Jan 16, 2023

Biden Honors MLK Jr. in Speech at Ebenezer Baptist Church Transcript

Biden Honors MLK Jr. in Speech at Ebenezer Baptist Church Transcript
RevBlogTranscriptsEbenezer Baptist ChurchBiden Honors MLK Jr. in Speech at Ebenezer Baptist Church Transcript

President Joe Biden became the first sitting US president to speak at a Sunday service at Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King Jr. once preached. Read the transcript here.

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Joe Biden (00:00):

I’ve spoken before parliaments, kings, queens, leaders of the world. I’ve been doing this for a long time, but this is an intimidating following. Y’all are incredible.

And let’s lay one thing to rest, I may be a practicing Catholic. We used to go to 07:30 mass, every morning in high school, and then onto college, before I went to the black church. Not a joke, Andy knows this.

Andy, it’s so great to see you, man. You’re one of the greatest we’ve ever had. You really are, Andy. Andy and I took on apartheid in South Africa, and a whole lot else. They didn’t want to see him coming, but we used to… That’s where we’d organize, to march, and to segregate the city. My state was like yours, segregated by law, we were a slave state, to our great shame, and we had a lot of leftovers of the bad things, come from that period of time, but anyway, that’s another time, but I learned a lot, and I promise, if any preacher, preached to me back then, I’m not going to be nearly as long as you were. Actually, I have a bad reputation for speaking too long.

He followed the path of Moses, a leader of inspiration, calling on the people, not to be afraid, and always, always, as my grandfather would say, keep the faith.

He followed the path of Joseph, a believer in dreams, in the divinity they carry, and the promise they hold. And like John the Baptist, he prepared us, for the greater hope ahead, one who came to bear witness to the light.

Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, was a non-violent warrior for justice, who followed the word and the way of his Lord and his savior. On this day of remembrance, we gather at Dr. King’s, cherished Ebenezer. I say emphasize the word, cherished, Ebenezer. And by the way, sis, every good man, every good brother, needs a really, strong, strong sister. You think I’m kidding? I’m no Dr. King, and my sister’s not you, but I’d tell you what, she’s smarter, better looking, and better person, than I am. Managed all my campaigns.

Folks, you know, on this day of remembrance, as we gather here at his cherished Ebenezer, to commemorate what would’ve been, Dr. King’s 94th birthday. We gather to contemplate his moral vision, and to commit ourselves to his path, to his path, the path that leads to the beloved community, to the sacred place, that sacred hour, when justice rains down like waters and righteousness of the mighty stream. Folks, to the king family, I know, no matter how many years pass, doesn’t matter how many years pass, those days of remembrance are difficult. They’re bring everything back as if it happened yesterday. It’s hard for you. And I want to thank the King family, presumptions me to do this, but on behalf of the whole congregation, for being willing to do this, year in and year out, you give so much, so much to the rest of us, and we love you all, and we love you all.

To fully honor Dr. King, we have to pay tribute to Mrs. Coretta Scott King, who we dearly miss. She led the movement, that created the King holiday, and so much more. In my view, this is her day as well.

And to Raphael Warnock, reverend, doctor, senator, congratulations on your historic victory. A fellow Morehouse man. I’ve come to know whole lot of Morehouse men. That old saying you, you can’t tell them much, but I tell you what, we’ve set up, for the first time ever, in the White House, the Divine Nine Committee. It’s active every day, and I watch how the other graduates pick on the Morehouse men.

You stand in Dr. King’s pulpit, and you carry on his purpose, and this service doesn’t stop at the church door. It didn’t with Dr. King, it doesn’t with you, and it doesn’t with the vast majority of you, standing and sitting before me.

I want to thank you for the honor of, inviting me to be called, to America’s Freedom Church, and thank you to this congregation, and to all the distinguished guests, elected and non-elected officials, that are here today, who’ve done so much, over so many years, and so many young people are going to do so much more, than we were ever able to do.

What’s your name, Honey? It’s good to see you. Maybe, I can have a picture with you, before I leave, okay? Is that all right?

I say this with all sincerity. I stand here humbled, being the first sitting President of the United States, to have an opportunity to speak at Ebenezer Sunday Service. You’ve been around for 136 years. I know I look like you, but I haven’t.

