Vice President Kamala Harris in a speech commemorating the annual Martin Luther King Jr. holiday challenged Americans to uphold the civil rights icon’s legacy by working to secure the freedoms are being rolled back in part by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Delivering the keynote address on Monday at the South Carolina NAACP’s annual “King Day at the Dome” event, Harris referenced the ongoing so-called war on wokeness that has resulted in Republican- and conservative-led movements against schools accurately teaching Black history and last year’s dismantling of abortion protections by the U.S. Supreme Court.
“As Dr. King wrote in the Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Harris said during her speech, “‘the goal of America is freedom.’ And so, as we gather to honor his legacy, I pose a question I believe Dr. King would today ask: In 2024, where exactly is America in our fight for freedom?”
On his 95th birthday, we honor Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who dedicated his life to help move America forward in the fight for one of our most basic promises: Freedom. pic.twitter.com/oMWwrLlGCD
— Vice President Kamala Harris (@VP) January 15, 2024
Harris, who was speaking from the capital city of a state preparing to participate in presidential primaries in less than a month, went on to answer her own question: “At this moment, in America, freedom is under profound threat.”
In a nod to the recent spate of Republicans refusing to acknowledge the true reason why the Civil War was fought, Harris touched on the importance of Black history being taught amid an assault on the aforementioned freedom.
“Every person in our nation should have the freedom to learn and acknowledge our country’s true and full history. And yet, today, extremists pass book bans. Book bans in this Year of our Lord, 2024,” Harris said. “And they even try to erase, overlook, and rewrite the ugly parts of our past. For example, the Civil War. Which must I really have to say was about slavery? All while they tell our children that enslaved people “benefitted” from slavery. They insult us in an attempt to gaslight us—an attempt to divide and distract our nation with unnecessary debates.”
Harris also appealed to young people – a group that polling shows disproportionately supports the vice president – by addressing the U.S. Supreme Court as “the court of Thurgood” Marshall, the first Black U.S. Supreme Court justice whose legacy is seemingly trying to be erased by the conservative-leaning panel.
The crowd is marching from Zion Baptist Church in downtown Columbia to the State House for this portion of King Day at the Dome, where @VP Kamala Harris will speak. The theme of this year’s event is “Ballots for Freedom, Ballots for Justice, Ballots for Change.” pic.twitter.com/umcqFhF4r2
— Mary Green (@MaryGreenNews) January 15, 2024
“For our young leaders, the assault on freedoms is not hypothetical. It is lived experience… This generation has witnessed the highest court in our land, the court of Thurgood, take a Constitutional right from the people of America, from the women of America,” Harris said. “This generation now has fewer rights than their mothers and grandmothers. It is not hypothetical that from kindergarten to 12th grade, this generation has had to endure active shooter drills. Our children, who should be in a classroom fulfilling their God-given potential and exploring their wonder for the beauty of the world, instead have to worry that someone might burst through their classroom door with a gun. It is not hypothetical. When students go to vote, they often have to wait in line for hours because of laws that intentionally make it more difficult for them to cast a ballot.”
Harris went on to posit that Dr. King would likely “be the first to say: though we have come far, we still have far to go. In this moment, it is up to us to fight.”
Following a week in which critics said Dr. King’s widow’s name was bandied about recklessly in pop culture, Harris used a Coretta Scott King quote – “Freedom is never truly won. You earn it and win it in every generation” – to challenge all Americans to help fulfill Dr. King’s dream.
“Let us not throw up our hands,” Harris said. “Instead, let us roll up our sleeves. We were born for a time such as this.”
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