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Remarks by Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) at the Ground-Breaking Ceremony for the Memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Location: Washington D.C.


(Cheers, applause.)

SEN. OBAMA: Good morning.


SEN. OBAMA: I want to thank, first of all, the King family. We would not be here without them.

I want to thank Mr. Johnson and the foundation for allowing me to share this day with all of you.

I wish to take a brief moment to recognize as well a few of my colleagues in the United States Senate who helped make today possible: Senators Paul Sarbanes and John Warner, who wrote the bill for this memorial -- (applause) -- and Senators Thad Cochran and Robert Byrd, who appropriated the money to help build it. (Applause.) Thank you all.

I have two daughters, ages 5 and 8, and when I see the plans for this memorial, I think about what it will be like when I first bring them here upon the memorial's completion. I imagine us walking down this Tidal Basin between one memorial dedicated to the man who helped give birth to a nation and another dedicated to the man who preserved it. I picture us walking beneath the shadows cast by the mountains of despair and gazing up at the stone of hope and reading the quotes on the wall together as the water falls like rain.

And at some point, I know that one of my daughters will ask -- perhaps my youngest -- "Daddy, why is this monument here? What did this man do?"

How might I answer that? Unlike the others commemorated in this place, Dr. Martin Luther King was not a president of the United States; at no time in his life did he hold public office. He was not a hero of foreign wars. He never had much money. And while he lived, he was reviled at least as much as he was celebrated. By his own accounts, he was a man frequently racked with doubt, a man not without flaws, a man who, like Moses before him, more than once questioned why he had been chosen for so arduous a task -- the task of leading a people to freedom, the task of healing the festering wounds of the nation's original sin.

And yet lead a nation he did. Through words, he gave voice to the voiceless. Through deeds, he gave courage to the faint of heart. By dent of vision and determination and most of all, faith in the redeeming power of love, he endured the humiliation of arrest, the loneliness of a prison cell, the constant threats to his life, until he finally inspired a nation to transform itself and begin to live up to the meaning of its creed.

Like Moses before him, he would never live to see the promised land. But from that mountaintop, he pointed the way for us -- a land no longer torn asunder with racial hatred and ethnic strife, a land that measured itself by how it treats the least of these, a land in which strength is defined not simply by the capacity to wage war but by the determination to forge peace, a land in which all of God's children might come together in the spirit of brotherhood.

We have not yet arrived at this longed-for place. For all the progress that we have made, there are times when the land of our dreams recedes from us, when we are lost, wandering spirits, content with our suspicions and our angers, our long-held grudges and petty disputes, our frantic diversions, our tribal allegiances. And yet, by erecting this monument, we are reminded that this different, better place beckons us, and that we will find it not across distant hills or within some hidden valley, but rather we will find it somewhere in our hearts.

In the book of Micah, Chapter 6, Verse 8, the prophet says that God has already told us "what is good; what doth the Lord require of thee" -- the verse tells us -- "but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God."

The man we honor today did what God required. In the end, that is what I will tell my daughters. I will leave it to their teachers and their history books to tell them the rest. But just as Dr. King once asked to be remembered, I will tell them that this man gave his life serving us. I will tell them that this man tried to love somebody. I will tell them that because he did these things they live today with the freedom God intended, their citizenship unquestioned, their dreams unbounded. And I will tell them that they too can love, that they too can serve, and that each generation is back in the new to fight for what is right and to strive for what is just and to find within itself the spirit, the sense of purpose that can remake a nation and transform a world.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)


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