I’m God-fearing, thanks to my parents, and to the nuns and priests, who taught me in school, but I am no preacher, but I’ve tried to walk my faith as all of you have.

I stand here inspired, by the preacher, who is one of my only political heroes. I’ve been saying, and Andy’s heard me say it for years, I’ve two political heroes, my entire life, when I started off as a 22-year-old kid in the East-Side, in the Civil Rights movement, and got elected to the United States Senate, when I was 29, I wasn’t old enough to take office, and I had two heroes. Bobby Kennedy, I admired John Kennedy, but I could never picture him at my kitchen table, but I could, Bobby, and no malarkey, Dr. King. Dr. King.

And the fact is, that I stand here at a critical juncture for the United States, and the world, in my view, we’re at, what some of my colleagues are tired of hearing me saying, but we’re at, what we call, an inflection point. One of those points in world history, where what happens the last few years, and will happen the next six or eight years, are going to determine, what the world looks like, for the next 30 to 40 years. It happened after World War two, it’s happening again, the world is changing. There is much at stake. Much at stake.

And the fact is, that this is the time of choosing. This is the time of choosing, direct choices we have. Are we a people, who will choose democracy, over autocracy? Couldn’t ask that question, 15 years ago. We thought democracy was settled, not for African Americans, but democracy, as an institutional structure, was settled, but it’s not. It’s not. We have to choose a community, over chaos. Are we the people are going to choose love, over hate? These are the vital questions of our time, and the reason why I’m here, as your president. I believe Dr. King’s life and legacy, show us the way, and we should pay attention. I really do.

Dr. Martin Luther King, was born in our nation, where segregation was a tragic fact of life. He had every reason to believe, as others of his generation did, that history had already been written, that the division would be America’s destiny, but he rejected that outcome. He heard Micah’s command to do justice, love, mercy, and walk humbly. And so often, when people hear about Dr. King, people think of his ministry, and the movement, were most about the epic struggle for civil rights and voting rights.

But we do well to remember, that his mission was something even deeper. It was spiritual, it was moral. The goal of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which Dr. King led, stated it clearly, and boldly, and it must be repeated again, now, to redeem the soul of America. I’m not joking. To redeem the soul of America.

What is the soul of America? It’s easy to say, but what is the soul of America? Well, the soul is the breath, the life, the essence of who we are. The soul makes us, us. The soul of America is embodied in the sacred proposition, that we’re all created equal in the image of God.

That was the sacred proposition, for which Dr. King gave his life. The sacred proposition rooted in scripture, and enshrined in the Declaration of Independence. The sacred proposition he invoked on that day in 1963, when he told my generation, about his dream. A dream in which, we’re all entitled to be treated with my father’s favorite word, dignity, and respect. A dream in which, we all deserve liberty and justice, and it’s still the task of our time, to make that dream a reality, because it’s not there yet

To make Dr. King’s vision tangible, to match the words of the preachers and the poets, with our deeds. As the Bible teaches us, we must be doers of the word, doers of the word. The battle for the soul of this nation, is perennial. It’s a constant struggle. It’s a constant struggle, between hope and fear, kindness and cruelty, justice and injustice, against those with traffic in racism, extremism, and insurrection. A battle fought on battlefields and bridges, from courthouses and ballot boxes, to pulpits and protest. And at our best, the American promise wins out. At our best, we hear and heed the injunctions of the Lord, and the whispers of the angels.

What I don’t need to tell you, that we’re not always at our best. We’re fallible. We fail and fall, but faith, and history, teaches us, that however dark the night, joy cometh in the morning, And that joy, comes with the commandments of scripture. Love the Lord thy God, with all thy heart, all thy mind, and all thy soul, and love thy neighbor as thy self. Easy to say, easy to say, but very hard to do.

But in that commandment, in my view, lies the essence of the Gospel, and the essence of the American promise. It’s when we see each other as neighbors, and not enemies, that progress and justice come. So when we see each other as fellow human beings, as children of God, that we bend, or begin to walk the path of Dr. King’s beloved community. A path his dream inspired, and his legacy propel us forward to this day.

