Black Americans for Life Banquet
November 4, 1995
Adam's Mark Hotel, Indianapolis, Indiana
Now, you won't mind, will you,
if I allow that it is a special pleasure for me to be here this evening. Just
like a lot of people, I've been long in the pro-life vineyards, and one of
the things that we have, as Rose was saying and noticed there, that you can
go to pro-life gatherings and you really don't see a lot of black Americans.
All right? And down through the years I've, of course, as many people have,
I've wondered why this is. And I'll be talking about the reasons why that's
strange this evening. But I'm especially pleased to be here, as I have been
in several other places, to encourage those who are coming together now to
highlight the participation of black Americans in this sacred cause--a cause
which I think is especially suitable, appropriate, and fitting for black
Americans because of the heritage we represent.
And so, if you'll forgive me this evening, 'cause I don't always get the opportunity, you know--I do believe strongly, as you have probably heard, that it's important when we stand up in America and address important issues of public policy that we not give in to the tendency that seems to exist out there to pretend that there is no way that we can speak to each other across barriers of race and creed and kind, that we have nothing in common anymore, that everything divides us, that we can only get up and speak as black to black, white to white, Christian to Christian, Jewish to Jewish, [that] there is no more that we can speak of anymore as Americans.
Well, I don't believe that! [applause]
And so, I spend a lot of my time speaking from the great principles of this country's heritage to what I believe is still the great heart of this country's people, a heart that is shaped by our allegiance to those common principles, an allegiance which gives us the grounds for calling ourselves one nation, one people.
But I do think, though, that the history and heritage of Black Americans has a special bearing on the crisis of our time, epitomized by the abortion issue. I do believe that those of us who look back to that heritage of bondage and emancipation, of discrimination and liberation, those of us who look back to that heritage have a special word to speak to America today.
Now, I guess I'm not necessarily in big company perhaps in that belief. I can't resist the temptation to point out that I was reading not long ago an account--now, I'm not sure whether it was his memoirs, or just an interview that the now much-touted Colin Powell had given--in which he had said that he grew up with a strong sense of self-worth because he did not look back to the heritage of slavery, being as how he was of Jamaican ancestry.
Now, I've got to tell you that being from that group of Americans who does look back to the heritage of slavery, I hope nobody will misunderstand it if I took offense at that statement! And if I looked back on my own upbringing and the kind of influences that I got from my parents and so forth, you know, one of the things that I learned during the course of that, from the common sense of my parents, was that the injustices done to you don't reflect on your character, but rather on the character of those who perpetrate them; and that those who are the victims of injustice don't have to sit around worrying about their self-worth, since it is far more a reflection on the worth of those who oppress than on the oppressed.
And he may not understand this. Far from looking back on the heritage of black Americans and getting a sense of concern about my self-worth, I have, over the years, and especially as my understanding and appreciation of that heritage has grown and deepened, I have come away with such a sense of pride, of decent pride, as is hard for me to express.
A sense of decent pride that is, of course, connected with something else that is very important in that heritage, and that is the faith of black Americans--their sense that in the midst of all the woes of this world, of all the deep oppressions and physical brutalities of slavery, and in the midst of everything that tore people from their families and husbands and wives apart, and siblings apart, and everything that brutalized, and everything that denigrated and dehumanized or sought to dehumanize people. In the midst of all of that, there was always a burning flame and kernel of faith that kept fast to the belief that whatever disorders and injustices dominated in this worldly life, there is indeed a God who is a God of all--of master and slave, of white and black, of oppressor and oppressed. And it is in the hand of that God, and that God alone, that truth is held, and hope is held, and justice is held.
And you see, that is a heritage that speaks deeply, deeply to what I think is the real disease of our time. It's a word we Americans need to hear, because we've come to that point in our history when we've really started to misunderstand ourselves--to believe that somehow or another we are a people whose greatness consists in the things that the world most admires about us; it consists in the mighty armies and military power and missiles and the mighty technological and scientific advances and the wonderful economic boons and prosperity that we have witnessed. All of that is the greatness of America. And you have people who go around and say, "Well, that's the American Dream." And they talk about it in terms of dollars and cents, and what kind of house you live in, and what kind of car you drive, and how much you make at your job. And that's supposed to be the measure of your success and this nation's greatness.
And they get it all wrong. Because, all of those things which the world admires did not come about because we are a people founded upon the principle that the be-all and end-all life is material prosperity. That's not our principle at all. Indeed, if we stand together as Americans, we do it on the basis of those principles that were laid down by our Founders at the beginning--principles that made it clear that the aim and end of justice and of human social life was not something that could be measured in dollars and cents or any other material terms. The foundation of it all was the firm belief that Jefferson put down in that great Declaration of Independence, when he said, "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."
