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Attorney General William P. Barr Delivers Remarks at the Department of Justice's African-American History Month Observation


Washington, DC
United States

Thank you, Rod, for that very kind introduction.  Before I begin, I would like to thank Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein for his service.  Rod Rosenstein has spent his entire career at the Department of Justice.  He joined the Department through the Attorney General’s Honors Program in 1990 and has worked throughout the Department in the nearly thirty years since.  Over that time, Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein has served the Department with dedication and distinction. We are thankful for his service.

I also want to thank Director Richard Toscano, Assistant Director Granette Trent, and the entire Justice Management Division’s Equal Employment Opportunity staff for putting on this important event every year.

Thank you to Theodore Roosevelt Senior High School’s Junior ROTC Color Guard for the Presentation of the Colors.

And thank you to Dorothy Williams of the Civil Rights Division for that beautiful rendition of our national anthem.

I also want to thank our closing speaker, Trial Attorney Oneshia Herring of the Civil Rights Division’s Housing and Civil Enforcement Section. 

Thank you also for your service as Vice-Chair of Department of Justice Association of Black Attorneys.

But above all, thank you to our audience for being here to honor African-American history.

Black history is American history.  You cannot tell one story without telling the other.

This year’s theme is “Black Migrations,” which is an important topic in black history as well as in the history of the entire nation.

The first Black Migration to this country was forced migration.  It was the Middle Passage.

Over the course of centuries, millions of Africans were taken in chains, branded with hot irons, and put on small, overcrowded boats for a treacherous journey to this land.  That journey could take weeks or even months. 

In these conditions, many died before they even reached the shore.  In a 1789 speech to Parliament, William Wilberforce cited an estimate that one in every eight slaves bound for Jamaica died on the Middle Passage, and that one third died soon after arrival.

Slavery was our nation’s original sin.  James Madison himself recognized as much in a letter he sent decades after he helped draft a Constitution codifying it. 

Writing in 1820 to his old friend the Marquis de Lafayette, Madison described the political turmoil that had resulted from the inexcusable tolerance of slavery as “the dreadful fruitfulness of the original sin of the African trade.” 

It took the bloodiest war in American history and three constitutional amendments to finally end slavery and to give African-Americans the freedom to migrate where they chose. 

Once slavery was finally ended, those who had been enslaved and their descendants migrated again and spread to communities all across the country.

For example, there were the Exodusters, the thousands of African-Americans who fled the South for the Great Plains states or for homesteads in the West.

But the best known of these migrations was, of course, the Great Migration, when millions African-Americans fled persecution in the South to places like Chicago, Detroit, or New York.

In her award-winning book The Warmth of Other Suns, Isabel Wilkerson writes, “during the First World War…a silent pilgrimage took its first steps…Over the course of six decades, some six million black southerners left the land of their forefathers and fanned out across the country for an uncertain existence…

“By the time it was over, no northern or western city would be the same…In Chicago alone, the black population rocketed from [44,000] at the start of the Migration to more than one million at the end of it. By the turn of the 21stCentury, blacks made up a third of the city’s residents, with more blacks living in Chicago than in the entire state of Mississippi.”

The Great Migration changed American history not just for the migrants but for all of us. It made possible American cultural milestones like the Harlem Renaissance, Chicago blues, and Motown, just to name a few. 

The migrants included the families of Americans like Richard Wright, astronaut Mae Jemison, Housing and Urban Development Secretary and neurosurgeon Dr. Benjamin Carson, and many, many more.

Today we see many African-Americans returning to the South.  In the 2010 Census, a higher percentage of the African-American population lived in the South than in any Census in 50 years. I think that these are good signs that much progress has been made.

President Lincoln may have signed the emancipation proclamation more than 150 years ago, but there is a great deal of work left to do in eradicating prejudice and bringing together the people of this nation. 

Much of that work falls to the Department of Justice.

One of the reasons that this Department was created in the first place was to help protect the civil rights of African-Americans in the South and to fight the very same persecution that helped cause the Great Migration.

That is why I pledged at my confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee that one of my top priorities as Attorney General would be protecting the right to vote.

In our present period of great political division, it is imperative that we protect every citizen’s right to vote from all persons, foreign or domestic, who seek to interfere with it.

And that is, of course, one reason the men and women of the Civil Rights Division are so important.  It is an honor for all of us to continue this work of protecting the civil rights of the American people today.  And I am grateful to all of our Civil Rights Division attorneys and staff for their work toward those noble ends.

I appreciate the more than 18,000 African-Americans who work at this Department—including many who serve as attorneys or as senior executives.

All of them are helping to write the next chapter in black history at the Department.

And that is certainly true of our keynote speaker. 

Louis Franklin has served at the Department for more than 26 years.  He started as an AUSA in the Middle District of Alabama, went into private practice, and then returned to become Criminal Chief for 16 years.

On June 15, 2017, he was nominated by President Trump to serve as United States Attorney.  On September 14, 2017, he was confirmed by the U.S. Senate.  Please join me in welcoming U.S. Attorney Louis Franklin.

Civil Rights
Updated February 26, 2019