Barack Obama at Howard University:
Those who came before us did not strike a blow against injustice only so that we would let injustice fester in our time. Thurgood Marshall did not argue Brown so that we could accept a country where too many African American men end up in prison because we'd rather spend more to jail a 25-year-old than to educate a 5-year-old. Dr. King did not take us to the mountaintop so that we would allow a terrible storm to ravage those who were stranded in the valley. He did not expect that it would take a breach in the levees to reveal a breach in our compassion; that it would take a hurricane to reveal the hungry God asked us to feed, the sick he asks us to care for, the least of these he asks us to treat as our own.
I am certain that nine children did not walk through the doors of a school in Little Rock so that our children would have to see nooses hanging at a school in Louisiana. It's a fitting reminder that the 50th anniversary of Little Rock fell on this week. Because when the doors of that school finally opened, a nation responded. The President sent the United States Army to stand on the side of justice. The Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1957. The Department of Justice created a civil rights division and millions of Americans took to the streets in the following months and years so that more children could walk through more doors.
These weren't easy choices to make at the time. President Eisenhower was warned by some that sending the army down to Little Rock would be political suicide. Resistance to civil rights reform was fierce. We know that those who marched for freedom did so at great risk, for themselves and their families--but they did it because they understood that there are some times in our history, there are moments when what's truly risky is not to act. What's truly risky is to let the same injustice remain year after year after year. What's truly risky is to walk away and pretend it never happened. What's truly risky is to accept things as they are, instead of working for what they could be. In a media driven culture that's more obsessed with who's beating who in Washington, or how long Paris Hilton is going to be in jail, these moments are harder to spot. But every so often they do appear. Sometimes it takes a hurricane, sometimes it takes a travesty of justice like the one we've seen in Jena, Louisiana.
The truth is, though, one man cannot make a movement. No single law can erase the prejudice in the heart of a child who hangs a noose on a tree. Or in the callousness of a prosecutor who bypasses justice in the pursuit of vengeance. No one leader, no matter how shrewd, or experienced, or inspirational, can prevent teenagers from killing other teenagers in the streets of our cities, or free our neighborhoods from the grip of homelessness, or make real the promise of opportunity and equality for every citizen.
Only a country can do those things. Only this country can do those things.
I believe that the election of Barack Obama to the presidency would - will - be the biggest single step forward for American race relations since 1863. The civil rights struggle was one kind of thing, the advent of black Congressmen and Supreme Court Justices another; Leader of the West is still another thing entirely. Obama will give this nation permission of a sort it's never, ever had.
I think that man's gonna change a lot of minds in 2008.