Interesting, isn't it, the premise of America is, itself, a premise that puts first and foremost, not the desire for power or money or any other material thing; it puts first and foremost our faith in God and in the power of God, and in the creation of God, who is presented in that great Declaration as the foundation of all justice and freedom and right in this land. And that truth which we rest on as a people corresponds, doesn't it, to that truth which, in the midst of all the oppression in slavery, black Americans held on to.
That's why--and I don't usually talk about this, but I wrote this book, "Masters of the Dream," and the title may strike some people as strange. When it first started out, it had a different title, I think it was something like "Liberal Slavery," or whatever--that was the outlook, you know, that was sort of getting a part of the idea, anyway. And yet, as I became more engrossed in the work and research that I had to do on it, and it got to be clearer and clearer to me what one really had to say as you looked over the broad scope of the history of black Americans.
I was more and more put in mind of the Biblical story: the Biblical story that was, of course, such an important inspiration and such an important symbol of hope for Black people in America. The story of the Israelites in bondage. The story of the Israelites delivered from slavery in Egypt, which became the foundation of so many wonderful spirituals, and so much of the folklore even of black Americans.
But we often forget where that story begins. That story begins in Genesis as the story of Joseph. And it is from Joseph, of course, that the title of the book is taken--where, just before he is sold into bondage by his brothers, there is that wonderful phrase in the Bible (which, I also noticed recently, was inscribed on the memorial in Tennessee where Martin Luther King was killed), and it reads, "Behold the dreamer cometh." Or to translate it more literally, "Look, here comes the Master of Dreams." And that was Joseph. The Master of Dreams. The one who, in the midst of slavery and bondage, could still see more clearly than others the real significance of our human dreams.
And so, it seems to me that out of the depth of slavery and bondage, black Americans have been able to see, if they will only look, more clearly the real meaning of freedom.
For, you see, when all is said and done, freedom isn't that which you lose when someone fastens chains around your ankles and your wrists. It is that which you retain when you hold fast to those chains that bind you to the God of all. And that's a freedom that none can take away.
And so, in the midst of everything oppressive, in the midst of being stripped down of all the things this world admires and thinks of as so important, somehow black Americans held on to a kernel of human dignity that wasn't just an abstraction, either. It was a kernel that allowed people in the midst of slavery still to hold fast to idea of family, to still to hold fast to the sense that whatever else was going on, people could respect one another, and can reach out their hands to one another as brother to brother, sister to brother, brother to sister as one large family in oppression.
That led to the kind of results one saw when folks marveled during the Civil War; all the people who were involved in philanthropy who had expected to see all sorts of starving ex-slave children in the South, and they got there, and they found instead that recently freed ex-slaves, who had nothing, had nonetheless taken in the orphans, and were caring for them as their own--proving again, doesn't it, that charity comes not from the riches of our wallets, but from the riches of our heart.
And so does freedom.
And that's why I think, in fact, that Colin Powell is especially wrong. You've got to know, this is just a parentheses--do you mind if I have a little digression here? It's just a parentheses, but it was on reading that and reflecting on some other things, that I decided that even if Colin Powell wasn't a liberal . . . which he's turning out to be [laughter] . . . I wouldn't back him.
Because, I refuse to sit still while we elect the first black President of the United States, and he has no respect for the heritage of Black America. I won't do it! [applause] I won't do it! [applause]
But it's important right now that we all respect that. Because, you see, what comes through in all of that is an understanding that the American Dream is not about the money. And it's not about the material prosperity. It is about the moral dignity that we as human beings are supposed to have, and that our Founders said we have--not as a consequence of human will and choice and action, but as a consequence of God's will and God's choice and God's action, well beyond human power. [applause] That is what this nation is about. [applause]
Now, I go through all of that, because, you see, if that's our essence, if that's who we are as a people, if we are indeed a people of the Declaration, a people whose nation is, in fact, dedicated to something that doesn't close us off from the rest of humankind, but instead opens us, because we usually symbolize something about the possibilities . . .
What if all human beings were to get together and were to live in cooperation with each other on the principle that we had to, each and all of us, respect the basic and intrinsic worth and dignity that God had imparted to each of us. And what if, living with that sense of mutual respect, we stood in fear of the will and authority of the Creator from whose hand we derive our rights and freedoms? Living under such a charter of liberty, and in that fear of God, we could indeed construct a human society in which, despite all of our differences, we could some how stand and live and work together, one human race. Now this is, and has long been, a hope somewhere hidden in the hearts of humankind.
