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'We Are One Nation, One Family, Indivisible'

October 17, 1995|From Associated Press

The following are excerpts from President Clinton's speech on race relations Monday at the University of Texas at Austin:

. . . My fellow Americans, I want to begin by telling you that I am hopeful about America. . . . I can see in the eyes of these students, and in the spirit of this moment, we will do the right thing.

In recent weeks, every one of us has been made aware of a simple truth: White Americans and black Americans often see the same world in drastically different ways, ways that go beyond and beneath the Simpson trial and its aftermath, which brought these perceptions so starkly into the open.

The rift we see before us that is tearing at the heart of America exists in spite of the remarkable progress black Americans have made in the last generation, since Martin Luther King swept America up in his dream and President [Lyndon B.] Johnson spoke so powerfully for the dignity of man and the destiny of democracy in demanding that Congress guarantee full voting rights to blacks.

The rift between blacks and whites exists still in a very special way in America, in spite of the fact that we have become much more racially and ethnically diverse. . . .

A House Divided

The reasons for this divide are many. Some are rooted in the awful history and stubborn persistence of racism. Some are rooted in the different ways we experience the threats of modern life to personal security, family values and strong communities. Some are rooted in the fact that we still haven't learned to talk frankly, to listen carefully and to work together across racial lines.

Almost 30 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King took his last march with sanitation workers in Memphis. They marched for dignity, equality and economic justice. Many carried placards that read simply, "I am a man." The throngs of men marching in Washington today, almost all of them, are doing so for the same stated reason.

But there is a profound difference between this march today and those of 30 years ago. Thirty years ago the marchers were demanding that dignity and opportunity they were due because, in the face of terrible discrimination, they had worked hard, raised their children, paid their taxes, obeyed the laws and fought our wars.

Well, today's march is also about pride and dignity and respect--but after a generation of deepening social problems that disproportionately impact black Americans.

It is also about black men taking renewed responsibility for themselves, their families and their communities. It's about saying "no" to crime and drugs and violence. It's about standing up for atonement and reconciliation. It's about insisting that others do the same and offering to help them.

It's about the frank admission that unless black men shoulder their load, no one else can help them or their brothers, their sisters and their children escape the hard, bleak lives that too many of them still face.

Of course, some of those in the march do have a history that is far from its message of atonement and reconciliation. One million men are right to be standing up for personal responsibility, but 1 million men do not make right one man's message of malice and division. No good house was ever built on a bad foundation. Nothing good ever came of hate.

Better Future

So let us pray today that all who march and all who speak will stand for atonement, for reconciliation, for responsibility. Let us pray that those who have spoken for hatred and division in the past will turn away from that past and give voice to the true message of those ordinary Americans who march.

If that happens . . . the men and the women who are there with them will be marching into better lives for themselves and their families, and they could be marching into a better future for America.

Today, we face a choice. One way leads to further separation and bitterness and more lost futures. The other way--the path of courage and wisdom--leads to unity, to reconciliation, to a rich opportunity for all Americans to make the most of the lives God gave them.

This moment in which the racial divide is so clearly out in the open need not be a setback for us. It presents us with a great opportunity, and we dare not let it pass us by.

In the past, when we've had the courage to face the truth about our failure to live up to our own best ideals, we've grown stronger, moved forward and restored proud American optimism. At such turning points, America moved to preserve the Union and abolish slavery, to embrace women's suffrage, to guarantee basic legal rights to America without regard to race. . . . At each of these moments, we looked in the national mirror and were brave enough to say, "This is not who we are. We're better than that."

Abraham Lincoln reminded us that a house divided against itself cannot stand.

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