Mar 7, 2023
President Biden Delivers Remarks on Importance of Commemorating Bloody Sunday Transcript
President Biden delivers remarks on how history can’t be erased and highlighting how the continued fight for voting rights is integral to delivering economic justice and civil rights for Black Americans. Read the transcript here.
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Joe Biden (00:00):
Good afternoon, Selma. I’m Congresswoman Terri Sewell, and I proudly represent Alabama 7th Congressional District, which includes the historic cities of Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, Montgomery, and yes, my hometown of Selma, Alabama. What a glorious day it is to welcome President Biden to our district, to our state. Mr. President, thank you for returning to Selma. One more time. I want to extend a special thank you to the Bridge Crossing Jubilee founders for their commitment to the continued success of this pilgrimage. Thank you, Senator Sanders and thank you Fire Rose. They deserve a round of applause.
Year after year because of your unwavering dedication to preserving and protecting our history, we gather here at the foot of the bridge. This is our 58th anniversary of ‘Bloody Sunday.’ It is even more special to me this year that you are all gathered here because of the storms that ravished my city, my hometown of Selma and our state on January 12th. As I look out towards downtown Selma now that the dust has settled, I cannot help but evoke the words of our beloved John Lewis when he told us that nothing can stop the power of a committed and determined people to make a difference in our society.
Selma has made a difference in our society. It was here in Selma, Alabama that ordinary people dared to make sure that this nation lived up to its highest ideals of justice and democracy. It was here in Selma that they marched unafraid up to the apex of the Edmund Pettus Bridge and looked down and saw those state troopers. I remember asking John what would he think. And he said, “I looked over and saw the water and said, ‘I don’t know how to swim.'” But God had John and God has us. We in Selma are used to people coming and walking across the bridge. They just keep walking across the bridge and not staying here in Selma. I want you to know, as a Selman, we will always welcome the world to Selma. We’re custodians of America’s history, and we’re very glad, Mr. President, that the National Park Service is right across the street, vested in making sure that the story of Selma stays alive. Thank you.
But I want you to know that during this time of crisis, we need your help. My colleagues come and they ask me what kind of help. We need everything in Selma, Alabama. We need everything in Selma, Alabama. We are committed to not only rebuild better and fairer, but to rebuild and reimagine what Selma can and should be. We can only do that with help. And the good news is that the Biden administration through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, is providing us with help. The good news is that through the Inflation Reduction Act, this administration is providing us with help. The good news is that the American Rescue Plan gave cities and towns and states money directly. For the first time, Dallas County got its own money; for the first time, the city of Selma got its own money. But what we have to do is leverage these opportunities to make a difference for all of Selma. We cannot have an uneven recovery. It’s not fair and it’s not right. And Mr. President, I know you know that because you have made equity the cornerstone of your cabinet and your administration.
So I stand here to say, as we remember and reflect on the past, let us all feel renewed to rededicate ourselves and to double-down on the vision that John Lewis had of a beloved community. The last time John was here, if you close your eyes, you can hear what he said. He said, “Never give up, never give in, keep the faith and keep our eyes on the prize.” I’m so excited that this President is here to tell us that he is doubling down on the Voting Rights Advancement Act, and making sure that we fully restore the Voting Rights Act of 1965. I’m glad that this president is here to see us, to hear us, and to fill us. And in so doing, I know that we will get to the place we need to be, which is a better Selma and in a better Selma, a better America, and a better world.
I have the awesome task of introducing the person who will introduce the president. He is none other than a foot soldier, Charles Maulden. Charles was 16 years old, a student at RB Hudson High School when he had the audacity along with those other soldiers to march across that bridge. And he just didn’t do it on Bloody Sunday. He did it on Turnaround Tuesday, and he did it again on the final march. The courage that he must have had at 17 years old to do such a thing, to be a leader in the student movement and to now stand here today in his hometown of Selma, Alabama to welcome the President of the United States. A real foot soldier, an authentic foot soldier, Charles Maulden.
