Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch Delivers Remarks at the Memorial Service for Voting Rights Leader Amelia Boynton Robinson
Remarks as prepared for delivery
Good afternoon. To the family members and loved ones of Amelia Boynton Robinson, to the pastor and members of Tabernacle Baptist Church and all clergy present today, to the numerous elected and appointed officials here today, to all who have gathered here today to celebrate the extraordinary and quintessentially American life of Amelia Boynton Robinson, I bring you greetings from the Obama Administration. And I thank you for allowing me to share in this moment with you; to pay my respects to a legend of the civil rights movement; and to join you in celebrating an extraordinary, inspiring and courageous life lived with compassion, lived with conviction and lived with love.
Over her lifetime, Ms. Robinson marched across more than a bridge. She marched across the conscience of a nation, shaping the most fundamental issues of our time. And she did it all with a grace and a joy that transcended any hatred turned her way. Set on the path towards freedom from an early age, as a young girl she campaigned as a young girl for women’s suffrage – and saw the 19th Amendment ratified on her ninth birthday. So she always knew what this country was capable of becoming. But she also knew its shortcomings. As a young woman in Selma, Alabama, she became one of the few African Americans to successfully navigate the almost insurmountable barriers placed between blacks and the ballot box by the state of Alabama – and later ran for Congress to inspire others to register and cast ballots. And even as she faced opposition and oppression, hatred and brutality, she waged a steadfast campaign of inclusion and hope that culminated in a Voting Rights Act – one of the most important and impactful pieces of civil rights legislation in American history, and one that, as Attorney General – an Attorney General who would not be in this role today but for her efforts – I am honored to protect and enforce.
Hers was a long journey – but it was a journey she undertook with clear vision, remarkable resilience and uncommon bravery. And her journey became the journey of America. She knew well the dangers of her work. She faced them every day. But still, she marched forward. Still, she pressed on. Still, she devoted herself to the cause of justice that became the mission of her life, even when the cost was that a bridge that symbolized hatred be watered with her own blood to cleanse it. What a test she was given. What a faith she had and what a heart she brought to the test. And it is in no small part due to that deep faith, that mighty heart, and that boundless courage and determination that earlier this year – half a century after the turmoil and violence of Bloody Sunday – Amelia Boynton Robinson was here, in Selma, to see the first African-American President of the United States bring his motorcade across the Edmund Pettus Bridge.
On that day, President Obama stood in front of a crowd of thousands and spoke about what Amelia Boynton Robinson and her friends and fellows had accomplished. “What they did here,” he said, “will reverberate through the ages – not because the change they won was preordained; not because their victory was complete; but because they proved that nonviolent change is possible, and that love and hope can conquer hate.”
Today, I have been asked to deliver another message from President Obama and from the First Lady, which I will read to you now:
“Dear Robinson family: we were deeply saddened to learn of Amelia’s passing. Please accept our heartfelt condolences as you mourn her loss and reflect on her extraordinary life. Amelia was one of the quiet heroes who made America what it is today. With strength, love, and unwavering courage, she fought for the future she knew was possible – and her dedication helped move our country forward on our journey toward becoming a more perfect union. We were honored to mark the 50th anniversary of the marches from Selma to Montgomery with Amelia earlier this year, and to experience firsthand the humble, hopeful force that guided her lifelong march for equality. Her spirit – her tireless commitment to secure the ideals at the heart of our nation’s promise – will live on in you, in us, and in the freer, more just society she helped forge. At this difficult time, please know you will remain in our thoughts and prayers. Sincerely, Barack and Michelle Obama.”
In later years, when Ms. Robinson recounted her experience in the civil rights movement, she turned to the words of a freedom song to describe how she saw the stakes:
“Oh freedom, oh freedom, oh freedom over me; and before I’d be a slave I’ll be buried in my grave; and go home to my Lord and be free.”
Amelia Boynton Robinson has now gone home to her Lord and to her reward – but through her work; through her courage; and through her boundless devotion to the cause of justice, the freedom for which she fought was made real not just in the hereafter, but here on this earth. They told her she couldn’t vote – she said “oh yes, I can.” They told her she couldn’t help register others – she said “oh yes, I can.” They told her that she could not change the world – she said “oh yes, I can.” And if indeed the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice, as I believe that it does, then her hand is one of those that has shaped its path for us all.
As we send her to her rest today – and as we go forward from this place to continue her work – may we recommit ourselves to advancing her spirit of service. May we find the strength to build on her legacy of progress. And may we be guided by the principles she championed throughout 104 remarkable years that made this nation more just, more equal, and at last, more free.
Amelia Boynton Robinson, thank you for always holding our hopes for a better day in the palm of your hand. Thank you for your deep and abiding faith in the promise of this country. And thank you for the love and devotion that has made that promise a reality for us all.