Washington D.C. – House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (CA-23) delivered the following remarks today at the 400th Anniversary Commemoration of the First Recorded Forced Arrival of Enslaved African People, hosted by the Congressional Black Caucus.
Remarks are below, or watch the full event here.
“Colleagues, friends, and fellow Americans, it is an honor to be here with you and to commemorate this solemn occasion.
“Four centuries ago, European colonists brought forth on this continent a new form of slavery based on race and birth. Among its many evils, slavery used violence to achieve control, made it illegal to teach slaves to read and write, and broke up between a fifth and a third of all slave marriages. It led to many shameful moments by our government – some of which occurred in our own chamber, such as the infamous Gag Rule.
“So, of course we look back at this period with shame and remorse.
“But the underlining values of the American project prevailed in the end – slavery was denounced as an abhorrent chapter of our nation’s story.
“Along the way, courageous individuals stood for what was right, even if it put their own safety at risk.
“One of those individuals was Frederick Douglass. We all know about Douglass’s incredible biography. But his confidence that freedom would ultimately triumph in America has always stood out to me.
“Douglass had every reason to hate America for the injustices he suffered. But he became one of America’s greatest champions because he saw that it could renew its spirit by appealing to its core principles. Those principles, he said, contained ‘old truths of human liberty.’
“Using his gifts as a writer and speaker, Douglass motivated his fellow Americans to align their professed beliefs with their actual practices. It is extremely fitting that he has a statue right here in Emancipation Hall. I am also very proud to say he has a portrait hanging in my office. His accomplishments are an inspiration to anyone who believes in the importance of human equality, hard work, and freedom.
“But where are we as a country now, over 150 years after the end of slavery?
“In Congress, the Congressional Black Caucus is a great example of our country’s sustained progress. Its 55 members, the largest number in its history, represent more than 82 million Americans. That is more than a quarter of the whole country.
“CBC members come from districts and states across the country and they are leaders at the highest levels of our democracy. This Congress, it is led by a friend of mine, and I did not meet her when I came to Congress – I met her when we served together in the State Assembly in California. If you ever ask her, she will tell you – I was the first person who told her one day she will be the Speaker of the State Assembly in California — and I come from the other side of the aisle. My dear friend, Karen Bass.
“Our nation isn’t perfect, and there is more progress to make — but we have taken significant strides in the right direction. Today is an example of that.
“I often think of my trips to Selma with our dear friend John Lewis to celebrate the anniversary of the Selma-to-Montgomery March. When John peacefully walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965, state troopers met him with violence. Fifty years later, he led a delegation as I stood with Senator Tim Scott, and I watched our dear friend John Lewis introduce President Obama to a tremendous speech. Everyone in that place had tears of joy for how far our nation had grown.
“Imagine what Frederick Douglass would say if he heard about that!
“Ralph Ellison, the author of the great American novel Invisible Man, said that ‘America is woven of many strands… Our fate is to become one, and yet many — This is not prophecy but description.’ As we reflect on a solemn chapter in the American story, we must think of additional ways to put the many aspects of our history front and center.
“There is more work to be done. As individuals, we have different backgrounds; yet as Americans, we share something much deeper.
“With humility about our history, faith in our principles, and hope in our future, let us continue to deepen our common bonds and never fail to pursue our nation’s highest goal – to form a more perfect union.
“Thank you and God bless.”