Charles Mauldin (06:36):
Hello Selma. Hello, Selma. 18 years ago when I started the Foot Soldier’s breakfast, people didn’t know a foot soldier from a foot stool. What I take great pride in now is that you can’t come to Selma or the Jubilee without finding that Foot Soldiers all take precedence in all of the recognition of the success of the sub movement. And because that is true, had it not been for Foot Soldiers, there would not have been a movement. And what I’d like to do, I’d plan to now some of the names, but what I’d like to do … and everybody say, “Tell their names,” so please, all of you who were foot soldiers, because you know what, you are a hero of the summer movement, please stand and let people give you the recognition that you deserve.
What I learned where there’s common determination, there’s common power. And what happened in Selma is that people took the initiative to take control of their lives despite the trepidation, despite the fear, despite the possibility of loss. We became heroes, we lost our fear. Jimmie Lee Jackson did that in Marion. Bernard Lafayette, would you stand, Bernard?
Now you’re talking about a foot soldier who’s a hero. I’ve known Bernard for 60 years, I’m sorry, Bernard. And there’s no person I admire most. And there is no person that I’ve been more influenced than Dr. Reverend Bernard Lafayette. When he came to Selma, the story was that Selma was the black folk were too scared and the white folks were too mean to get anything done. Despite that, he showed up anyway and he helped to change of city. I’m not going to go through the litany I went through Bloody Sunday and Turnaround Tuesday and the March of Montgomery, and those are exciting things to talk
Charles Mauldin (09:00):
[inaudible 00:09:01]. And I wish I had time to discuss those things, but I’m going to tell you one short story. See this building right over here. On March 7th, 1965, when we came to the foot of the bridge, there was a group of whites in that building playing Bye Bye Blackbird. I knew what that song meant, but I didn’t know what it portend until we reached the crest of the hill. When we reached the crest of the bridge, we found out that there was a fence of state troopers and deputized Ku Klux Klanners waiting for us on the other side. Foot soldiers like Charles Bonner and Bettie Fikes and Evelyn Mann and many others, brave those type of people, and brought about the Civil Rights movement.
Joe Smitherman, I can’t ignore him. Richard Smiley, he’s out there somewhere. These were people who were braver than me, and everybody turned into being a leader. And so, although I was in the front of the line, I don’t claim to have led anybody anywhere because the whole line was going forward. The whole American city Black folks were going forward. What happens in a movement that if you are on the right cue, then everybody will follow you. I didn’t have to lead anybody anywhere. People like Joe Smitherman lead. I could go through names but I’m not going to do that.
I’ll just simply sit the end by saying, Mr. President, welcome to Selma. I don’t want to tell all the great things you’ve already done, but I’m very aware of those and I know you’ll do greater things. And what I’d like to do is I’d like to hear more, and I’m quite sure our Congresswoman’s going to tell us about that, what the president is going to do, hopefully in some type of package, like a economic package to help bring Selma back to its old days. Thank you.
Speaker 1 (11:24):
Please welcome the President of the United States, Joe Biden.
Joe Biden (11:29):
Hello, hello. Hello, folks out there. Hey buddy, how are you? Selma’s here. Please have a seat if you have one. I once said that, have a seat, have one, and the press said they don’t have seats. “He’s so stupid he didn’t know that.” Those folks might not have them back here, but y’all do here.
Folks, look, there’s a lot to say. I’m going to try not to say very much in terms of length of time, but I want to say a few things. It was mentioned that we should be working for the people of Africa. For years I was chairman of the Africa Fair Subcommittee of the United States Senate and we’ve invested… My wife just got back from Zambia and Namibia. She’s there all the time. We just made sure we have billions of dollars committed to build Africa. Angola is going to have the largest solar facility in all of Africa. We’re investing in Africa because Africa is important and because everything happening there will affect us.
So folks, that’s number one. Number two, I want to make sure that I’ve told the mayor, I think mayor’s being the toughest job in America, but one of the mayors who took some time to come and help me put together my program, Keisha Lance Bottoms. Keisha, would you stand up. From Atlanta.
