50 Years of American Heroes

Fifty years ago, the heroic voice of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. rang out across our capital, our country, and the world, and called on us to become the more perfect union he believed we were destined to be. A country which endows every man, woman and child with unalienable rights to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

These are words which we repeat so often, that their depth and relevance today can easily be missed.

Any nation which pledges to honor its citizen’s right to “life” should enact and protect laws which ensure high quality and affordable access to the doctors, treatment, and preventative care we need to live full and healthy lives.

Any country committed to defending “liberty” should protect our fundamental right as Americans; the right to vote. Our liberty is dependent upon free and inclusive elections, and our ability to peacefully hold our leaders accountable, while directing the course of our country. Dr. King was the first to tell us that the “arc of the moral universe is long, but that it bends toward justice.” President Obama went further today, to remind us all that “the arc of the moral universe may bend toward justice, but it doesn’t bend on its own.”

The right to “pursue happiness” is most secure when we put the education of all of our children, the growth of our economy, the health of our businesses, the creation of jobs, and the stability of our markets ahead of self-interest, and political posturing. Every American deserves to feel the pride of a hard-earned paycheck, and the opportunity to achieve their dreams, regardless of who they are, or the zip code of their birth.

As we reflect on the tremendous progress made over the past half-century, we honor those brave leaders who paved the way, and upon whose shoulders we all stand, by recognizing our responsibility to undertake the immense job still at hand. This is a time to reaffirm our commitment to the ideals on which America was founded, and to help ensure this country continues to “rise up,” as Dr. King declared 50 years ago, and “live out the true meaning of its creed.”

As President Obama traced the steps of giants yesterday, let us also remember the extraordinary things accomplished by the countless ordinary people, who President Obama often calls America’s “quiet heroes.” They are our parents and grandparents; our coworkers, classmates, and neighbors. They are the men and women in this country who have rolled up their sleeves, and laced up their work boots every day over the past five decades to move this country forward. Some who marched – others who simply took the early shift, year after year, so they would be home in time to cook dinner for their families before heading to a second job. Let us remember the many who have faced down violence, despair, and incredible odds, just to give their children a chance at a better life, and our country the chance to live up to its full potential.

This week we salute the heroes who inspired us 50 years ago, and we honor the millions more whose blood, sweat, and divine strength have served to define our nation. We honor them with our reverence, and our willingness to sacrifice for the greater good, and march on.  We honor them with our urgent action to deliver all Americans the rights and opportunities they deserve.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” –Martin Luther King Jr., 16 April 1963, Birmingham, AL

Watch President Obama’s speech from the Lincoln Memorial 

Read President Obama’s full remarks