Now, don't you see, this nation is the manifestation of that hope. In the course of our history, we have gathered people from every race and creed and kind to the shores of this land. We have had people come in response to that dream of human dignity. And we have had people brought in violation of its principles. But we stand here now like a Noah's ark of nations. A people of peoples, a nation of nations, a true coat of many colors.
And in that sense, we are like the guardians of human hope. The trustees of mankind's better destiny. A nation dedicated to the principle that allows human beings to live together in dignity and liberty and peace.
And that principle of the Declaration, that self-evident truth that our rights come from God, is the foundation of it all. It is the foundation of our liberty, the foundation of our rights, the foundation of our right to vote, and our government by consent. And it is the foundation of our special mission and destiny before the world.
Now why do I go through all of this? See, I go through it all because I think it's important that, when we are thinking about the most important issues we face, we do so in the context of the most important principles we represent. 'Cause I think in the end that's how you define the most important issues, isn't it? The most important threats, the most important dangers, the most important problems are those which especially undermine and threaten those principles which are most important to your existence.
And I believe that's why we're here tonight. I know that's what keeps me going every day. And I also know that it is the reason why the cause in which we have gathered must ultimately prevail. For, this is the simple truth of America's situation. We must reject the destructive logic of abortion, or we will lose our Republic. There is no middle ground. This Republic rests on the premise that rights and freedom come from God. The notion of abortion rights rests on the premise that the humanity and rights of the child come from its mother's choice. And you can't have it both ways. It's either human choice or God's choice that is the foundation for our liberty. (long applause) Only one! [applause]
And looking back to the heritage from which, if you'll forgive me, I especially speak this evening, I have to take this really seriously. Because when somebody approaches me and says, "OK, it's safe to rely on human judgment to determine who's free and who's not, who has rights and who doesn't, who's human and who's not. Don't worry. We'll take care of it. We'll be really careful in that judgment. You see, we'll have panels of experts who'll base their decisions, I'm sure, on 'scientific criteria.'" [laughter]
And then I think back on the history of this country and I say, well, forgive me, but I remember a time when this was done before. And it wasn't done with anything like that kind of care. As a matter of fact, people just kind of looked at folks that were different and darker and they said, "You are not human! We will enslave and oppress and brutalize you!" And so, the last time folks took it upon themselves to say that it was popular sovereignty, and human votes, and human choice, that determine the dignity of other human beings, and that some have the right to read others out of the human race for purposes of oppressing and destroying them, black Americans were on the wrong side of their judgment! [applause] We were the destroyed and the oppressed and the brutalized and the murdered. [applause]
And I do not understand how anyone who looks back on that heritage, and knows that that injustice came from the principle that lies at the heart of this abortion rights movement, how can anyone then stand on the same side as those who are resurrecting the principle of oppression and slavery that destroyed my black ancestors!!! [applause] It does not make any sense. (long applause)
And yes, it's true. The auction blocks and the slave pens were pretty dirty smelly places, you know. So people put them over in a part of town, as Lincoln would often point out, nobody went to. They didn't want to have anything to do with the folks who were involved with it. The slave masters and overseers and auctioneers, and so forth, were considered the lowest of the low in society at that time.
Now, these days, this principle manifests itself in a somewhat different way, right? People come forward and they don't say "auction blocks," even though they traffic in human life and destroy the dignity of both the aborted child and the woman. We don't hear them called "auctioneers" and "vendors," and so forth. No, they're "doctors." We call these places of death, we call them "clinics."
But you know what bothers me, have you ever looked back (it's not that far either) to the history of Germany during the '30's? And have you looked into the programs that they instituted under the Nazis, where they took people who were disabled, or defective in their eyes, whom they had decided, on the basis, by the way, of very, very studiously developed "scientific criteria" (they called it "science," you know)--and on the basis of this "scientific criteria" they had determined that some life was "unworthy" of life, and that some people were not people at all, but "subhumans" who, if they only had the "consciousness of human beings," would want to die anyway.
And so they took them to "clinics," and they murdered them. And they called them "clinics," and they're all dressed up in nice white smocks and had "doctor" in front of their name. And, oh, that's how "Doctor Mengele" had came by it. But we know that these were really the doctors of death. The doctors of human degradation. Learned only in the ways in which humankind destroys its soul.
And we stand now in a society where, in this abortion doctrine, the same principle has emerged. And it is dressed up in the same white smock, and it wears the same language of pseudo-scientific discussion.
Did you notice that it was debated in the Congress recently, where folks were standing up to talk about partial-birth abortions? And in the Congress, amongst those who were voting to retain this, and in the newspapers, and on the television, people . . . what did they refer to it as? . . . they called it this "rare abortion technique," this "rarely used medical procedure." You'll notice how carefully they avoided describing this "medical procedure." Because most of us, I think, we hear the word "medicine" and "medicate," and we think "save," we think "heal," we think "respect life."