She’s understandably going home because she’s got some kids and it’s about time. She promised she’d stay as long as she did and she did. But we’ve got another mayor coming too. So anyway, thank you very much, Keisha.
Folks, last time I was here, my daughter’s a social worker, Ashley Biden, was with me. She couldn’t be with me today. She wanted to because she’s working on a project for battered women up in Delaware and Philadelphia. So she sends her best.
On this stage, the children of God started a journey, walking, not saying a word, beaten, teargassed. On this bridge, blood was given to help redeem the soul of America. Last time he was here, I was with him, John Lewis. They were his words. Mayor Perkins, Congresswoman Terri Sewell, members of Congress, all of you are here, Charles Mauldin, all the foot soldiers of Selma, distinguished guest. They were among the final words of our dear friend, John Lewis, delivered as he stood on the bridge over troubled waters three years ago. I had the privilege of standing with him. Words that give meaning to the past and purpose to the future.
I’ve been on this bridge before as vice president, as a candidate for president, and was even before as a senator because history matters. And now I’m here as your president. The truth matters, notwithstanding with the other team is trying to hide. They’re trying to hide the truth. No matter how hard some people try, we can’t just choose to learn what we want to know and not what we should know. We should learn everything, the good, the bad, the truth of who we are as a nation. And everyone should know the truth of Selma. 600 believers put faith in the action to march across that bridge named after the Grand Dragon of the KKK. They were on their way to the state capital of Montgomery to claim their fundamental right to vote, laid in the bedrock of our constitution, but stolen by hate, harbored in too many hearts. With unflinching courage, foot soldiers for march for justice marched through the valley of the shadow of death and they feared no evil. The forces of hate conspired to demise, but they endured. They forced the country to confront the hard truth and to act, to keep the promise of America alive.
I was a student up north in the civil rights movement. I remember feeling how guilty I was I wasn’t here. How could we all be up there and you going through what you went through? Looking at those I can still picture the troopers with their batons and wands and whips. A promise that declares we are all created and deserve to be treated equally. Two weeks later, they marched to Montgomery with Dr. King, an even bigger coalition of people from different races and faith. Five months later, the Voting Rights Act was signed into law. Five months later.
But as I come here in commemoration, not for show, Selma is a reckoning. The right to vote, to have your vote counted is the threshold of democracy and liberty. With it, anything’s possible. Without that right, nothing is possible. And this fundamental right remains under assault. The conservative Supreme Court has gutted at the Voting Rights Act over the years. Since the 2020 election, a wave of states and dozens of anti-voting laws, fueled by the big lie and the election deniers now elected to office.
The new law here in Alabama, among other things, enacted a new congressional map that discriminated against Black voters by failing to include what should have been a new predominantly Black district. That case, as you all know better than I, is in front of the US Supreme Court, and my US Department of Justice has joined many of you in arguing that the map violates the Voting Rights Act. All of this, after a deadly insurrection
Joe Biden (18:00):
… insurrection on January the 6th. We must remain vigilant.
In January, I signed the Electoral Count Reform Act to protect the will of the people and the peaceful transfer of power. But we know that we must get the votes in Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act.
I’ve made it clear. I will not let a filibuster obstruct the sacred right to vote and the right of any other right that flow from there. And that’s why we followed the words that you all have, the words of Dr. King. He said, “Give us the ballot. We will place judges on the bench who will do justly.” Led by Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson and more Black women appointed to the federal appellate court than every other President in history has done, we’re about to do that.
After Senate Republicans blocked the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act last year, I did what was in my power. I signed an executive order requiring all the key elements of the bill applied to federal law enforcement I couldn’t make at the states: banning chokeholds, greatly restricting no-knock warrants, establishing a database for police misconduct, advancing effective and accountable community policing that builds public trust. And we’ll keep fighting to pass the reform nationwide.
Folks, well, we passed the most significant gun safety law in 30 years, but I’m not ready to stop, nor is Jim Clyburn or anybody else up there ready to stop.
