February 29, 1996 - Issue: Vol. 142, No. 26 — Daily Edition104th Congress (1995 - 1996) - 2nd Session
COMMEMORATING BLACK HISTORY MONTH AND CONTRIBUTIONS OF AFRICAN-AMERICAN UNITED STATES SENATORS; Congressional Record Vol. 142, No. 26
(Senate - February 29, 1996)
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[Pages S1471-S1474] From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov] COMMEMORATING BLACK HISTORY MONTH AND CONTRIBUTIONS OF AFRICAN-AMERICAN UNITED STATES SENATORS Mr. WARNER. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the Senate proceed to the immediate consideration of Senate Resolution 229, submitted earlier today by Senators Dole and Daschle. The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will report. The assistant legislative clerk read as follows: A resolution (S. Res. 229) commemorating Black History Month and contributions of African-American U.S. Senators. The PRESIDING OFFICER. Is there objection to the immediate consideration of the resolution? There being no objection, the Senate proceeded to consider the resolution. Ms. MOSELEY-BRAUN. Mr. President, it is indeed the most profound honor and privilege to stand before the United States Senate today to commemorate the 126th anniversary of the election of the very first African-American ever to serve in these great Senate Chambers. U.S. Senator Hiram Revels. We are all of us indebted to this man, Mr. President--and to Senator Bruce and Senator Brooks who followed him. These leaders carried forth the dignity of black Americans, as they worked vigilantly inside these Chambers to open the opportunity of America to all Americans. The past is always prolog. The history of the contributions of African-Americans is as much a part of the mosaic of America as any other. Indeed, the dream of black Americans resonates so powerfully, because it is an optimistic dream. Because it is about inclusion. Because it is about expanding opportunity. Because it breaks down the barriers that divide us. The Declaration of Independence and our Constitution, the twin cornerstones of our Nation, eloquently set forth the kind of nation we all want. Think about the preamble of our Constitution. It states: We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide [[Page S1472]] for the common defense, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our prosperity, do ordain and establish the Constitution for the United States of America. With that elegant pronouncement, 39 white men laid down the tenants that would organize the Government for this, the greatest nation in the world. In so doing, they created a democracy which guides us still. However, as Dr. Martin Luther King so wisely said, ``The Declaration of Independence is really a declaration of intent.'' In reality, the Constitution was more a statement of principles than a set of rules carved in stone. It took almost two centuries of struggle and testing to fulfill the promise of so lofty a pronouncement. For one thing, the new Americans learned right away that ``We the people'' was a pretty exclusive group. It certainly did not include women. Women were not enfranchised into the body politic until the 19th amendment to the Constitution was adopted in 1920. Poor people were shut out, too. Most States required ownership of property for participation in elections. Nor were young people recognized until the 26th amendment was ratified in 1971, allowing 18-year-olds to vote. And certainly not the large population of slaves, who counted as three- fifths of a person, for purposes of the census, taxes, and representation. As Congresswoman Barbara Jordan was wont to note: ``When the Constitution was completed in September 1787, I was not included in that `We, the people.' '' All of this despite the noble proclamation: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted by men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. After the first Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin was asked: ``What have you wrought?'' He answered: ``A Republic, if you can keep it.'' If we can keep it. Indeed it is a grand vision that has inspired generations of African-Americans to steward the Constitution so that this statement of intent shall be realized and turned into a reality that benefits all Americans. By contrast, a history which deliberately erases the sagas of blacks and women is no history at all--it is fiction--as flat and incomplete as a history that would leave out George Washington, Abraham Lincoln or any of these 39 men who founded our great country. Worse, it has the ultimate mischief of misdirecting future activity that grows forth from that fraud. For the past is indeed prolog. A distorted past without texture and honesty misleads us all. And so Congresswoman Barbara Jordan said, too, when she was seated in the House Chambers-- Today I am an inquisitor. I believe hyperbole would not overstate the solemnness that I feel right now. My faith in the Constitution is whole, it is complete, it is total. I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction of the Constitution. I say to you today, Mr. President, Congresswoman Jordan was honoring a tradition of paramount importance to our African-American ancestors. A tradition started by the man we honor today. Senator Hiram Revels, the very first African-American to serve in the Senate, representing the great State of Mississippi during Reconstruction. Senator Revels was a courageous man for his time. How he grew from his ordinary roots to dedicate his life to public service, and contribute in such an extraordinary way to public policy in the Reconstruction era should show us all that every one of us really can make a difference. Consider who he was. Born the son of free parents, Senator Revels started out in the ministry, preaching in the Midwestern and border States, and assisting fugitives from slavery. When the Civil War broke out, Revels was a school principal and a church pastor in Baltimore. He helped raise two regiments of African-American troops in Maryland, then moved on to St. Louis, MO, where he established a school for freed men. The following year, in 1864, Revels joined the Union Army and served as chaplain assigned to an Army regiment of African-Americans stationed in Mississippi. You heard me right. He served in a black regiment defending the Union in Mississippi. Such courage as this is the foundation of our African-American ancestry. By 1870, Revels had been elected to the Mississippi State Senate. But destiny tapped his shoulder when the Republican-dominated legislature elected Revels to the U.S. Senate, in anticipation of the State's readmission to representation in Congress. It was in 1870, you will recall, and the 15th amendment granting citizens the right to vote regardless of race or previous condition of servitude, was finally passed. 