BY HAZEL TRICE EDNEY
TRICE EDNEY NEWS WIRE
U.S. Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch, giving one among thousands of speeches commemorating the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. this year, says, when it comes to racial justice, America has a long way to go to reach the “Promised Land.’’
Pulling from King’s “I See the Promised Land” speech, delivered in Memphis on April 3, 1968, the day before he was assassinated, Lynch – America’s chief law enforcement officer – told an audience at the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) salute to King what the DOJ is doing to bring racial progress.
She called for everyone to “recommit ourselves” to do their part.
“This is all vital work and the scope and the pace of our efforts on behalf of justice and civil rights demonstrate how far we’ve come in the last half-century. But it is clear, even now, that we still have a long way to go to reach the promised land that Dr. King described,” Lynch said. “And that every one of us must be committed to do our part. After all, as Dr. King knew well – and as all of you here in this room understand – there is nothing inevitable about progress. There is nothing foreordained about our advancement.”
In that speech, King reflected on the nonviolent struggle to win the Civil and Voting Rights Acts and he marveled at the people around the world who were continuing to demand freedom.
In the famous ending to the speech, he said, “I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the Promised Land.”
Lynch, America’s first Black woman attorney general, succeed the first Black Attorney General Eric Holder on June 17, 2015 – only seven months ago. She took office during a tumultuous period marked by protests against police for shootings of unarmed Blacks, a struggle to maintain voting rights and continuing economic inequalities.
Honoring King, she listed actions by the Department of Justice, dating back to the beginning of the Obama administration, that have been aimed to further the slain civil rights leader’s vision for justice. She said:
We are vigorously defending every citizen’s right to vote, using every legal tool available to us to enforce the Voting Rights Act in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County.
As well – since 2009, our Civil Rights Division has filed more criminal civil rights cases and prosecuted and convicted more defendants on hate crimes charges, than at any other point in the department’s history.
We’re working to ensure civil rights in criminal justice, in part by promoting trust and strengthening relationships between law enforcement and the communities we serve.
And we’re playing a leading role in this administration’s drive to reform our criminal justice system, especially through our ongoing work to reduce recidivism and improve reentry outcomes.
We’ve also joined with the Departments of Education, Labor and Housing and Urban Development to launch innovative programs in a number of areas, from making Pell grants available to some incarcerated individuals to helping local jurisdictions with record-cleaning and expungement so that every American returning home has the chance to contribute to their communities and make a new life for themselves.
Tribute to Ladner
But the DOJ is only building on the successes of others, Lynch pointed out. A guest of the attorney general, civil rights pillar Dorie Ann Ladner, a stalwart in the Freedom Riders and SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) – who helped to organize the March on Washington and marched from Selma to Montgomery – looked on as she spoke.
“The progress that we celebrate today was made possible because of brave Americans like her. I am able to stand before you here because she marched there,” Lynch said. “Because the heroes of the Civil Rights Movement were willing to raise their voices, to risk their safety and even to lose their lives, we live in a nation where segregation no longer receives the sanction of law and where no person can lawfully be denied the right to vote simply because of their race,” she reflected.
“The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 continue to stand as landmarks in our nation’s history – monuments to our values and to the extraordinary progress that we have made together.”
Price of freedom
She concluded that in order to truly honor the legacy of King all year long, their example must be followed by never giving up until the “Promised Land” is realized.
“We must recognize that their words and their deeds are not relics of history, but living challenges – calls to action that still echo in our hearts, urging us to continue their journey, to extend their cause and to realize their vision of a more just society – and a more beloved community,” Lynch said. “His challenge – a challenge to a nation to live up to its defining principles – still echoes today.
Indeed, it is the challenge of every generation to realize that the price of freedom is constant vigilance; to understand that while we cannot erase every dark prejudice from the heart of man, we can work to ensure that the angels of our better selves win the day.”