I led the effort when I was a senator to pass the assault weapons ban. And we’re going to ban assault weapons again. They matter. When we had the ban, fewer people died, fewer mass shootings. And together, we’re saying loud and clearly that, in America, hate and extremism will not prevail, although they are rearing their ugly head with significance now. Silence, as the saying goes: Silence is complicity. And I promise you, my administration will not remain silent. I promise you. The task before us is about justice, but it’s also about jobs, financial stability, the ability to generate generational wealth. It’s about hope, self-worth. It’s about dignity. And that’s why we’re building an economy, that I’ve been significantly criticized for, but I make no apologies, that grows the economy from the bottom up and the middle out, not from the top down. We weren’t poor, but we weren’t wealthy. We were a typical middle-class family with a three-bedroom home and four kids and a grandpop living with us. I don’t remember anything trickling down on my dad’s kitchen table with the trickle-down economic problems. Because when we do that, we build from the middle out and the bottom up, the poor have a ladder up, the middle class does very well, and the wealthy still do well. We all do well.
But we know there’s work to do, especially as you recover from this devastating tornado and the storms that hit in January. That’s why, working with Terri and the Mayor, I issued a Major Disaster Declaration immediately, committing the federal government to cover 100% of the debris removal. We also are paying for temporary housing and home repairs, supporting local businesses, small businesses, as well as doing in other towns devastated as you have been. To date, we’ve provided $8 million in recovery, and we’re just getting started the rebuilding effort. And we’re here, we’ll be here as long as it takes.
The first major bill we passed without a single vote from the other team was the American Rescue Plan, when I was sworn in. That has provided $60 million to Selma and Dallas County directly. One of the things, having been a county official for two years, I learned a long time ago: I didn’t like anything that went through the state legislature. Oh, I’m not joking. Good people, but they all want a piece of it. If it was supposed to come to my county, it better damn well come to my county directly. So this is going directly to your county, directly to your city, to keep teachers, nurses, police officers, firefighters on the job.
Selma is also benefiting from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which is a multi-multi-billion-dollar commitment to rebuild this country. How can we be the leading economy in the world if we don’t have the best roads, ports, and so on? How can we be that? Well, guess what? It’s the largest investment in infrastructure since Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway System.
Here in Selma, we’re funding major water projects, removing over 800 poisonous lead-pipe service lines that are over 100 years old, because every child should be able to turn on a faucet and drink clean water without fear of getting sick.
And it’s also going to deliver affordable high-speed Internet to every single home in this county and this city. So no parent, God forbid another pandemic, is going to have to sit in the McDonald’s parking lot to use their Internet to be able to have their kid’s homework be done.
Look, and in the process, these kinds of investments are going to create good-paying jobs. Most of these jobs don’t require college degrees. They’ll be able to hire here, hire in your community. And, by the way, the unemployment rate for African Americans under my administration is the second lowest it’s ever been in all of American history, and we’re going to continue to make sure that happens.
And, by the way, I’m the only President, I’ve learned, that had permanent offices in the White House for the Divine Nine and the HBCUs. I figured it out, man. I figured it out. Now, I know that the Vice President thinks that Howard is the best. Delaware State University, where I come from. But all kidding aside, we’ve contributed billions of dollars to put HBCUs in a position, because they don’t have, I mean it seriously, billions of dollars, because they don’t have the kind of trust funds that the major schools have.
So, guess what? It leaves out an awful lot of qualified African Americans at HBCUs from learning how to deal with cybersecurity, learning how to deal with all the stuff in the future. Guess what? Right now, now they have that. And I’m able, as the President of the United States, to award these contracts directly there, because they have a lab. I’m serious. It’s a big deal. There’s a lot more we’re doing for Selma and cities like it all across America.
When I passed the Inflation Reduction Act, which, again, the other team didn’t participate at all, which allows Medicare to negotiate drug prices for the first time. Do you realize, in America, we pay more for prescription drugs than any nation in the world? You hear me? More. And I’ve been fighting this for the last 25 years. But guess what? We finally beat Big Pharma.
