WASHINGTON, DC – House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (MD) spoke in the Capitol Rotunda today at the Congressional Gold Medal ceremony in honor of former Sen. Edward Brooke. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
“On his arrival in the Senate, Edward Brooke tells us in his autobiography, the same Senators who spoke out so forcefully for segregation were happy to invite their new colleague into the Senate swimming pool. The same men who stoked the racial fears of their constituents, who did so much to hold back equality in this country, had no qualms about sharing their own pool with a black man. ‘If a Senator truly believed in racial separatism, I could live with that,’ Brooke wrote, ‘but it was…evident that some members of the Senate played on bigotry purely for political gain.’
“In that small incident, Senator Brooke saw how easy, how politically profitable, it can be for leaders to foster the worst in those they represent—to be the representative from Fear, from Suspicion, from Prejudice. As long as there are legislatures, there will be some who find that path all too tempting. As long as there are legislatures, our best defense lies in men and women who resist that choice; decent men and women who set out to represent the better angels of our nature; people like Senator Edward Brooke.
“In this building, built with the hands of slaves, Edward Brooke made his name as a champion of equal education and equal voting rights; of social justice; of the unique dignity that comes from having a safe, clean, affordable home.
“But most of all, even as he looked injustice squarely in the face, Edward Brooke saw what was best in America and strove to represent it. In 1870, when Hiram Rhodes Revels, the first black Senator, took his seat in this building, his colleague Charles Sumner said this: ‘Today we make the Declaration a reality….The Declaration was only half established by Independence. The greatest duty remained behind. In assuring the equal rights of all, we complete the work.’
“Our greatest challenge here is to remain devoted to our nation’s founding promise, even when we see it only half established—and to work for the day when it will be established in full. For carrying that work forward, we honor Edward Brooke.”