ATLANTA, GA – Congressman Hank Johnson (GA-04) delivered the following remarks at the 52nd annual MLK, Jr. Commemorative Service:
“To deny a person the right to exercise their political freedom at the polls,” said Dr. King, “Is no less a dastardly act as to deny a Christian the right to petition God in prayer.”
Standing here with you today in this sacred space, the wisdom of Dr. King’s words, ring true.
And they carry special urgency, in this all-important year.
For we must speak the truth: in 2020, our political freedom – our democracy itself – is threatened in a way, we have never experienced before.
At the end of 2019, I was among the forty-one members of the House Judiciary Committee who heard from witnesses as we considered the impeachment of the president of the United States.
Impeachment is one of the most solemn powers bestowed upon Congress in our Constitution. It’s a power I hoped never to exercise. Yet, what we heard – what America heard – was shocking.
It is impossible not to conclude that our very system of government – the rights Dr. King, and so many others risked their lives for – is in grave danger.
The most powerful people in the land are willing to go to unprecedented lengths to maintain their grip on power and to cover up their crimes when they get caught. These are perilous times.
And the history of this country is that when white folks catch a cold, Black and brown folk catch pneumonia. Our communities once again find themselves on the front lines of the fight to protect our very republic.
It can be easy in these moments to despair. But even in our darkest hours the legacy of Dr. King, gives us hope that dawn will come.
We remember how the son of a preacher, a son of Atlanta, went to the mountaintop. He took us all with him. We remember a man who spoke truth even when the truth wasn’t popular.
We remember a man who understood that we share a common struggle: against warmongering, and income inequality; greed, and voter suppression; racism, and corruption.
They are all connected.
And we are all connected. It’s gonna take us all to save us all – that’s one of the lessons of Dr. King’s life.
It’s easy to forget now, but 55 or 60 years ago most folks considered Dr. King to be a trouble maker. He was not a popular man. Many pundits considered Dr. King, to be “divisive.” By that, they meant public opinion of him was divided. Yet, Dr. King himself never resorted to the language of division. Just the opposite. “It is love that will save our world and our civilization,” he preached, “Love even for enemies.”
Love your enemies. Even though it’s hard. Especially because it’s hard. One of the great lessons of Dr. King’s life and one of the great lessons of today is what unity really means.
Unity doesn’t mean that everybody will agree with you. It doesn’t mean that everybody will love you. Unity means we recognize that WE are one. It’s going to take us all, to save us all.
We swear our oath to one Constitution. We belong to one country. We share one common destiny. I don’t want to be Pollyannaish. And Dr. King certainly never was. But there are powerful forces arrayed against us.
This could be a very dangerous year. And we’ve got to be honest with ourselves – this could be not just a dangerous year, but a very devastating year for America.
But it doesn’t have to end that way. We have to undertake our work in a spirit of unity no matter what people say.
When we sign up for the census. When we register voters. When we do service work in our communities. When we protect our fundamental rights.
If we do these things out of love and understanding that we are one America and that our goal is to make life better for everybody, then this could be a very special year indeed. Then we could protect the political freedom Dr. King stood for fought for and for which he gave his life. Having seen the promise land, we will make it through the darkness and see the dawn of a bright new day.