1870. That is almost 100 years after the Constitution declared this country to exist for the protections of all people. His victory was not without a fight. Sent to Washington, Senator Revels' credentials were immediately challenged. On the basis of the Dred Scott decision by the Supreme Court in 1857, which judged that persons of African-American descent were not U.S. citizens, he was accused of failing to satisfy the citizenship requirement to hold elected office in the Senate. The debate over Senator Revels seat became increasingly bitter. For 2 days, his opponents offered up a caustic mix of racial epithets, inflammatory charges, and specious arguments in a futile effort to prevent the seating of the Nation's first black Senator. As a result, this minister and school principal, this educator and spiritual leader, embarked on his career as a U.S. Senator defending the rights of other blacks to hold public office. His first debate was against an amendment to the Georgia readmission bill that prevented blacks from holding State office in Georgia, and from representing Georgia in either House of Congress. Prefacing his remarks, and I quote: ``With feelings which perhaps never before entered into the experience of any member of this body,'' Senator Revels declared that black citizens, ``ask but the rights which are theirs by God's universal law.'' And Senator Revels reminded his audience of the contributions that African-American troops had made to the war effort. Despite Senator Revels efforts, the Georgia readmission bill was enacted. During 14 months of service in the Senate, Senator Revels spoke out against legislation to segregate public schools in the District of Columbia, and was instrumental in helping to integrate the work force at the Washington Navy Yard. Although Senator Revels decided not to run for re-election, his short stay in the Senate paved the way for other African-American Senators to follow. In fact, he opened the door of opportunity for the election of Senator Blanche Kelso Bruce in 1875, who became the first African- American to serve a full term in the U.S. Senate. Though born a slave, Senator Bruce still believed in the guiding truth of the Constitution, and he dedicated his life to working for the inclusion of all under the arm of its protections. In an effort to support African-Americans seeking higher office, Senator Bruce championed the cause of Pinckney Pinchback, a Louisiana Republican who might have been this Nation's third black Senator but for a challenge to his seat. In his first speech in this Chamber, Senator Bruce vigorously defended Pinchback, and the Republican-dominated legislature which had elected him to the Senate. But it was to no avail. During his 6-year term in the Senate, Senator Bruce served as chairman of a select committee charged with investigating the Freedman's Savings and Trust Co.--a federally chartered institution whose collapse threatened to impoverish thousands of black depositors. Through his efforts, investors were able to recover more than half of their deposits. Senator Bruce made great contributions in the fight for inclusion during his one term in the Senate. However, despite the tremendous strides achieved during the Reconstruction era, in the late 1870's, ominous tactics of intimidation unbecoming of a great democracy were used to exclude African-Americans from full participation in the voting process. Lives were threatened, and lives were lost, when Afican- Americans dared to exercise their right to vote. Both of these gentlemen clung to the promise of a republic, guided by a love [[Page S1473]] of liberty. And they did this, Mr. President, despite their direct exposure to a society that condoned slavery--and espoused the degradation of humanity--which characterized the popular will of their times. They did this because they hoped. Because they were determined that their hopes would not be in vain. Even so, it was not for another 86 years--that's almost a century, Mr. President, a full century--until America elected another African- American to the U.S. Senate. Not until the great surge of the civil rights era was the third African-American Senator elected; 1967 was the year, and the American politics had matured. For one thing, a change in the Constitution allowed for direct elections by the people, rather than elections or appointments by State legislatures. Thus, it was a significant victory, Mr. President, when the people of Massachusetts, on their own volition, on the basis of their own vision and wisdom and depth of comprehension of America's political values elected Senator Edward Brooks to the U.S. Senate. Senator Brooks was only the first African-American ever to win a Senate seat by direct election. With his victory, the American electorate showed that it had grown in its maturity. The people had a deeper connection to the meaning of ``We the People.'' They appreciated the value of inclusion for all peoples. They understood the great possibilities of allowing diversity to thrive in our Nation, and so they opened up the ranks of participation in leadership. Senator