So, now, oh, man, you have no idea how good I felt about that one. Because what’s happened? What happened is, now Medicare can say, “We are not going to pay you more than $35,” instead of $400, “for that insulin that you need.” And guess what that means? Not only, not only it reduced prices for people who need help, but it reduces the federal budget by $158 billion. We can walk and chew gum at the same time.
In addition to that, when we reduced the cost of insulin for seniors on Medicare, we got a commitment. Initially, I proposed that we reduce it for anybody needing that insulin. Well, guess what? The other team voted that down too. But along came, along came the largest maker of insulin in the country. They, as they said, seen the Lord. They saw a light. And here’s the deal, I’m not kidding: Eli Lilly, one of the biggest drug makers of insulin, they just announced
Joe Biden (27:00):
… Ounce, they’re going to cap the cost of all their insulin at $35. And guess what that means? No other company is going to be able to charge more than that because no one’s going to buy it. For everyone else with diabetes, that’s going to help. 500,000 folks in Alabama today are on this and it’s going to reduce the price from somewhere between four and 600 bucks a month to $35 a month. So let’s finish the job. Lower the price forever, including the 200,000 children with type one diabetes across this country.
But there’s more work to do. We’ll protect social security and Medicare and we’ll protect … By the way, did you see that State of the Union address?
Speaker 2 (27:50):
Joe Biden (27:50):
I said it means all you guys are against cutting Medicare and social … Oh, yeah. Well, in my religion we go, bless me, Father. That’s a wonderful thing. Look, Medicaid is critically important to people that are having trouble making it. In the Affordable Care Act, we increase the available money by 800 bucks for those folks. We’re going to make sure we protect those two to make sure they get the care they need. Look, we need to reward work, not just wealth, because no …
We used to have about 670 billionaires in America. Now we have about a thousand. Do you realize they pay a lower tax rate than your police officers or the people driving that ambulance? They pay a lower tax rate than hardworking folks. I think you should be able to make a trillion dollars. Just pay your fair share, Jack. No, I mean it. And, by the way, we’ll also cut the deficit when we have them begin to pay their fair share.
Look, with Terry’s leadership, let’s make sure working parents in Selma and across the country have a living wage. There should be sick days available, paid family and medical leave. We’re the only country in the world that doesn’t have it. Affordable childcare and elder care. It saves money. Let’s restore the full child tax credit. And, by the way, that cut Black child poverty in half and gave tens of millions of parents some breathing room, including almost a million folks in Alabama.
I was telling the mayor on the way over. My dad’s a hardworking guy, a real gentleman, a decent man. He never got a college degree. He never got to go to college. It was a great regret he had, but you know what he used to say? For real, I’m sorry I always quote my dad, but it’s worth saying. He’d say, “Joey, remember, a job is about a lot more than a paycheck. It’s about your decency. It’s about respect. It’s about being able to look your kid in the eye and say, ‘Honey, it’s going to be okay.’ It’s so easy to make that happen without any fundamental changes, but they’re not letting us, up to now.”
With HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge. Marcia, you’re here, right? There you are. She’s my Secretary of Housing and Urban Affairs. Look, she’s leading the way on housing discrimination and affordable quality housing. My message to you is this. We see you. We’re fighting to make sure no one’s left behind. This is the time of choosing and we need everybody engaged. We know history does not look kindly on those who deny the march across the bridge to redeem the soul of America.
Let me close with this. In many of your faith traditions, Sunday is the Sabbath, the day of rest, but on that Sunday morning on March 7th, 1965, Amelia Boynton Robinson and 600 of her fellow children of God chose different pews. On this bridge of her beloved Selma, they were called to the altar of democracy. Unsure of their fate, but certain that the cause was righteous. So she would go on to say, quote, “You can never know where you’re going unless you know where you’ve been.”
We know where we have been. My fellow Americans, on this Sunday of our time, we know where we’ve been and we know more importantly where we have to go: forward together. So let’s pray, but let’s not rest. Let’s keep marching. Let’s keep the faith. But most of all, let’s remember who we are. We’re the United States of America, and there is nothing beyond our capacity when we act together. So let’s go and finish the job. God bless you all and may God bless our troops.