More Links in News & Events

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter's Remarks at the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream Speech"

PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: Well, I'm greatly honored to be here. And I realize that most people know that it's highly unlikely that any of us three (including former U.S. President Bill Clinton and U.S. President Barack Obama) over on my right would have served in the White House or be on this platform had it not been for Martin Luther King Jr. and his movement and his crusade for civil rights. So we are grateful to him for our being here.

I'm also proud that I come from the same part of the South as he did. He never lost contact with the folks back home. He was helping Tennessee garbage workers, as you know, when he gave his life to a racist bullet.

I remember how it was, back in those days. I left Georgia in 1943 for college and the Navy. And when I came home from submarine duty, I was put on the Board of Education. I suggested to the other members that we visit all the schools in the county. They had never done this before, and they were reluctant to go with me.

But we finally did it, and we found that white children had three nice brick buildings, but the African-American children had 26 different elementary schools in the county. They were in churches, in front living rooms of homes, and a few in barns. They had so many because there were no school buses for African-American children, and they had to be within walking distance of where they went to class. Their schoolbooks were outdated and worn out, and every one of them had a white child's name in the front of it.

We finally obtained some buses. And then the state Legislature ordained that the front fenders be painted black. Not even the school buses could be equal to each other.

One of the finest moments of my life was 10 months after Dr. King's famous speech right here (in Washington, D.C.), when President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act. I was really grateful when the King family adopted me as their presidential candidate in 1976. Every handshake from Dr. King, from Daddy King, every hug from Coretta got me a million Yankee votes.

Daddy King prayed at the Democratic Convention - for quite a while, I might say - and Coretta was in the hotel room with Rosalynn and me when I was elected president.

My Presidential Medal of Freedom citation to Coretta for Dr. King said, and I quote, "He gazed at the great wall of segregation and saw that the power of love could bring it down. He made our nation stronger because he made it better."

We were able to create a national historic site where Dr. King lived, worked, and worshipped. It's next door to The Carter Center, linked together just by a walking path. And at The Carter Center, we try to make the principles that we follow the same as his - emphasizing peace and human rights.

I remember that Daddy King said that too many people think Martin freed only black people, when in truth, he helped to free all people. And Daddy King added that it's not enough to have a right to sit at a lunch counter if you can't afford to buy a meal. And he also said that the ghetto still looks the same - even from the front seat of a bus.

Perhaps the most challenging statement of Martin Luther King Jr.'s was, and I quote, "The crucial question of our time is how to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence." In the Nobel Prize ceremony of 2002, I said that my fellow Georgian was, and I quote again, "the greatest leader that my native state - and perhaps my native country - has ever produced." And I was not excluding presidents and even the Founding Fathers when I said this.

I believe we all know how Dr. King would have reacted to the new ID requirements to exclude certain voters, especially African-Americans. I think we all know how Dr. King would have reacted to the Supreme Court striking down a crucial part of the Voters' Rights Act, just recently passed overwhelmingly by Congress. I think we all know how Dr. King would have reacted to unemployment among African-Americans being almost twice the rate of white people and for teenagers at 42 percent. I think we all know how Dr. King would have reacted to our country being awash in guns and for more and more states passing "stand your ground" laws. I think we know how Dr. King would have reacted to people of the District of Columbia still not having full citizenship rights.

And I think we all know how Dr. King would have reacted to having more than 835,000 African-American men in prison - five times as many as when I left office - and with one-third of all African-American males being destined to be in prison in their lifetimes.

Well, there's a tremendous agenda ahead of us, and I'm thankful to Martin Luther King Jr. that his dream is still alive. Thank you.

Donate Now

Sign Up For Email

Please sign up below for important news about the work of The Carter Center and special event invitations.

Please leave this field empty
Now, we invite you to Get Involved
Back To Top