Department of Justice Seal

Prepared Remarks of Attorney General John Ashcroft

(NOTE: The Attorney General Often Deviates from Prepared Remarks)
National African American History Month
The Great Hall
February 20, 2002

    Historian Paul Johnson's epic book, entitled A History of the American People, begins with these words: "The creation of the United States of America is the greatest of all human adventures. No other national story holds such tremendous lessons, for the American people themselves and for the rest of mankind."

    The first lesson posed by our national story, Johnson writes, is whether "a nation can rise above the injustices of its origins and, by its moral purpose and performance, atone for them?"

    By pausing this month to reflect on the experience, the contributions and the achievements of African Americans, we begin to find the answer to this question. This month we celebrate the great and varied contributions of all African Americans to the American adventure. We remember Crispus Attucks, who gave his life in the Boston Massacre, and Benjamin Banneker, who helped draw the plans for the nation's Capitol. We recall Frederick Douglass, who gave moral and intellectual force to the movement to end slavery. We celebrate Sojourner Truth, whose powerful account of life as a slave helped bring freedom to all Americans.

    In our own lifetime, we have benefitted from the determination and leadership of Thurgood Marshall, Medgar Evers and the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King. We have witnessed the courage of the Little Rock Nine, who opened doors of American education for so many deserving people, and Rosa Parks, who stood up for civil rights by sitting down where she was not welcomed.

    Each of these brave Americans brought a great nation -- a nation conceived in and dedicated to liberty -- closer to living out the ideals of its founding. Dr. King challenged us to live out the true meaning of our values by envisioning a day when citizens of this great nation are judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. It is my great honor to be Attorney General of the United States at a time when Dr. King's dream is closer to reality than ever before.

    We have much work yet to do. But never before in history has there been a more diverse and more qualified leadership team here at the Department of Justice. Under Larry Thompson's indispensable leadership, we have not been satisfied with a team that merely looks like America we have built a team that reflects the strength of America. I am honored to serve with them, and I look forward to the day when the length and breadth of the Department of Justice from line attorneys to investigators to staff assistants reflects the same diversity and professional excellence. Larry and I believe this is a priority and we have agreed we are not going to rest until this dream we share comes true.

    Today, 139 years after the end of slavery, 38 years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, and 37 years after the passage of the Voting Rights Act, we continue to build on the heritage of those who came before us. We continue to strive to live up to the ideals of freedom and equality for which they sacrificed.

    There is no higher calling in government than ensuring that the law applies fairly and equally to all Americans. At the Department of Justice, equal justice before the law is our mission, our sacred trust. It is our contribution to that "greatest of all human adventures" the story of the United States of America. This month and in the months and years to come, let us rededicate ourselves to rising above the injustices of our past, to securing justice for all Americans, and to building a future worthy of emulation by all the peoples of the earth.

    Thank you very much.