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From a Speech Given on May 17th at a Ceremony Commemorating the Anniversary
of the Supreme Court Decision
in Brown v. the Topeka Board of Education

by Terry Werner

Good afternoon. I am honored to make a statement here today at the commemoration of this Supreme Court ruling. However, I first want to thank those who have organized today's gathering; this celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education decision which was a defining moment for our nation.

As we celebrate the historic decision, we recognize and honor the brave people who set the stage for remarkable change: nationally renowned Dr. Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Nebraska-born Malcolm X., Linda Brown Smith, and John Lewis to name but a few.

We honor the many Lincolnites whose bravery, fortitude, and tenacity have mirrored that of national figures, and who have been central to the progress and change in our own community. This includes Leola and Hugh Bullock, Lela Shanks, and Thomas Christie who are all here today. They remain active, watchful, and persistent in their goal to ensure freedom for all. We owe them a debt of gratitude, and I applaud and thank each of them.

Yes, much has been achieved, much won in the march to equal rights. But as we celebrate, we also must acknowledge and work to address the fact that racism has not been eliminated; segregation continues in many quarters; re-segregation is a disturbing trend; and racial profiling is alive and well.

Racism is evidenced in many ways, including the fact that in the city where Dr. King was gunned down fighting for the rights of sanitation workers, poverty and lack of access to education are still at levels ranked among the nation's highest, as we see in this quote from Nation Magazine: "In one overwhelmingly black South Memphis ZIP code, 98 percent of children live in poverty and half the households receive less than $9,000 in annual income, with single women heading some 75 percent of those households. African-Americans in Memphis still disproportionately lack access to good education, decent jobs, sufficient health care, adequate housing and other assets which are deemed to be part of the American dream." (Nation Magazine - May 3rd, 2004)

Work remains to be done. Vigilance is necessary. Action is central to maintaining and promoting the hope and promise of Brown v. Topeka. Every day, every moment of our lives, with every encounter, all of us need to be cognizant of our treatment of every human being we meet - treating them as we want to be treated, regardless of their color, race, gender, religion or sexual orientation. At all possible moments and in all facets of our lives, we must promote the principles of equality in our words and actions. And when we encounter bigotry, ignorance and hatred, we must stand tall and and expose such as evil when it reveals itself.

But today, here and now, we acknowledge and celebrate the successes and gains. We commemorate this 50th anniversary of a decision which helped transform race relations in our county, and brought hope and promise to our nation. We honor those who have devoted their lives to change, and whose valor, spirit, and fortitude inspire all of us.

I end with a quote from a Langston Hughes poem called Let America be America Again:

"Oh, yes, I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath -
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain -
All, all the stretch of these great green states -
And make America again!"

Terry Werner was elected to an at-large seat on the City Council in 2001.

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