‘We betray efforts of past if we fail to push back against bigotry in all its forms’


“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.)

79 Responses to “‘We betray efforts of past if we fail to push back against bigotry in all its forms’”

  1. 1 COS
    December 9, 2015 at 9:48 pm

    Thanks Chips.

  2. 6 Dudette
    December 9, 2015 at 9:50 pm

    Howdy! Congrats COS!

  3. 8 Dudette
    December 9, 2015 at 9:55 pm

    Continuing the early b-day party for Mighty Pamela! 😀

    • 9 MightyPamela
      December 10, 2015 at 12:46 am

      Back after a night of broken sleep – y’all carry on, I’ll be fine, will tell stories tomorrow! ❤ 🐻

  4. December 9, 2015 at 9:58 pm

  5. 14 jacquelineoboomer
    December 9, 2015 at 9:58 pm

    What a TREASURE, Chips. I was hoping to read his remarks after watching his speech, relishing every word, but couldn’t find the transcript earlier in the day. Thank you for this beautiful post!

  6. December 9, 2015 at 10:09 pm

    So we are to only fear Muslims. Well look at that picture of Robert Dear. Why aren’t Americans running around fearful of these kind of shooting, who have killed more Americans then ISIS.

  7. December 9, 2015 at 10:09 pm

    Great post, Chips, great speech from our President!

  8. December 9, 2015 at 10:10 pm

  9. 26 idon
    December 9, 2015 at 10:13 pm

    This is so good. Thank you for posting it. President Obama will NEVER EVER be equaled. NEVER!

  10. 27 Dudette
    December 9, 2015 at 10:14 pm

  11. December 9, 2015 at 10:15 pm

  12. 29 Dudette
    December 9, 2015 at 10:17 pm

  13. 31 jackiegrumbacher
    December 9, 2015 at 10:17 pm

    Chips, thank you for the images and for the printed remarks. I listened to them earlier, but it helps to cement the ideas to read the words that were spoken. I think the President’s concluding thoughts are very powerful. We can’t give in to fear, despair or cynicism even if everything we believe in is “harshly or rudely” challenged as it is today. Our President always provides a sweeping view of history so that we can see and understand that we have overcome great and seemingly insurmountable hurdles in our past and have, despite all the odds, moved forward. I think that President Obama will make it his mission in the next year to guide us through the dark hate that seems to threaten the national psyche right now. I think he will call on and lead those of good will and decency in a mighty effort to triumph over the ugliness. Those on the right and in the media who are prepared to dismiss our President as a non player in 2016, will find, once again, that they have made the fatal mistake of underestimating him.

  14. 32 Dudette
    December 9, 2015 at 10:19 pm

  15. 33 Dudette
    December 9, 2015 at 10:22 pm


  16. 34 Dudette
    December 9, 2015 at 10:25 pm

  17. 35 Dudette
    December 9, 2015 at 10:42 pm

  18. 36 Dudette
    December 9, 2015 at 10:46 pm

    Harrison Ford is striking back at Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who the “Star Wars” actor accused of not being able to tell fact from fiction.

    Trump told the New York Times last week that he enjoyed movies with heroic presidents — specifically 1997’s “Air Force One,” in which Ford plays a commander in chief who fights off a group of Russian terrorists who hijack the presidential plane.

    Harrison Ford is striking back at Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who the “Star Wars” actor accused of not being able to tell fact from fiction.

    Trump told the New York Times last week that he enjoyed movies with heroic presidents — specifically 1997’s “Air Force One,” in which Ford plays a commander in chief who fights off a group of Russian terrorists who hijack the presidential plane.

  19. 37 Dudette
    December 9, 2015 at 10:48 pm

    Speaking of Star Wars…. Ava!!! 🙂

  20. 39 globalcitizenlinda
    December 9, 2015 at 10:52 pm

    Ms. Chips, thanks a lot for this blog entry;

    read the transcript and then also listened to the video – PBO rejuvenated my hope for a brighter future

    • 40 jacquelineoboomer
      December 9, 2015 at 10:54 pm

      We all have hope for a brighter future, because of him. Can’t even imagine where we’d be without President Obama and Vice President Biden in the White House, savin’ the day!

