“I thank the gentleman for yielding.
“And Mr. Speaker, I do want to thank the authors of this bill, Congressman Roby (AL-02) and Congresswoman Sewell (AL-07) for their work on this. I appreciate it.
“We are blessed in this nation to enjoy the privileges of democracy and to exercise our freedoms without fear. But sadly, for millions of African-Americans in our history, that has not been the case.
“James [Fenimore] Cooper, author of great American works like The Last of the Mohicans and The American Democrat, once said, ‘The man who can right himself by a vote will seldom resort to a musket.’ The opposite is also true. People denied their rights might well resort to violence. And it is not difficult to see why. With no established form of recourse, what choice do those denied their freedoms have?
“But the people we honor today chose a different path. These nonviolent civil rights activists did not take the road of hate. In their generation’s quest for freedom, they didn’t corrupt themselves with the sins of those who worked against them. They fought for the rights due to every person. Not with weapons, but with the force of rhetoric and the virtue of peace.
“I remember just a few years ago, I was walking with my friend, Congressman John Lewis, through Selma, Alabama. We walked on the same path of the Selma-to-Montgomery March that John led 50 years ago. We crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in peace that day. But when John led the march across that same bridge in 1965, he was beaten by a mob of state troopers and deputized citizens. John cannot remember who carried him. But wounded and bloodied, as John told it to me, he was taken away to a church with a head injury. He did not know if he would even live.
“Those marchers at Selma demonstrated physical courage. But they also demonstrated the highest moral courage. Under this onslaught of brutality and uncertainty, they did not match violence with violence. No. They demanded peace in the face of war, solidarity in the face of division, and love in the face of hate.
“For all of America’s shortcomings, these brave men and women demanded that the promise of America not to be discarded, but instead realized by being purified in practice. They held America to its promise. By doing so they put their lives at risk, suffered ridicule and bodily harm. And yet, in history they were vindicated.
“We are gathered today in honor of those civil rights activists who suffered violence while standing for peace. We honor them for holding our nation to the highest ideals, ensuring the true existence of liberty and justice for all, and making this country keep to its promise that men and women are created equal.
” I yield back.”