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Speeches By EPA Administrator

 

Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration

01/14/2004
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would have turned 75 tomorrow. He was the same age as my father – who lives in good health today. I was 17 years old on the day Martin Luther King died.

It was a frightening time. A shaken nation did not yet understand his lasting contribution in life and death.

It is fitting that celebrations observed in his memory are filled with the essays of school children, and the music and expressions of artful performance.

His life and work deserve a reflective measurement of gains made and progress still unrealized.

Commemorations, held in his name, resound throughout this nation; from the secular halls of American democracy to the spiritual foundations of its churches.

Dr. King was uplifted by the energy, passion and humanity of his fellow citizens.

He praised the glory of America and the democratic ideals that made the rights of speech, protest and assembly possible.

He invoked a higher power as the source of his moral authority and the force of the universe that demands freedom and justice.

Martin Luther King was many things; a doctor of theology and a sociologist; a Nobel Prize recipient; a husband and father; an orator with few equals; a pastor who led a political and societal upheaval.

Most of all, he seemed to me an optimist who professed an “abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind.”

Death silenced the extraordinary voice. Death did not halt the march and it could not diminish the dream.

In the Fall or 1999 I had the privilege of dining with Coretta Scott King. To this day, I cannot remember the dinner, but I remember everything about the conversation. She spoke of the need for human conciliation and the power of goodness. She told me this nation was the aggregate of the hearts of its people.

She gave me a book. Inscribed in her hand are private reflections about our conversation and a personal admonition that we dedicate ourselves to implementing the dream.

Reading it not only provides insights into the man, but an understanding of how his mission impacted me and my country.

We pay tribute to the dreamer because he, in his words, “aroused the conscience of a nation” to rectify many of the social injustices that had weakened our ability to stand as one.

We pay tribute to the philosopher, who galvanized change with a relentless pursuit of nonviolence -- revolt through civil means.

We honor Martin Luther King because his work – his life – unified all Americans. No other day of the year brings so many peoples from different cultural backgrounds together in such a vibrant spirit of unity.

Whether you are African-American or not, you are part of the dream.

Service was integral to Dr. King’s philosophy – the commitment to making life better for all.

Our public service – protecting the environment and human health – is in keeping with that concept of service. I affirm the principles of fairness and equality for which Dr. King stood.

We thank him for showing us the way to right many wrongs, for a life and legacy that brought hope and healing to America. And for planting the seeds in our hearts to make this “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Thank you for making a personal commitment to do your part to keep Dr. King’s dream alive.

I thank all of you, and our talented guests, for taking part in today’s observance and leave with the hope that we all may be guided by Dr. King’s example, his strength of conviction and his “audacious faith” in America and in mankind.