86th Annual Holy Convocation

Office of the Press Secretary

Remarks by William Jefferson Clinton
86th Annual Holy Convocation
The Church of God in Christ
November 13, 1993
Memphis, Tennessee

...By the grace of God and your help, last year I was elected President of this great country. I never dreamed that I would ever have a chance to come to this hallowed place where Martin Luther King gave his last sermon. I ask you to think today about the purpose for which I ran and the purpose for which so many of you worked to put me in this great office. I have worked hard to keep faith with our common efforts -- to restore the economy; to reverse the politics of helping only those at the top of our totem pole and not the hard-working middle class or the poor; to bring our people together across racial and regional and political lines; to make a strength out of our diversity instead of letting it tear us apart; to reward work and family and community and try to move us forward into the 21st century. I have tried to keep faith.

Thirteen percent of all my presidential appointments are African Americans, and there are five African Americans in the Cabinet of the United States -- two and a half times as many as have ever served in the history of this great land. (Applause.) I have sought to advance the right to vote with the motor voter bill, supported so strongly by all the churches in our country. And next week it will be my great honor to sign the Restoration of Religious Freedoms Act, a bill supported widely by people across all religions and political philosophies to put back the real meaning of the Constitution -- to give you and every other American the freedom to do what is most important in your life, to worship God as your spirit leads you. (Applause.)...

When I leave you, Congressman Ford and I are going to a Baptist church near here to a town meeting he's having on health care and violence. I tell you, unless we do something about crime and violence and drugs that is ravaging the community, we will not be able to repair this country. (Applause.)

If Martin Luther King, who said, "Like Moses, I am on the mountaintop and I can see the promised land, but I'm not going to be able to get there with you, but we will get there," -- if he were to reappear by my side today and give us a report card on the last 25 years, what would he say? You did a good job, he would say, voting and electing people who formerly were not electable because of the color of their skin. You have more political power, and that is good. You did a good job, he would say, letting people who have the ability to do so live wherever they want to live, go wherever they want to go in this great country. You did a good job, he would say, elevating people of color into the ranks of the United States Armed Forces to the very top, or into the very top of our government. You did a very good job, he would say. He would say, you did a good job creating a black middle class of people who really are doing well; and the middle class is growing more among African-Americans than among non-African Americans. You did a good job. You did a good job in opening opportunity.

But he would say, I did not live and die to see the American family destroyed. (Applause.) I did not live and die to see 13-year-old boys get automatic weapons and gun down 9-year-olds just for the kick of it. (Applause.) I did not live and die to see young people destroy their own lives with drugs and then build fortunes destroying the lives of others. That is not what I came here to do. (Applause.)

I fought for freedom, he would say, but not for the freedom of people to kill each other with reckless abandon; not for the freedom of children to have children and the fathers of the children walk away from them and abandon them as if they don't amount to anything. (Applause.) I fought for people to have the right to work, but not to have whole communities and people abandoned. This is not what I lived and died for.

My fellow Americans, he would say, I fought to stop white people from being so filled with hate that they would wreak violence on black people. I did not fight for the right of black people to murder other black people with reckless abandon. (Applause.)

The other day the Mayor of Baltimore, a dear friend of mine, told me a story of visiting the family of a young man who had been killed -- 18 years old -- on Halloween. He always went out with little bitty kids so they could trick-or-treat safely. And across the street from where they were walking on Halloween, a 14-year-old boy gave a 13-year-old boy a gun and dared him to shoot the 18-year-old boy; and he shot him dead. And the Mayor had to visit the family.

In Washington, Dc, where I live, your Nation's Capital, the symbol of freedom throughout the world -- look how that freedom is being exercised. The other night a man came along the street and grabbed a one-year-old child and put the child in his car. The child may have been the child of the man. And two people were after him and they chased him in the car, and they just kept shooting with reckless abandon, knowing that baby was in the car. And they shot the man dead, and a bullet went through his body into the baby's body and blew the little bootie off the child's foot.

The other day on the front page of our paper, the Nation's Capital, are we talking about world peace or world conflict? No -- big article on the front page of The Washington Post about an 11-year-old child planning her funeral -- "these are the hymns I want sung; this is the dress I want to wear; I know I'm not going to live very long." That is not the freedom -- the freedom to die before you're a teenager is not what Martin Luther King lived and died for. (Applause.)...

I do not believe we can repair the basic fabric of society until people who are willing to work have work. Work organizes life. It gives structure and discipline to life. It gives meaning and self-esteem to people who are parents. It gives a role model to children.

The famous African American sociologist, William Julius Wilson, has written a stunning book called The Truly Disadvantaged, in which he chronicles in breathtaking terms how the inner cities of our country have crumbled as work has disappeared. And we must find a way, through public and private sources, to enhance the attractiveness of the American people who live there to get investment there. We cannot, I submit to you, repair the American community and restore the American family until we provide the structure, the value, the discipline and the reward that work gives. (Applause.)

I read a wonderful speech the other day given at Howard University in a lecture series funded by Bill and Camille Cosby, in which the speaker said, "I grew up in Anacostia years ago. Even then it was all black and it was a very poor neighborhood. But you know, when I was a child in Anacostia, 100 percent African American neighborhood, a very poor neighborhood, we had a crime rate that was lower than the average of t he crime rate of our city. Why? Because we had coherent families. We had coherent communities. The people who filled the church on Sunday lived in the same place they went to church. The guy that owned the drugstore lived down the street. The person that owned the grocery store lived in our community. We were whole."

And I say to you, we have to make our people whole again. This church has stood for that. Why do you think you have five million members in this country? Because people know you are filled with the spirit of God to do the right thing in this life by them. (Applause.)

So I say to you, we have to make a partnership -- all the government agencies, all business folks -- but where there are no families, where there is no order, where there is no hope, where we are reducing the size of our armed services because we have won the Cold War -- who will be there to give structure, discipline and love to these children? You must do that. And we must help you.

Scripture says, you are the salt of the Earth and the light of the world. That if your light shines before men they will give glory to the Father in heaven. That is what we must do. That is what we must do. How would we explain it to Martin Luther King if he showed up today and said: Yes, we won the Cold War. Yes, the biggest threat that all of us grew up under communism and nuclear war. Communism gone; nuclear war receding. Yes, we developed all these miraculous technologies. Yes, we all have got a VCR in our home. It's interesting. Yes, we get 50 channels on the cable. Yes, without regard to race, if you work hard and play by the rules, you can get into a service academy or a good college, you'll do just great.

How would we explain to him all these kids getting killed and killing each other? How would we justify the things that we permit that no other country in the world would permit? How could we explain that we gave people the freedom to succeed and we created conditions in which millions abuse that freedom to destroy the things that make life worth living and life itself? We cannot.

And so I say to you today, my fellow Americans, you gave me this job. And we're making progress on the things you hired me to do. But unless we deal with the ravages of crime and drugs and violence and unless we recognize that it's due to the breakdown of the family, the community and the disappearance of jobs; and unless we say some of this cannot be done by government because we have to reach deep inside to the values, the spirit, the soul and the truth of human nature, none of the other things we seek to do will ever take us where we need to go.

So in this pulpit, on this day, let me ask all of you in your heart to say we will honor the life and the work of Martin Luther King; we will honor the meaning of our church; we will somehow, by God's grace, we will turn this around. We will give these children a future. We will take away their guns and give them books. We will take away their despair and give them hope. We will rebuild the families and the neighborhoods and the communities. We won't make all the work that has gone on here benefit just a few. We will do it together by the grace of God.

Thank you. (Applause.)

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