Here’s what I learned in my life, and my career, along that path, as many of you, have learned along your path. We’re all imperfect being. We don’t know where, and what, fate will deliver to us, and when, but we can do our best, to seek a life of light, and hope, and love, and yes, truth, truth. That’s what I try to do every day, to build the future that we all want, or reminding ourselves, that nothing is guaranteed in our democracy. Nothing. Every generation is required to keep it defended, protected, to be repairs of the breach, and to remember that the power to redeem the soul of America, lies where it always has lay, in the hands of, we, the people, we, the people.

I was vividly reminded of that truth, on the south lawn of the White House. I believe you were there, both of you, both your senators. On the south lawn of the White House, with our vice president, Kamala Harris. And hearing these words, and I quote, “It took just one generation, from segregation to the Supreme Court of the United States,” end of quote. Those are the words of Ketanji Brown Jackson, our Supreme Court justice. Took just one generation, from segregation, to the Supreme Court of the United States.

As I told folks, at the time, she’s smarter than you are. As Dr. King said, give us the ballot, and we will place judges on the bench, who will do justly. And we are. That’s the promise of America, where change is hard, but necessary.

Excuse me.

Progress is never easy, but it’s always possible, and the things do get better, on our march toward a more perfect union. But at this inflection point, we know there’s a lot of work that has to continue on economic justice, civil rights, voting rights, and protecting our democracy, and I’m remembering, that our job is to redeem the soul of America.

Look, I get accused of being an inveterate optimist. I called that the Irish of it. We’re never on top, always stepped on, but we are optimistic, like Dr. King was optimistic. Folks, as I said, progress is never easy, but redeeming the soul of the country is absolutely essential. I doubt whether any of us would’ve thought, even in Dr. King’s time, that literally, the institutional structures of this country might collapse, like you’re seeing in Brazil, and we’re seeing in other parts of the world.

Folks, I’ll close with this, with a blessing, I see today.

In the Oval Office, and many of you been there, been there in my office, you get to set it up the way you want, within reason. As I sit at my desk… As I sit at my desk, and look at the fireplace, just to the left, is the bust of Dr. King. It’s there in that spot on purpose, because he was my inspiration as a kid. He does know where we should go. I ran for three reasons. I said, I wanted to restore the soul of America, I wanted to rebuild this country from the bottom up in the middle out, And I want it united.

And not far from him, if you look, about 40, 50 degrees to the right, there is another statue, another bust of Rosa Parks. People ask me, “Why?” I say, and I put in my words, she just say, “I’ve had enough. I’ve had enough.”

Folks, I often think of the question that Dr. King asked us, all those years ago. I think is important, you all remember it, I think this is important, the nation remember it. He said, “Where do we go from here?” That’s a quote. “Where do we go from here?” Well, my message to the nation, on this day, is we go forward, we go together. When we choose democracy over autocracy, a beloved community over chaos, when we choose believers in the dreams, to be doers, to be unafraid, always keeping the faith. Every time I walk out of my Irish Catholic grandfather’s home, up in Scranton, Pennsylvania, his name was Ambrose Finnegan, and he’d yell, “Joey, keep the faith.” And my grandmother, “No Joey. Spread it. Spread the faith.” Now, I’m serious. This is a Catholic Rosary, I have on my wrist. One my son had on, the night he was dying. The point is, there’s hope, there’s always hope. We have to believe.

And ladies and gentlemen, that was Dr. King’s path, in my view. The path to keeping the faith, and it must be our path. Folks, for God’s sake, this is the United States of America, the United States. There’s nothing beyond our capacity, nothing beyond our capacity, if we set our mind to it. And ladies and gentlemen, we’re a land of dreamers, and a land of doers. Nothing’s beyond our capacity.

In the Gospel song, that Dr. King loved, as I understand, well, he always told he did. We’ve come too far, from where we started. Nobody told me that the road would be easy. I don’t believe he brought me this far, to leave me. He did not bring me this far, to leave me.

My fellow Americans, I don’t think The Lord brought us as far, to leave us. I really don’t. My word, and may my fellow Americans, God bless Dr. Martin Luther King and his family, and based on one of his favorite hymns, “Precious Lord, take my hand, through the storm, through the night, and lead me onto the light.”

May God bless you all, and let’s go find the light. We can do this. Amen.

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