Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
Good morning. My name is Kristen Clarke, Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. It is a tremendous honor to be here in Selma today.
I want to thank Pastor Strong for hosting us today, and I want to recognize the distinguished clergy, the elected officials, the civil rights leaders and residents of Alabama who are gathered here today.
Every year, we rightly honor the courage of the peaceful marchers who were beaten on the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday.
But we, too, must remember the courage it took to come back out again on Monday.
Monday was the day those protesters, bruised and beaten, announced to the world that they would not back down, that they would not be broken.
Dr. King himself said as much that Monday. He said: “We’re going to stand up amid horses. We're going to stand up right here in Alabama, amid the billy clubs. We’re going to stand up right here in Alabama amid police dogs. We’re going to stand up amid tear gas! We’re going to stand up amid anything they can muster up, letting the world know that we are determined to be free!”
It has been 58 years – and while we have come so far, we still have so much further to go. The march that began on that fateful day 58 years ago is still not finished.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was signed into law in direct response to Bloody Sunday, yet today we face some of the most significant threats to our democracy of our lifetimes.
The Bloody Sunday march was itself spurred by the beating and murder of protester Jimmie Lee Jackson by Alabama state troopers, yet police violence remains a threat today.
White supremacy and racially motivated hate crimes remain a threat today.
Voting discrimination and voter suppression remain a threat today.
The conditions in too many of our jails and prisons are inhumane and unconstitutional – and remain a threat today.
But as Dr. King told us, we must continue to stand up.
And as the first woman, and the first Black woman, to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate to serve as the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division I am here to reassure you that the Civil Rights Division at the U.S. Department of Justice will continue to stand up.
We are committed to defending the civil rights of people here in Alabama and all across our nation.
We are using our federal civil rights laws to hold accountable the defendant who killed 10 Black people at the Tops grocery store in Buffalo, New York.
We secured convictions against all three men responsible for the racially-motivated killing of Ahmaud Arbery.
We are holding law enforcement officials accountable when they violate civil and constitutional rights, including Derek Chauvin and the other three officers who failed to intervene in the killing of George Floyd.
We secured indictments against the four officers tied to the death of Breonna Taylor.
We are confronting voter suppression and have filed lawsuits from Louisiana to Texas to Arizona.
We are investigating police departments from Louisville to Minneapolis, Phoenix to Louisiana.
We are taking on banks that engage in modern day redlining, and holding them accountable when they fail to provide equal access to credit to Black people and other people of color.
And we are standing up for historically marginalized and overburdened communities of color who have endured the legacy of environmental injustice for far too long, including right next door in Lowndes County, where generations of Black people have been denied the right to basic sanitation and are subjected to raw sewage.
We do this work because even 58 years after Bloody Sunday, the goals of John Lewis and so many of the Foot Soldiers who marched that day remain unrealized.
We do this work because of Emmett Till and James Byrd and Breonna Taylor.
We do this work because of Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley – the four little girls who lost their lives in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham on that fateful Sunday in 1963.
In closing, John Lewis may not be with us today, but if I can paraphrase from Scripture, we all know that he fought the good fight. That John Lewis finished the race, and that he kept the faith. Today, our charge – indeed our sacred mission – is to pick up the baton that he has handed us and to continue that march and continue our fight for justice. We will continue to fight and demand that the Voting Rights Act be fully restored.
I promise you, under my watch, the Civil Rights Division will stand with you, we will stand for you, we will stand for justice. Thank you.