with the legacy of those who have gone before, look to the future and the work that is left to do.
“We must reform our criminal justice system. It can be, and all too often is, stacked against those with the least power. There is something profoundly wrong when African American men are still far more likely to be stopped and searched by police, charged with crimes, and sentenced to longer prison terms for doing the same things as a white man. There is something profoundly wrong when a third of all black men face the prospect of prison during their lifetimes. Right now an estimated 1.5 million black men are missing from their families and communities because of incarceration and premature death. And too many black families mourn the loss of a child.
“I’ve met with too many mothers who have lost their children – lost to senseless, incomprehensible violence. My heart breaks for them. Many of these women are doing something quite remarkable: they are turning their grief into a powerful call to action for our nation.
“We can’t go on like this. We’ve got to change. We must strengthen the bonds of trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve. In too many parts of America today, that trust has broken down. Let’s remember that everyone benefits when there is respect for the law and when everyone is respected by the law.
“And as we work to deliver real reforms that can be felt in our communities, there’s a lot of good work to build on. Across the country, many police officers are out there every day inspiring trust and confidence, honorably doing their duty, putting themselves on the line to save lives. And many police departments are deploying creating and effective strategies, demonstrating how we can protect the public without resorting to unnecessary force. We need to learn from those examples, build on what works, chart a new course in how we approach punishment and prison.
“The United States has less than 5 percent of the world’s population but almost 25 percent of the world’s total prison population. And our country has nearly one-third of all the world’s women prisoners. The numbers of people in prison are much higher than they were 30 or 40 years ago, even though crime rates are much lower. And of the more than 2 million Americans incarcerated right now, a significant percentage are nonviolent offenders – people held for violating parole, or minor drug crimes, or who are simply awaiting trial in backlogged courts. Keeping them behind bars does little to reduce crime, but it does a lot to tear apart families and communities. It’s time to change our approach and end the era of mass incarceration in America.
“And we must do more to address the epidemic of gun violence that is plaguing our country. I consider this a national emergency. The vast majority of Americans, including the vast majority of gun owners, support commonsense steps to reduce gun violence like comprehensive background checks and closing the loopholes that let guns fall into the wrong hands. But even after what we’ve seen in Paris and in other places, Congress won’t even bring up a bill that will prohibit anyone on the no-fly list from buying a gun. Think about it: it seems reasonable to assume if you are too dangerous to fly in America, you are too dangerous to buy a gun in America. And we must get rid of the special immunity Congress gave the gun industry, something that was a mistake – plain and simple – that needs to be reversed.
“And yes, we must strengthen that most fundamental citizenship right: the right to vote. I thought we’d solved that problem thanks to many of the lawyers we are honoring today. But unfortunately, there is mischief afoot, and some people are just determined to do what they can to keep other Americans from voting. Now, I know because I was here at Joe Reed’s invitation a few weeks ago about the dispute that’s going on in Alabama, where there’s a strict new voter ID law in effect, and then a lot of the DMV offices in every single county where African Americans make up more than 75 percent of registered voters were closed. Now, that would make getting driver’s licenses and personal ID cards much harder, which, in turn, would make voting much harder too.
“The right to vote is so fundamental to our democracy, but it’s also about people’s dignity. The right to stand up and say, “I am a citizen. I am an American. My voice and my vote count.” No matter who you are or where you come from or what you look like or how much money you have, that means something.
“As Ben was saying with that powerful quote from Justice Marshall, before the law we are all to be equal, and in the voting booth we are all to be equal as well, and that cannot and must not be taken away.
“And finally, we must be honest about the larger and deeper inequalities that continue to exist across our country. You can’t credibly talk about reforming our criminal justice system and strengthening our democracy without also talking about increasing economic opportunity, improving education, giving more support to working families. Our children deserve the best start in life. And we have to do more to make that possible. Now, I do have this most wonderful, amazing 14-month-old granddaughter. And I listen carefully to Ben talking about Brooklyn (ph). And I’ve got no doubt that he and his wife are going to do everything it takes to make sure she’s prepared to pursue her dreams. But I want that for every child.
“And you cannot credibly pledge to do your part to make our country more just without also being willing to take a look at yourself, at our own lives, our own preconceptions. We each need to do the hard work of rebuilding our bonds with one another. This isn’t just about strengthening ties between police and citizens – although that is very important. It’s about strengthening ties across society, between and among neighbors, colleagues, even people with whom we profoundly disagree. It’s about how we treat each other, what we value together.
“This is so fundamental to who we are, as a nation, and everything we could hope to achieve. And those of us who serve in politics, or who want to lead our country have a special responsibility to bring Americans together, not pull us apart. And it may be unusual, hearing a presidential candidate say we need more love and kindness, but that is exactly what we need right now. Indeed, it’s what we have always needed.
“After the first day of the bus boycott 60 years ago, that evening, thousands of people were jammed in the streets, inside the church, when Martin Luther King, Jr. stepped to the pulpit. You go back and read what he said that night, of course he spoke about (inaudible), about citizenship, about fairness under the law.
And then he started talking about love. Love, he said, is one of the pinnacle parts of the Christian faith. And there is another side called justice. And I love this, especially as a recovering lawyer. Justice is really love in calculation. Justice is love correcting that which would work against love. Standing beside love is always justice.
“Now, decades after her place in history was secured, Rosa Parks came to Washington to sit with me at the 1999 State of the Union. She looked beautiful in a jeweled-colored dress with her head crowned in a long braid, just like in her booking photos the day she was arrested. The entire Congress rose to give her a long standing ovation. You see, all of our nation’s leaders, Democrats and Republicans alike, united in their esteem for her, when she was once the focal point of perhaps the most divisive issue of our time, well, that was a powerful indicator of how far we had come.
“Rosa hadn’t changed much. She was the same lovely, dignified, determined person she always was. But America had changed. It’s always struck me how, depending on the way you look at it, Rosa Parks either did something tremendous or something rather humble. On the one hand, she helped ignite a social movement that sought to finish the work of the Civil War and redeem the promise of the 13th, 14th, and 15th, Amendments. On the other hand, she finished her shift at the Montgomery Fair Department Store, took her regular bus home, sat where she and other African Americans always sat, and, when the bus driver ordered her to move, she quietly, so quietly – if the bus were still running, no one could have heard her above the engine noise – said, “No.”
“That’s how history often gets made, doesn’t it? On an ordinary day, by seemingly ordinary people, doing something extraordinary. It’s only when we look back that we realize that’s the day when everything began to change. That’s how it was with December 1, 1955.
“I suspect Rosa Parks would be the first to say that what happened 60 years ago today and everything that followed was the result of countless acts of courage and sacrifice by people from many walks of life. And I’m sure she would also, Attorney Gray, acknowledge the critical role that attorneys play.
“As we look forward, I hope we keep in mind what we can do on days like this to begin to make a difference. Maybe only with a few people. Maybe, though, to start ripples that will change history. There is no doubt in my mind that the power of our Constitution, of the rule of law, of the courage of those who fight to uphold it, is one of the great assets the United States of America has. Let us go forth today, challenged to do our part to make sure that this generation will see the work of justice and equality, as well as love and kindness.
“I look forward to being your partner in the years ahead. Thank you all very much.”