WASHINGTON, D.C. – Leaders of the U.S. House and Senate held a ceremony today commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington. Following are Sen. McConnell’s remarks delivered during the ceremony, which took place in Statuary Hall, in the U.S. Capitol:
“There are moments in history that only appear historic in retrospect. And then there are moments when you can literally feel history turning a corner, when you actually see an idea or a cause become more than that, and when you know, that after this point in time, old ways will be left to the past. That there’s no turning back.
“The March on Washington was just such a moment. It was electric, and for anyone who was privileged enough to be there, or in Congressman Lewis’ case, to participate, you just knew: your country would never be the same, and neither would you. For one sympathetic college student from the University of Louisville, I’ll tell you: it’s something I’ll never forget. I couldn’t hear much from the Capitol steps that day, but the crowd and the energy told its own story: that thousands of Americans were ready to meet the moment. Not just to dream of a better future for themselves, but to fight for a better future for their children.
“The March inspired millions more to the fight for civil rights. It inspired me to organize for change back in Kentucky. And it inspired Washington to act, with Congress passing the Civil Rights Act less than a year later. I remember, because I watched my boss, Senator Cooper, help overcome opposition to it – and pass it.
“My point here is that the March helped bring the strands of an emerging national consensus into focus. It helped get us closer to the ideal of equality that Dr. King spoke of so eloquently that day. And while we all remember his famous speech, it’s also important to remember that the March – and the movement it represented – was the work of many.
“James Madison once said that our Constitution is the work of ‘many heads and many hands.’ The same can be said of the civil rights movement.
“I’ve already mentioned Congressman Lewis. Jessye Norman and Maurissa remind us of the contributions of people like Marian Anderson and Mahalia Jackson. They lift our hearts.
“Chaplain Black and Reverend Conroy remind us of the crucial role played by so many religious leaders as well. They lift our spirits.
“And all the seats filled in this hall of national memory remind us of the many thousands who made their way from every corner of this nation, through great effort, to be here on August 28, 1963.
“For an event they would never forget. For an event that we, as a nation, must never forget.”