Brooks served two terms until 1979. During his 12 years of service, Senator Brooks supported a number of measures aimed at healing the Nation's racial and economic divisions, including tax reform, fair housing legislation, the extension of the Voting Rights Act and Federal aid to education. Each of these three gentlemen set a fine example of leadership that all Americans can be proud of. Each championed the cause of justice, democracy, and liberty for all. And perhaps most notably, each one of them avowed that one day, one day the promise of America would be a reality for all Americans. Mr. President, I stand on the floor of this most powerful legislative body, and I am only the fourth American of African descent to serve in the U.S. Senate. The fourth ever. And the only one serving today. But I want to tell you that I share the hopes of my ancestors, too. When the Senate convened for the first time, we met in the old Senate Chamber, and I searched out the desk of my predecessor from Illinois who would actually have been seated in that Chamber. It was the seat of Stephen Douglas. You may recall that Abraham Lincoln debated Stephen Douglas in the late 1850's, and the famous Lincoln-Douglas debate sharpened the focus of the clouds of war on the horizon. Lincoln, not at that point an abolitionist, argued the question of the Douglas legislation, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which would make the extension of slavery into the territories a matter to be decided by referendum. Lincoln thought slavery was best confined where it already existed, and made the moral argument against human enslavement as the basis for his opposition to its extension. Douglas defended his bill. Douglas won the election to the Senate. When I sat in that seat for the first time, I made sure I was well positioned in it. How very different our times might have been--had the outcomes of their conflict been different. Through the crucible of a great civil war, our Nation redefined itself, to admit to citizenship those persons of color who were previously held as chattel. In his commitment to the Union, Lincoln held out a hope of freedom to those who, themselves, had never stopped hoping. In his second inaugural address, Lincoln said with no small amount of anguish, ``With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nations wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.'' ``Let us strive on to finish the work we are in * * *'' Lincoln was referring to the war between the States. But to African- Americans, the struggle against racism and for human dignity was to continue. Again, their contributions in that continuing struggle compel us today. Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington, Paul Lawrence Dunbar and James Weldon Johnson, Mary McCloud Bethane and S. Phillip Randolph, George Washington Carver and Jackie Robinson, Ida B. Wells and Mary Church Terrell, Langston Hughes, Ralph Bunche. Each name conjures a story of heroism, of patriotism, of hope. We are today the product of their sacrifice, their labor, and their commitment to community. It is in the essential message of their contributions that we find guidance for out times. These people were great because they reached outside of themselves to define and serve the community as they hoped it would be. They saw, and enhanced the possibilities for America. They were protectors of the Constitution, cherishing and defending and promoting the promise of freedom. And in their many endeavors, they sought to guarantee that the value of liberty and the sanctity of human dignity would never be lost in this great Nation. They would not drop the flag because they believe in the Republic. They were stewards of the Constitution and the values it so eloquently established as the bedrock foundation of this country. Dr. Kind once said, ``The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.'' African-Americans can take real pride in the fact that by our struggles for freedom, all people are made free. By our commitment and sacrifice, the weight of moral authority has helped bend that arc. By helping convert that Declaration of Intent into a firm reality, by insisting on a definition of community that is inclusive of all people and nurturing of human potential, we build the foundation for a 21st century that will move us beyond the painful struggles and lost talent which so sadly characterized our past. There is a term in mathematics known as Vector addition. Simply stated it holds that you add forces working together and subtract forces working against each other. This formula is as true for society as it is for mathematics. If we can continue on the path to human dignity, and in the direction of the Declaration and Constitution together, we will reach the goals set out there. We will create the America that our ancestors prayed and died for. We are not there yet. Today, a lot of Americans want to believe that we have arrived. People now want to move away from the concept of inclusion, saying we need go no further. But remember that I am still the only African- American sitting in the Senate today, and I am the very first African- American woman to win election to the Senate in the history of the United States. Of the 1,827 Senators in the history of the United States, only 4 have been African-American. The numbers alone tell you where we are and how far we have to go. I look forward to the day in American history when we will no longer have reason to take note how many women and African-Americans are in the Senate. I want to see that great day when ``We the People'' will include all Americans, that great day when skin color and ethnicity will not matter. Gender will not matter. The great day when the diversity that makes America so special in the history of the world will finally achieve this perfect union that our Forefathers envisioned. We are, after all, in this together. Black and white, southern and northern, male and female, all