      • 41 globalcitizenlinda
        December 9, 2015 at 11:03 pm

        we are very lucky to have them at the helm especially during these times of rapid and huge changes throughout the world

  21. 42 globalcitizenlinda
    December 9, 2015 at 11:01 pm

    just realized that the gop Iowa caucus is less than 60 days away;

    no wonder the gop presidential-wannabes are pushing the very last buttons of human decency;

    I guess we should steel ourselves for even more nonsense as we head down the stretch;

    I have also heard a number of candidates saying they are banking their hope on New Hampshire as a “must-win”;

    this means that we are going to be treated to quite a show as each gop scumbag jockeys for a position to try and win NH;

  22. 43 No Child Left Behind
    December 9, 2015 at 11:03 pm

  23. 46 No Child Left Behind
    December 9, 2015 at 11:09 pm

  24. 47 No Child Left Behind
    December 9, 2015 at 11:10 pm

  25. 48 No Child Left Behind
    December 9, 2015 at 11:10 pm

  26. 49 Dudette
    December 9, 2015 at 11:21 pm

    • 50 Dudette
      December 9, 2015 at 11:22 pm

      The first selection, which will be lit by the Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and his wife, Mrs. Nechama Rivlin, is a menorah from the North Carolina Museum of Art’s Judaic Art Gallery. The menorah was made in Israel during the 1920s by a pioneer designer, Ze’ev Raban, who trained in Europe and blended European, Jewish and Palestinian Arab design elements to create a new aesthetic for Jewish art in what would become the State of Israel. The design elements of this menorah underscore a theme of coexistence, and its presence in the collection of the Judaic Art Gallery in North Carolina highlights the ties between American Jews and Israeli Jews and the vibrancy of Jewish life in the American South.

    • 51 Dudette
      December 9, 2015 at 11:24 pm

      Erwin Thieberger The second selection is a menorah made by Erwin Thieberger, a Holocaust survivor who was a refugee to the U.S. after World War II. When Thieberger was an inmate in one of the sub-camps of Auschwitz, he made menorahs from cement nails and solder. After the war, he settled in the Washington, D.C. area, and made modern menorahs from similar materials, hearkening back to the ones he made during the War. Thieberger was dedicated to creating a living reminder to the spirit of Hanukkah and the Jews’ continual fight for freedom and survival.

      This menorah is owned by the Leidman-Golub family from Silver Spring, Maryland and Indiana, Pennsylvania. Mary Beth Leidman and David Golub light the menorah each year and retell its story, and have passed along the sense of responsibility and service that the story evokes to their son, Matty Golub, who is currently a Lieutenant in the Navy. At the evening reception, the menorah will be lit by Manfred Lindenbaum, a Holocaust survivor. Lindenbaum was born in Germany, deported to Poland, and escaped to England with his brother via the Kindertransport. He will be joined at the candlelighting by his granddaughter Lauren Lindenbaum. In 2014 at the age of 81 Lindenbaum traced his refugee flight backwards, on a bicycle, with his children and grandchildren, crossing the border of Poland and Germany on World Refugee Day, to honor the memory of his sister Ruth and his parents, who perished at Auschwitz.

    • 52 Dudette
      December 9, 2015 at 11:27 pm

      Some other highlights include:
      The Richard Meier Jewish History Menorah comes to the White House from Arthur Freeman, a retired State Department official and menorah collector from Potomac, Maryland. Meier is an established architect and Pritzker Architecture Prize winner. The first five candleholders (from left to right) represent locations of Jewish expulsion: Egypt, Roman Palestine, France, England, and Spain. The sixth candleholder represents the emancipation of Jews and the expansion of the Jewish population in Vienna around 1890, the seventh candleholder represents pogroms in Tzarist Russia and the eighth candleholder is a reminder of the Holocaust. This menorah acknowledges the indomitable will of the Jewish people to live despite overwhelming adversity. The original tin menorah, the common material of simple Hanukkah lamps in Eastern Europe, is owned by the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. This menorah is being displayed at the White House during the Hanukkah receptions.

      There are some other rather unique and interesting menorahs in the article.

