Obama Marks 150th Anniversary of End of Slavery- Full Speech


“In giving freedom to the slave, we assure
freedom to the free.” That’s what President Lincoln once wrote. “Honorable alike in
what we give, and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best
hope of earth.” Mr. Speaker, leaders and members of both parties,
distinguished guests: We gather here to commemorate a century and a half of freedom — not simply
for former slaves, but for all of us. Today, the issue of chattel slavery seems
so simple, so obvious — it is wrong in every sense. Stealing men, women, and children from
their homelands. Tearing husband from wife, parent from child; stripped and sold to the
highest bidder; shackled in chains and bloodied with the whip. It’s antithetical not only
to our conception of human rights and dignity, but to our conception of ourselves — a people
founded on the premise that all are created equal. And, to many at the time, that judgment was
clear as well. Preachers, black and white, railed against this moral outrage from the
pulpit. Former slaves rattled the conscience of Americans in books, in pamphlets, and speeches.
Men and women organized anti-slavery conventions and fundraising drives. Farmers and shopkeepers
opened their barns, their homes, their cellars as waystations on an Underground Railroad,
where African Americans often risked their own freedom to ensure the freedom of others.
And enslaved Americans, with no rights of their own, they ran north and kept the flame
of freedom burning, passing it from one generation to the next, with their faith, and their dignity,
and their song. The reformers’ passion only drove the protectors
of the status quo to dig in harder. And for decades, America wrestled with the issue of
slavery in a way that we have with no other, before or since. It shaped our politics, and
it nearly tore us asunder. Tensions ran so high, so personal, that at one point, a lawmaker
was beaten unconscious on the Senate floor. Eventually, war broke out –- brother against
brother, North against South. At its heart, the question of slavery was
never simply about civil rights. It was about the meaning of America, the kind of country
we wanted to be –- whether this nation might fulfill the call of its birth: “We hold
these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed
by their Creator with certain unalienable rights,” that among those are life and liberty
and the pursuit of happiness. President Lincoln understood that if we were
ever to fully realize that founding promise, it meant not just signing an Emancipation
Proclamation, not just winning a war. It meant making the most powerful collective statement
we can in our democracy: etching our values into our Constitution. He called it “a King’s
cure for all the evils.” A hundred and fifty years proved the cure
to be necessary but not sufficient. Progress proved halting, too often deferred. Newly
freed slaves may have been liberated by the letter of the law, but their daily lives told
another tale. They couldn’t vote. They couldn’t fill most occupations. They couldn’t protect
themselves or their families from indignity or from violence. And so abolitionists and
freedmen and women and radical Republicans kept cajoling and kept rabble-rousing, and
within a few years of the war’s end at Appomattox, we passed two more amendments guaranteeing
voting rights, birthright citizenship, equal protection under the law. And still, it wasn’t enough. For another
century, we saw segregation and Jim Crow make a mockery of these amendments. And we saw
justice turn a blind eye to mobs with nooses slung over trees. We saw bullets and bombs
terrorize generations. And yet, through all this, the call to freedom
survived. “We hold these truths to be self-evident.” And eventually, a new generation rose up to
march and organize, and to stand up and to sit in with the moral force of nonviolence
and the sweet sound of those same freedom songs that slaves had sung so long ago -– crying
out not for special treatment, but for equal rights. Calling out for basic justice promised
to them almost a century before. Like their abolitionist predecessors, they
were plain, humble, ordinary people, armed with little but faith: Faith in the Almighty.
Faith in each other. And faith in America. Hope in the face so often of all evidence
to the contrary, that something better lay around the bend. Because of them — maids and porters and students
and farmers and priests and housewives — because of them, a Civil Rights law was passed, and
the Voting Rights law was signed. And doors of opportunity swung open, not just for the
black porter, but also for the white chambermaid, and the immigrant dishwasher, so that their
daughters and their sons might finally imagine a life for themselves beyond washing somebody
else’s laundry or shining somebody else’s shoes. Freedom for you and for me. Freedom
for all of us. And that’s what we celebrate today. The
long arc of progress. Progress that is never assured, never guaranteed, but always possible,
always there to be earned -– no matter how stuck we might seem sometimes. No matter how
divided or despairing we may appear. No matter what ugliness may bubble up. Progress, so
long as we’re willing to push for it; so long as we’re willing to reach for each
other. We would do a disservice to those warriors
of justice — Tubman, and Douglass, and Lincoln, and King — were we to deny that the scars
of our nation’s original sin are still with us today. (Applause.) We condemn ourselves
to shackles once more if we fail to answer those who wonder if they’re truly equals
in their communities, or in their justice systems, or in a job interview. We betray
the efforts of the past if we fail to push back against bigotry in all its forms. (Applause.) But we betray our most noble past as well
if we were to deny the possibility of movement, the possibility of progress; if we were to
let cynicism consume us and fear overwhelm us. If we lost hope. For however slow, however
incomplete, however harshly, loudly, rudely challenged at each point along our journey,
in America, we can create the change that we seek. (Applause.) All it requires is that
our generation be willing to do what those who came before us have done: To rise above
the cynicism and rise above the fear, to hold fast to our values, to see ourselves in each
other, to cherish dignity and opportunity not just for our own children but for somebody
else’s child. (Applause.) To remember that our freedom is bound up with the freedom of
others -– regardless of what they look like or where they come from or what their last
name is or what faith they practice. (Applause.) To be honorable alike in what we give, and
what we preserve. To nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of Earth. To nobly
save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of Earth. That is our choice. Today, we affirm
hope. Thank you. God bless you. May God bless the
United States of America. (Applause.)

