Full Text Of President Clinton's Remarks Honoring Little Rock Nine
Sep. 25, 1997, Little, Rock, Ark., Central High School
CLINTON: But let me tell you something else that was true about that time. Before Little Rock, for me and other white children, the struggles of black people, whether we were sympathetic or hostile to them, were mostly background music in our normal, self-absorbed lives. We were all, like you, more concerned about our friends and our lives day in and day out. But then we saw what was happening in our own backyard, and we all had to deal with it. Where did we stand? What did we believe? How did we want to live? It was Little Rock that made racial equality a driving obsession in my life.
Years later, time and chance made Ernie Green my friend. Good fortune brought me to the governor's office, where I did all I could to heal the wounds, solve the problems, open the doors, so we could become the people we say we want to be.
Ten years ago the Little Rock Nine came back to the governor's mansion when I was there. I wanted them to see that the power of office that once had blocked their way now welcomed them. But like so many Americans, I can never fully repay my debt to these nine people. For with their innocence, they purchased more freedom for me, too, and for all white people, people like Hazel Bryan Massery (ph), the angry taunter of Elizabeth Eckford, who stood with her in front of this school this week as a reconciled friend.
And with the gift of their innocence, they taught us that all too often what ought to be can never be for free.
Forty years later, what do you young people in this audience believe we have learned? Well, 40 years later we know that we all benefit, all of us, when we learn together, work together and come together. That is, after all, what it means to be an American. Forty years later. We know, notwithstanding some cynics, that all our children can learn, and this school proves it.
Forty years later, we know when the Constitutional rights of our citizens are threatened, the national government must guarantee them. Talk is fine, but when they are threatened, you need strong laws, faithfully enforced and upheld by independent courts.
Forty years later we know there are still more doors to be opened, doors to be opened wider, doors we have to keep from being shut again now.
Forty years later we know freedom and equality cannot be realized without responsibility for self, family and the duties of citizenship, or without a commitment to building a community of shared destiny, and a genuine sense of belonging.
Forty years later, we know the question of race is more complex and more important than ever, embracing no longer just blacks and whites, or blacks and whites and Hispanics and Native Americans, but now people from all parts of the earth coming here to redeem the promise of America.
Forty years later, frankly, we know we are bound