  27. 53 No Child Left Behind
    December 9, 2015 at 11:23 pm

  28. December 9, 2015 at 11:26 pm

    Congrats COS 🙂

    Thank you Chips for featuring President Obama’s potent commemoration of the 13th Amendment. He left no question as to the scale of the disparity that remains in our society and ever present internal threats to the ideals of our Constitution.

    Be it on 9Nov16 or any day thereafter, the single focus of GOTV for every voting age citizen who isn’t a white supremacist minion of Trump, Cruz, etc., better be making certain that “Where were the good Americans” is never, ever in question.

    The threat could not be more bloody, literally, obvious.

    Yes WE Can … and MUST ….

  29. 61 Dudette
    December 9, 2015 at 11:42 pm

  30. December 9, 2015 at 11:49 pm

    I have a question for all of you. What do you do when you encounter your liberal “emo” friends when they present the arguement that we shouldn’t be over there in the middle east bombing them? It reminds me of the way Bill Maher thinks. I can’t stomach it. It totally ignores the fact that when Bush went to Iraq, it started ISIS. I totally trust my President to think things through and take the best course for the country. It makes me feel very defensive when I hear things like this. Any ideas?

    • December 10, 2015 at 12:10 am

      We have been asked to be in the Middle East by our friends and allies, by the Kurds, Christian, and Yazidis, women and children, who were being murdered, raped, and enslaved by the thousands. We stopped ISIS and are aiding our allies on the ground to take back their homes and villages. ISIS is the moral equivalent of Nazi Germany and without intervention will enslave the entire Middle East,its stated goal. I think that is a moral basis for us to intervene with air support to aid our friends and allies and prevent a terrible harm to an entire region and inevitably the world. Too many leftists are isolationists who think a fortress American can abandon its friends in their hour of greatest need, and we can ignore the rest of the world. I don’t believe it. My father fought in WWII to prevent a terrible enslavement and death by fascist powers. He was wounded and suffered terribly from PTSD all his life, and lost most of his friends in combat in the Pacific, but he has no regrets for his role in defeating Nazi Germany and fascist Japan. If the leftist isolationists had their way then, we would all be living under Nazi rule.

    • 67 globalcitizenlinda
      December 10, 2015 at 7:51 am

      you can also ask her/him about what she/he think we should be doing.

      ask for specifics in a polite way and suggest to her/him that you intend to directly forward her/his answer to POTUS if it well thought through

    • 68 catrst
      December 10, 2015 at 7:58 am

      One of the best things I have gotten involved in under the leadership of our President and his wife is Joining Forces. The concept spoke deeply to me from the first I heard of it. As a Quaker with a peace testimony its a surprising connection to feel but I am uplifted by the involvement. I would recommend anyone seek out this program if they want to do something peaceful to support our warriors.

  31. 69 jacquelineoboomer
    December 9, 2015 at 11:55 pm

    Can we all just get along? Yes.We.Can.

  32. 70 jacquelineoboomer
    December 10, 2015 at 12:01 am

    Goodnight, TODville!

  33. 71 Dudette
    December 10, 2015 at 12:11 am

  34. 72 Dudette
    December 10, 2015 at 12:12 am

  35. 73 Dudette
    December 10, 2015 at 12:13 am

  36. 74 Dudette
    December 10, 2015 at 12:15 am

    Japanese Space Agency is doing cool stuff too!

  37. 75 Dudette
    December 10, 2015 at 12:25 am

    Hey if you know any students who might be interested, please share…

  38. 76 sjterrid
    December 10, 2015 at 12:54 am

    Thank you so much for posting the President’s video and speech from the commemoration of the 150th Anniversary of the 13th amendment. I didn’t have a chance to listen to it earlier.

  39. 77 nathkatun7
    December 10, 2015 at 4:54 am

    As always, I am late to the meeting. I just wanted to say thank you to Chips for sharing with us yet another of the President’s incredible speeches. Once again I am so proud to have voted for this magnificent man.

  40. 78 andogriff
    December 10, 2015 at 5:40 am

    Thanks so much for the text of this beautiful speech, Ms Chips!! 😀❤️👍

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