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Nomination of Martha N. Johnson to be Administrator, General Services Administration

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. BURRIS. Mr. President, we remember the giants of American history, those who led troops into battle, or rose to high office, or gave their lives for something greater than themselves; the warriors, the statesmen, the heroes who fought to defend our values and our freedoms.

We quote their words and etch their names into stone. We rightfully honor their place in the annals of history.

But the quiet moments of our history are often overlooked.

There are many unsung heroes whose actions give shape to our national identity. Too frequently, these brave men and women are pushed to the margins or relegated to obscurity.

That is why I am here today to honor one woman who did not fight in wars, give great speeches, or perish on the battlefield.

Make no mistake: those pursuits are noble, and it is right that we honor them.

But our quiet heroes have just as much claim to our national attention, and also deserve our respect and praise.

So today I would ask my colleagues to pause and to think of just such a quiet American hero:

She never wore a uniform, though in a sense she led a great and diverse army. She never rose to high office, although she paved the way for others, including myself to do so.

Rosa Parks began her life in a world that largely considered her to be undeserving of equal rights. She knew the injustice of segregation, and was no stranger to racism and hatred.

She grew up poor in Tuskegee, AL, where she wasn't even allowed to ride the bus to school.

But, thanks to a life of principled activism, and a moment of quiet courage on a city bus in Montgomery, this poor country girl would grow into a strong woman whose name became synonymous with ``freedom'' and ``equality.''

And when she passed away, not on a foreign battlefield, but quietly in her home, at the age of 92, she was mourned by her friends and neighbors from back home in Alabama, but also by an entire nation, in a funeral held at the National Cathedral and lasting a full 7 hours.

Such was the impact that Rosa Parks had on our social and political landscape.

Such was the indelible mark left by her decision, on that first day of December in 1955, to say ``no.''

To refuse to accept that she was a second-class citizen.

To claim what was rightfully hers as an American, not by force, and not by attacking or degrading her fellow man, but by insisting, with quiet conviction: I am your equal. I am any man or woman's equal.

On that day, she knew that her cause was just. She had unshakable faith not only in the righteousness of her beliefs but in the heart and soul of this great nation that its people would turn away from bigotry and hate, that unjust laws could be changed, and that the great promise of America lives not in the imperfect here and now, but in our ability to define who we wish to become, to chart our own course, and remake our destiny.

Rosa Parks was not alone in this belief. There were many others, from all backgrounds and walks of life, who shared a similar faith in American ideals.

But, by refusing to give up her seat on that bus in Montgomery, Rosa Parks brought those ideals to life.

She helped give wings to a movement that grew, and gathered steam, and inspired millions to work tirelessly on the side of justice and equality.

Today, Rosa Parks would have celebrated her ninety-seventh birthday. Just this morning, I joined Leader Reid and our Congressional colleagues to commemorate this milestone.

And as we observe Black History Month, I can think of no finer way to begin this time of remembrance and celebration than by honoring the legacy of a great American like Rosa Parks.

So I ask my colleagues to join me in remembering this quiet pioneer and millions of others like her, ordinary people who are not afraid to reach for extraordinary things.

Regular folks who see this country and this world as they are, but are not afraid to imagine what they can be.

Few of these unsung heroes will ever see their names in print, or etched into our collective history, but all remind us of the enduring greatness of the United States of America and the fundamental goodness of our fellow human beings.

Mr. President, I yield the floor, and I suggest the absence of a quorum.


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