We don't usually think, "suck out the brains of a helpless innocent child and crush its head." No, when we hear that, we usually think, "torture and brutality and degradation!" We usually think, "terror and monstrosity." We don't call it "medicine," and we don't hide it behind the language of "medical procedure." But that which is gruesome and repulsive to us in the facts of its description ought to be more gruesome and repulsive to us in the truth of its moral principles. (long extended applause)
And so, we are as a nation in one of those periods when we are called upon to decide, not just about what we do, but about who we are. And that question which was put to us in beginning and in the Civil War and in the Civil Rights Movement is back again before us as a nation, "Are we still a people of the Declaration? Are we still a people based on that premise that all human beings, the high the low, the educated the uneducated, the strong and the weak, the vulnerable and those less vulnerable, we are all entitled to the same respect for our God-given moral dignity?" Are we still that people? See, I don't see how we can answer "yes" when we are telling our women that they have the right to kill the most innocent amongst us, simply because they are voiceless, and simply because they are helpless, and simply because they are entirely dependent on another.
It's interesting, isn't it? If you were to imagine the scene where somebody comes along, and there is a sweet defenseless child. And if that person were to take that weak defenseless child and smack it around for a while and ring its neck, we actually think that that is an instance of the worst kind of abuse, don't we? I mean, we react against that more than we would if that same child were a robust healthy individual capable of defending himself, and in the midst of an equal battle and fight, one of them happens to get their block knocked off. You know, we watch the one as a contest we can even see with a certain amount of pride. You know, there can even be some nobility in one of those contests. In the other, there is just the indecent indignity of evil.
Now, somebody tell me, if that's true, if we understand that strength destroying weakness--that sense that someone wholly dependent on you has been destroyed by you, in your power--is actually the thing that repulses us most as an abuse of power, how can we then recommend this to the women in our society, that they should take advantage of the fact that wholly within their power there is this helpless life, and because of that dependency, we will tell them they have the right to destroy it?
Doesn't this stand all decency an morality on its head? Doesn't it mark us as a people no longer sensitive even to the most rudimentary moral principle?
And then we have the nerve to wonder, when we look around our society and see the things that depend upon a rudimentary sense of moral principle, falling to pieces. Our families fall to pieces, and the peace of our streets falls to pieces, and our schools and class rooms begin to fall to pieces under the shadow of fear and violence. And our children, most of all, seem to have lost their way so that more than anywhere else in this society, crime and violence and mutual brutalization are increasing among the young. Hasn't it occurred to anybody yet that they are only doing to one another what we have granted permission to their elders to do to them? Hasn't it occurred to anyone yet that all this posturing about being against child abuse, when you will support the worst kind of child destruction, marks us as a people without decency or common sense?
It doesn't work. And it especially doesn't work, if I may say so, when you take those folks in our society who come from a heritage of oppression, black Americans, and you recommend this abortion holocaust to them. And you have leaders locking arms with the folks who are part of the Abortion Rights League and walking down the street in support and defense of this holocaust that is claiming more victims more consistently than slavery or the Klu Klux Klan ever did--and doing it not through the instruments of external destruction, no, no, no. No white-sheeted mobs with hoods over their heads stringing people up from the trees. No. No, need. No need for others to come in and murder when you have somehow persuaded those who ought to be the guardians of the future to murder that future in the womb. [applause]
I have come to the conclusion, though, and it's the thought I want to leave you with this evening, that we have actually won this battle. We have. We are at that moment, and it does happen sometimes you know (you can read the accounts of some famous battles in human history where folks had actually won the battle, and they didn't know it, so they stopped fighting and let the enemy get away). Really, we have won this battle. How can I tell? I can tell that we have won this battle, because the man right now who is the champion of the pro-abortion cause, sitting there in the White House, has told us that abortion should be "safe, legal, and rare."
Well if it's good, why does he want it rare? [hoots and laughter]
If it's just, why does he want it rare? If it's not evil, why does he want it rare? Because in his conscience he knows that it's wrong.
Now, of course if he's listening to his wife--she gave an interview in "Newsweek," or wherever it was, and she said, "It's wrong, abortion is wrong." And he appointed Henry Foster who had done all these abortions, and what does he stand up and say? "I abhor abortion." You don't abhor something that's right, do you? Generally speaking I don't, do you? [laughter] No!
