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Public Statements

Black History Month

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. BURRIS. Mr. President, this Monday, I was honored to stand before this Chamber and read George Washington's Farewell Address. This annual tradition invites Members of the Senate, as well as the American people, to pause and reflect on the wisdom of our first President.

In this historic text, the father of our country lays out a unique view of the Nation he helped to create. It is a testament to the American spirit and a tribute to the American people that this country has come such a long way since the days of our ancestors.

Washington's vision was especially poignant to me, having traced my personal ancestry back to the days of slavery.

As I looked out over this Chamber on Monday, I thought about the reasons we celebrate each February as Black History Month. This year, as Black History Month draws to a close, I cannot help but reflect that Washington's address reminds us that Black history and American history are inseparable from one another; that the American story cannot be distilled into the Black experience and the White experience but that both are essential components of the American experience.

The story of this country is a story of expanding equality and opportunity, of people and institutions grappling with social change and striving to live up to the promise of a single line in the Declaration of Independence which laid out the creed that came to define this Nation:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. .....

With these simple words, a slave owner named Thomas Jefferson laid the cornerstone of the free America we know today, even if the noble sentiment was not realized for all Americans until more than a century later. Although we have seen such injustice--though our journey toward freedom and equality is far from over--we can draw great strength from the promise that was woven into the fabric of our Nation on the day we declared our independence.

Black History Month is a time to remember those who have taken part in every step of that ongoing journey and to celebrate the legacy they have left behind for each of us.

At every moment in our past, African Americans have stood shoulder to shoulder with their countrymen from all races, backgrounds, and walks of life to help chart our course and define who we are to become: from the slaves who laid the very foundation of this Capitol Building to the businessmen and entrepreneurs who helped build our modern economy; from the ``King'' who dared to dream of an America he would never live to see to the President who reached the mountaintop; from the man who was born into the bonds of slavery to his great grandson who stands today before his peers in the Senate.

Each of these stories, however ordinary or remarkable, illustrates how Black history is woven deeply into the broad canvas of American history and why the two are inseparable from one another.

For me, this reality was brought to life the moment I stood at the front of this Chamber and began to read the words that our first President wrote to his countrymen more than two centuries ago. Yet it was the visionary leadership and high ideals of men such as Washington and Jefferson which transcended the prejudice of their times and made it possible for later generations to tear those inequalities to the ground.

All Americans have benefited from this profound legacy. We all have an interest in preserving the history we share.

In the closing days of this Black History Month, I urge my colleagues to reflect not only on the ways African Americans have contributed to American history but also on the ways we can move forward together as one Nation, just as Washington calls us to do in his Farewell Address.

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


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