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Comments

  1. Being white as snow I say Thank You Mr. Obama. Another great speech. With great bearing…sounds like an angel singing mr. Trump totally numb.

  2. Poignant and Thoughtful, history made this right, having a black president to give this speech on such a momentous occasion.

  3. Freedom and equality for all is NOT easy to achieve but these are ideals that we must keep working towards. Every generation has to struggle on this path, because there are still those around who do not want freedom or equality for all; they just want it for themselves or their religion or their community. Our Constitution, Declaration of Independence, and the Bill of Rights protect the right to free speech and religion for all. All means all. Our nation – America – is founded on these ideals. If anyone living in America has a problem with this, then they have not yet fully understood what America stands for. America is unlike any other country on earth. America stands against bigotry and discrimination. If anyone wants to practice bigotry or discrimination, then they are going against the founding principals of this great nation. There has been too much hate written and spoken online by too many people against one another that someone has to speak up to stop these kinds of behaviors; it's like having a parent telling his kids to be polite, nice, and not get into fights. All humans are created equal and should be treated equally. No one is superior or inferior to another. That is the basis of equality. Who is better to speak up as a leader than our president? Leaders are supposed to speak up at times of conflict in order to keep peace and civility. Leaders are supposed to remind us what behaviors are wrong and what is right. An American President is supposed to remind its people of these basic American principals in order to keep all of its people on track. We all learnt in school that if we don't study or remember history then we are doomed to repeat it. Thank you for the speech Mr. President!

  4. Why was it so hard on the 150th anniversary of the 13th amendment to give a better than passing tribute to the anti-slavery movement which was generated, lead, activated and composed mostly by whites. White abolitionist activists like William Lloyd Garrison, founder of the American Anti-Slavery Society; writers such as John Greenleaf Whittier and Harriet Beecher Stowe are virtually all but forgotten and this would have been an opportune time to resurrect their memory. None of them even made it to Obama's pantheon of "warriors of justice." Only once he mentioned that there were whites preaching against slavery, yet it was none other than whites that led to the abolition of slavery throughout the world, including Africa. It almost seems as if Obama were disdainful of this group. He swiftly runs through in giving mention to the radical Republicans even though they were the main group that was behind the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments that aimed to assure full civil rights and equality for former slaves. Why is it so hard for this president to leave his ideological agenda aside to instead present to his countrymen a narrative that will unite the whole country behind the accomplishments attained by this nation in building a more free, just, and equitable society. Our ancestors brought us out, freed us from a world of tyranny, oppression, slavery in its various forms (inc. serfdom), institutionalized social inequality, and yet all Obama could press on with was his favorite "original sin" metaphor, forgetting or ignoring that slavery was the original sin of each and every society of the past, including all African societies where slavery has persisted to this very day.

  5. The fact is the 13th Amendment never abolished slavery as it says "EXCEPT FOR PUNISHMENT FOR CRIME". We know what followed, a resumption of slavery by another name. I can not get over the fact so-called educated Black people continue to help them promote the lie that slavery was abolished. Perhaps it is having to acknowledge that not much progress has been made for Black people in this country at all other than they now allow Black people to become part of the racist system based on the myth of white supremacy.

  6. And we must never forget, but we must move on, past the mistakes and learn by it, Have we? Today over 34 million people are enslaved worldwide. Only action not speeches or words will change it.

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