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Public Statements

Congressional Black Caucus: Voter Protection

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. AL GREEN of Texas. Thank you very much for yielding to me. I greatly appreciate it. And, of course, I want to thank all of the members of the CBC for the stellar work that has been done in this area of publishing the history of Africans in the Americas, known as African Americans.

I'd like to, tonight, just address a very simple topic that has a lot of meaning, the whole notion that great people will always rise to the occasion. However, it also takes great people to make the occasion; and on occasions such as this, we often mention the great ones: the great Thurgood Marshall, the great litigator that he was, winning more than 29 cases, I believe, before the Supreme Court of the United States of America.

But in talking about the cases that he won, approximately 29 is what I recall, we also should remember that there were other persons who helped to make the occasion for the great Thurgood Marshall who went on to become a Justice on the Supreme Court of the United States of America. One such person would be Charles Hamilton Houston.

A great story about Charles Hamilton Houston, he was the person who produced the strategy that the Honorable Thurgood Marshall followed to help the NAACP litigate the cases that went before the Supreme Court, more specifically, the case of Brown v. Board of Education, which helped us to integrate society by way of desegregation.

There's a story about Thurgood that many people are not aware of. He applied to the University of Maryland Law School and he was denied access because of his color. And I'm not angry with the University of Maryland. As a matter of fact, it was because they rejected him that he went to Howard University, where he met the Honorable Charles Hamilton Houston. And it was there that their friendship blossomed such that Thurgood acquired this intelligence about the strategy to use the Constitution and litigation to bring about a more perfect Union.

The interesting story, however, is not complete unless we go on to talk about how Thurgood, who graduated at the top of his class, went on to practice law, and one of his first cases involved a person who was denied access to the University of Maryland. He won that lawsuit. So history has a way of causing persons who have been rejected to have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of other persons who may be similarly situated.

I am so honored that Thurgood Marshall finished at Howard University and went to become chief litigator for the NAACP; but all of this was predicated upon his having a great relationship with another person who made headway, did not necessarily make the same kind of headlines, the honorable Charles Hamilton Houston.

We talk about the Honorable Rosa Parks and how she took a seat and ignited a spark that started the civil rights movement, but there was another person who took a seat before Rosa who was arrested, handcuffed, and taken to jail. She was a 15-year-old girl. Her name was Claudette Colvin. She, too, suffered the same fate as the Honorable Rosa Parks, but she didn't make the headlines. She did make headway such that when the Honorable Rosa Parks was arrested, it become more of a story. Of course, Rosa Parks had status in the community, and that was, in no small way, a contribution to her receiving the attention that she did.

And, by the way, Rosa Parks wasn't just tired. She was tired in the sense that she was tired of injustice, and she took a stand against injustice because she was tired of injustice.

The interesting thing about this story is that the bus boycott that took place didn't end because of the boycott alone. I think that had something to do with it because it probably helped to shape public opinion. But there were three other females who filed a lawsuit that made its way to the Supreme Court of the United States of America: Browder, McDonald, and Smith. It was that lawsuit that they won, they made headway. They didn't make the lasting headlines, but they made the difference in the Montgomery bus boycott.

And, of course, we always talk about Dr. King, and we should, because he paid the ultimate price. He made the ultimate sacrifice. But we should not forget that before Dr. King marched from Selma to Montgomery, there were others who set out to march from Selma to Montgomery, and they did not make it across. Well, they made it across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, but that was

where they met strong resistance from officers who had billy clubs, and they resisted the marchers. They didn't resist them; they actually took them on, and they beat them all the way back to the church where they started.

I enjoy hearing John Lewis tell the story not because of the suffering, but because he tells it in such a way as to cause me to have some degree of appreciation for what they went through on Bloody Sunday and how they paid a price. There were many people there on Bloody Sunday. The Honorable John Lewis was among them. They made headway and they made headlines, but their names have not been mentioned. And these are the people who made the occasion such that the Honorable Dr. Martin Luther King would come to Selma and proceed with the march that eventually took them from Selma to Montgomery. They made headway. They didn't always make headlines, but they made a great contribution.

And, of course, we know of the Honorable Barack Obama, the first African American President of the United States of America, who did not get there because of his color. He is President because he is capable, competent, and qualified. But before he ran, there was a woman who ran, the Honorable Shirley Chisholm. She was the first African American to run for President from a major political party. She didn't get the nomination of the party, but she did run from a major political party.

So we should remember that for every James Chaney, there were persons who were in the shadows who made a difference. John Lewis was one of them. For every Thurgood Marshall, there's a Charles Hamilton Houston who mentored, who made a difference in the life of a Thurgood Marshall such that he could go on to do the great things that he did. For every Rosa Parks, there is a person who is in the shadows, who made a difference, who helped to make the occasion such that Rosa Parks could rise to the occasion by taking a seat and igniting a spark that started the civil rights movement.

Let us remember not only the persons who made the great headlines that we continually recognize, but let's remember that there were other persons who made great headway who don't get the recognition today that they merit, but they were a part of this great movement for liberty and justice for African Americans across the length and breadth of this country.

At some point, I shall talk about persons who were of many hues who also participated in this great movement, because we didn't get here by ourselves. There were many persons of many colors who marched and protested. Many of them gave their lives to this movement as well--John Shillady comes to mind, who was beaten in Austin, Texas, and as a result of that beating lost his life. He was an NAACPer, he was Anglo. Of course we know about Goodman and Chaney and Schwerner. And two of them, of course, were not African Americans, Schwerner and Goodman.

So I think that on occasions like this we should always celebrate the great and noble African Americans who made great sacrifices, remember those who were in the shadows, and also remember that there were others of many hues, of many ethnicities and many religions who were right there with us to help us arrive at this point in our history.

And I thank you so much for this time to mention some of the great ones, and some of those who were great but did not receive the acclaim that they richly deserve. And I thank you again. God bless you, and God bless America.


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