As Black History Month draws to a close, Vice President Joseph Biden and Dr. Jill Biden on Monday hosted a who’s who of administration, congressional and state and local government officials at a reception held at the Naval Observatory where they reside. The 140 guests included top administration officials, including Attorney General Eric Holder, U.S. Trade Rep. Ron Kirk, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, NASA administrator Charles Bolden Jr. and Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa Jackson.
Civil rights hero, Georgia Rep. John Lewis, was introduced by Dr. Biden as “an embodiment of courage, foresight and lasting commitment” whom she and her husband feel fortunate to have as a dear friend and ally.
Lewis, whose role was to introduce the vice president, recalled his travels 50 years ago on the Freedom Rides, during which he and other activists encountered symbols of segregation, such as signs that designated separate public places for coloreds and whites, that future generations would experience only through books and museum exhibits.
“If someone had told me then that we would have an African–American as president of the United States, I would have said, 'You’re crazy, you’re out of your mind, you don’t know what you’re talking about.' So when people say nothing has changed, I like to say, 'Just walk in my shoes and I will show you change,'” he said to applause.
Lewis praised the vice president as an avid supporter of movements to promote civil and equal rights for all Americans, and said that he “challenged his colleagues to protect the dignity and the worth of all humankind.” He also said there was “never, ever” a need to have to convince Biden “that the government should be a sympathetic referee in the cause of equal justice. He stood always with us, shoulder to shoulder, to defend those who had been left out and left behind.”
Lewis urged the guests to enjoy the night but be sure to “march to the polls” in November to ensure the re-election of President Obama and Biden.
“I don’t want to have to convince anyone and I don’t want to use a nonviolent whip,” he quipped, adding that the GOP presidential debates have made it clear there’s only one choice for voters who believe that “government is not a front man for business but is meant to serve all of the people of this nation.”
Biden recalled the civil rights movement as a period that not only directed the fates of African-Americans in a more positive direction, but also deeply influenced the thinking of white Americans. He spoke about the white Southern Democratic Senators he encountered on Capitol Hill who were determined to dismantle all of the rights for which Blacks had fought and sometimes given their lives, including Mississippi Sen. John Stennis, who led the effort.
Upon meeting Stennis, Biden said, he was asked what brought him to the Senate, to which Biden replied, "Civil rights." But by the time Stennis retired, he’d had a change of heart and, recalling that first meeting, he said, “The civil rights movement did more to free the white man than the Black man. It changed my soul.”
Biden added that the civil rights movement injected into our society, for the first time since its creation, the fundamental sense that there’s a fundamental obligation to everybody.
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(Photo: Kevin Lamarque / Reuters)