You see, the battle for America's conscience is over. And just as by the time you get to the 1850's most descent minded Americans had decided that slavery was wrong, so most descent minded Americans have decided and know in their heart that abortion is morally wrong. [applause] We have won that battle. [applause] No more arguments. Oh, you know the rabid folks will still try to stand up and say, "What about population control?" and so forth. But it has occurred to a lot of people that controlling the population by murdering people is not generally to recommend itself. [laughter]
No. People know it's wrong. But the problem we have now, my friends, is that folks want to deny that it is a public wrong, you see. They do. And the other day, during this partial-birth abortion debate, they had a lady on who had had this "medical procedure." And she was saying that she thought that this was a "private decision," and so forth and so on. And even my daughter Maya, 10 years old, and of good heart, could hear that and understand that, as she put it, that would be like saying that we could take her upstairs in the bedroom and murder her and that would just be a private moment. [laughter]
You see, nobody believes this. But that's what we're saying. We're saying that it's a "private judgment."
Now, of course, that's tied to other things we talk about as private judgment. Because in this society we've come to the conclusion that all things having to do with sexual relations, that's a private matter. Nobody gets to bother with that. So what you do and who you do it with and so forth and so on, that's nobody's business but your own. That's what everybody's trying to say. And they're trying to treat abortion as if it falls in that category. Just a "private moment where the woman decides what to do with her body." We will ignore the fact that there is another life involved in this decision. And we'll ignore the fact that there is more than that: another equal partner in the making of that life, shut out of the whole business. They want to claim it's just private judgment.
But think back to where we began this evening. We began by thinking through the fundamental principles of our common identity, didn't we? And we realized that as a people we have all this diversity, we have all these differences, all these things might tend to tear us apart and disintegrate us. And we have as the basis of our unity our allegiance to that principle which says that our humanity, rights, and freedom come from God, and not from human choice. And here we are confronted with the argument that a claim to abortion rights that is based on the notion that ignoring those fundamental principles is just a matter of private conscience, should be acceptable. So it's just a matter of private conscience, whether we observe our principles of justice or disregard them.
How can this be true? You see, I think that turns the clock a long way back, because then, if I wanted to own you as a slave, why wouldn't that be a matter of private conscience? See, that abrogates and disregards the fundamental principles on which this nation is based. If our observance of those principles is just a matter of private conscience--"Hey, so what!"--don't you see where this leads? It turns the clock back utterly on all the progress we have made toward a greater respect of those principles which are indeed the foundation of our common life. If we accept that abortion is a private wrong, then we destroy the notion that there is anything such as public wrong. We destroy the notion that we have any claim to rights that any other human being must respect. This is the most devastating blow we could land against this nation. And this is what abortion represents.
And just as Lincoln understood that we could not survive half slave and half free, so we cannot survive while there is murder in the womb. That's how fundamental this is. Can't be put on the back burner. And there were people who thought slavery could, too--not, of course, the slaves; and therefore, I believe, not for a moment the descendants of those slaves.
So, I am honored and proud to be here to represent those who come from that heritage of slavery, but who understand that at its heart there were not slaves, but people destined by God for true freedom, and who understand, as well, that in the womb there is not "tissue," but a person destined by God for human life.
And in that heritage, we must do what those who were struck by the horrors of the auction block did. We must pray, and we must write, and we must struggle, and we must march, and we must face, in the end, even the highest cost, because there are things in this life that are worth fighting and dying for, and there have been those in the past who fought and died for them so that we could sit here in our peace and prosperity and contemplate their sacrifice. On the battlefields of war, and on the battlefields of heart and spirit, they suffered and died, those who marched in the streets and spoke up in the churches, they are the forbears of this cause. And as there were those of every persuasion in America who stood with them against injustice when the injustice was slavery, so today we must all stand together--black and white, and Christian and Jew, Americans all--against the injustice that shadows now our future as we destroy our children.
I think we will come out of this just as we came out of that. Because, in my heart, I still believe that God's hand is on America. But you know, that could have something to do, again, with being a black American. For, we are a people who have been through hell and lived to sing about it. And that means that we know that our God is a God of justice and power, and that the gates of hell cannot prevail against His will.
And so, in this, we bring a special dedication, and I hope that in some small measure I can share that dedication with all of you. Take heart from the flame. For, if those who toiled in bondage and seemed without hope can today struggle in freedom to bring life and hope to the unborn, you must know that God is, indeed, in His heaven and our cause will prevail. Take that hope with you, and never let it be extinguished. For, He waits on the other side of this struggle to give us that word we long to hear: "Well done, My good and faithful servant." And if we struggle long enough and hard enough, we shall have deserved His praise, and we may live in the hope that our nation shall deserve it, as well.
[extended standing ovation]