these distinctions should point us to the real truth--that we are all created equal, and we are all one community. In our multi-color, multi-faceted, multi-dimensional diversity, we are all one people. And in that diversity lies our strength. When whites can take pride in the contributions of black Americans, and blacks can take pride in the history of white Americans, we can all be proud of our common heritage and common humanity. And from that diversity we can stir the competitive pot, giving full play to the complete range of talent that 100 percent of our people-- not just some of our people--can bring to bear on the challenges of our time. [[Page S1474]] When my own great State of Illinois rached beyond race and gender to embrace my candidacy, and carry me to an election triumph, they gave all of America a wonderful victory. It was first and foremost a victory for ``We the People,'' a resounding advancement and maturing of the American character, that it should promote leadership on the basis of individual contributions and vision, not on the basis of race and gender. Yes indeed, the people of Illinois can be proud of the patriotism and love of country, which prompted this ultimate fulfillment of our Founding Fathers and mothers visions for what we could become. Like the people of Massachusetts who elected Senator Brooks before me, the victory was a mark of progress that all leadership and all participation. An act of inclusion that recognizes the worthiness of all facets of American life, and the need for all of America to benefit from that experience and expertise. African-American history month is a celebration for all of us. It is not jsut for black children deprived of role models and heroes of their heritage. It is not just for white children, who are fed media images of African-Americans as drug dealers and gang bangers. It is a celebration for all of us, and a time for reflection on the kind of America we want to leave as our legacy. But most of all, it provides us with an opportunity for truth telling. Because there are tens of thousands of ordinary black Americans who have made significant contributions in the arts, literature, politics, science, business and community service. Most importantly of all, black history teaches that we all have a role to play in making this country great. We all had played a role in shaping the past, and we all have a role to play in shaping the future. All of us--African, Irish, Italian, Heinz 57 variety, we are all Americans and we will all individually and collectively make the decision today which will determine tomorrow. That is why this salute to Hirim Revels, Blanche Bruce, and Ed Brooks is a salute to America and a celebration of the history of the contribution of Americans of African descent. Mr. WARNER. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the resolution be agreed to; that the preamble be agreed to; that the motion to reconsider be laid upon the table; and that any statements relating to the resolution appear at the appropriate place in the Record. The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered. So the resolution (S. Res. 229) was agreed to. The preamble was agreed to. The resolution, with its preamble, is as follows: S. Res. 229 Whereas, Black History Month in 1996 is a fitting occasion to direct public attention to the many significant contributions which have been made by African-American citizens in government service to the people of the United States of America; and Whereas, 125 years ago on February 25, 1870, Republican Hiram Rhodes Revels of Natchez, Mississippi was seated as the first Black citizen to serve in the United States Senate; and Whereas, the service of Senator Revels, an ordained minister of the Christian Gospel, was distinguished by conscientious support for desegregated public education, reconciliation, equal political opportunity and veterans' benefits and by opposition to discrimination in government employment and political corruption; and Whereas, Blanche Kelso Bruce of Bolivar County, Mississippi, whose term commenced on March 5, 1875, became the first Black citizen to serve a full term in the U.S. Senate and distinguished himself by supporting equality in Western state land grants, desegregation in the U.S. Army, electoral fairness, equitable treatment of Native Americans and by opposing fraud and incompetence in governmental affairs; and Whereas, Edward William Brooke of Newton, Massachusetts on January 3, 1967 became the first Black citizen to be elected directly by the people to serve in the U.S. Senate (and then was re-elected), distinguished himself by supporting American history awareness, racial reconciliation initiatives, strengthened foreign relations, stronger higher education, improved veterans' benefits, affordable housing and the performing arts; and Whereas, Carol Moseley-Braun of Chicago, Illinois on January 3, 1993 became the first Black woman and the first Black member of the Democrat Party to be seated in the U.S. Senate and is currently distinguishing herself for her resolute commitment to equal opportunity in education, advocacy of women's and children's rights, support for business entrepreneurship, expanded economic opportunity, equity for family farmers and fiscal responsibility and for her forceful opposition to all forms of crime; and Whereas, on February 29, 1996 the African-American Alliance, the James E. Chaney Foundation, and Local 372 of District Council 37 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, are sponsoring ceremonies in the U.S. Capitol Building to pay tribute to the pioneering legacy of these intrepid and highly esteemed role models; Now, therefore, be it Resolved that the United States Senate does hereby join in honoring these inspiring legislators and expresses profound gratitude for their innumerable substantive contributions to the pursuit of justice, fairness, equality and opportunity for all U.S. citizens. ____________________