Madam President, I want to take this opportunity to send my condolences to the families of those who were murdered in Charleston, South Carolina on Wednesday evening, and to the entire City of Charleston. It is hard to understand how someone could walk into a church, be welcomed into a prayer meeting, and then take out a gun and slaughter nine people who are in the process of discussing the bible. That is hard to believe, but that is what happened.
Madam President, in the last 60 years this country has made significant progress in civil rights, and in trying to become a less discriminatory society. 60 years ago parts of our country were built on apartheid type system, segregated housing, segregated school, segregated restaurants, segregated transportation, segregated water fountains, and in fact, an entirely segregated way of life. Perhaps most significantly, African Americas in a number of southern states were denied the basic right to vote and were unable to participate in the Democratic process.
Today as a nation we have a right to be proud of the significant changes that have taken place in our country over the last 60 years and the many advances that have been made in civil rights and in the creation of a less discriminatory society. We should be proud that in 2008 this country surprised the world by overcoming our racist history and electing our first African American President, and then reelecting him four years later with a strong majority. You may like Barack Obama, and I do, or you may dislike Barack Obama, and many Americans have that view. But it is no small thing that this country was able to judge a candidate by his ideas and his character and not the color of his skin.
But clearly, Madam President, while we have made significant progress, the events of last week remind us how far we yet have to go in order to create a non-racist society. Madam President, I am not the Governor of South Carolina. I am not in the South Carolina legislature. and I do not live in South Carolina, but I do believe that the time is long overdue for the people of South Carolina to remove the Confederate Flag from the State House grounds in Columbia. That flag is a relic of our nation’s stained racial history. It should come down. If any good can come of the terrible tragedy in Charleston it is that the people of South Carolina now have the opportunity to finally turn a page on our past. Frankly, the Confederate Flag does not belong on State House grounds. It belongs in a museum.
Madam President, let me also express to you my deep concern about the growth of extremist groups in this country. Groups who are motivated by hatred. By hatred of African Americans, by hatred of immigrants, by hatred of Jews, by hatred of Muslims, and anyone else who is not exactly like them. Madam President, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, sadly there are some 784 active hate groups in the United States, and the number of those groups are growing. Let me express my agreement with NAACP President, Cornell William Brooks, that, and I quote, “We need vigorous prosecution and vigorous investigation of these hate groups and the resources to do so,” end of quote, and I call upon the FBI to do just that.
Madam President, about 50 years ago as a student at the University of Chicago I was arrested in a civil rights demonstration to end segregated schools and was also involved in helping to end segregated housing in Chicago. Madam President, it is clear to me that over that period of time this nation has come a very, very long way. But it is also clear to me, and I think the majority of our people, that we still have a long, long way to go.
And let me conclude by reminding fellow Americans about those great words that appeared in the Declaration of Independence. That moment in history when the colonies broke off from the British. And this is what that Declaration said. We hold those tru- these truths to be self-evident. That all men, and we would add women, are created equal. That they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights. That among those these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Madam President, that is the dream of America. That is our vision, and that is a goal that we must obtain. The tragedy in Charleston reminds us how far we yet have to go.
Thank you, Madam President, and I note the absence of quorum.
(INAUDIBLE) = Areas that could not be heard due to background noise, tape/phone line quality, muffled speaking, etc.