The White House celebrated the upcoming departure of Eric Holder on Friday night in a ceremony that brought tears to President Barack Obama’s eyes and featured Aretha Franklin literally singing the attorney general’s praises.
“I think about all the young people out there who have seen you work and have been able to get just an innate sense, without knowing you personally, that you’re a good man,” Obama said at the event, which marked the unveiling of Holder’s official portrait, and was held at the Department of Justice. ” And having good men in positions of power and authority, who are willing to fight for what’s right, that’s a rare thing. That’s a powerful thing.”
Holder, who is expected to be replaced by nominee Loretta Lynch, has faced sharp criticism from conservatives and was a polarizing figure for Republicans for his role in high profile and contentious political battles since the start of Obama’s presidency. But as the ceremony showed, he also has staunch defenders.
Obama highlighted his work on immigration, same-sex marriage and protecting voting rights, but it was in talking about the personal impact Holder has had on Americans that Obama grew visibly emotional. Obama described how Holder’s work with “My Brother’s Keeper” – a program dedicated to providing mentorship for young men of color – revealed his passion to make a difference.
In his own comments Holder expressed gratitude to those who shaped his time at the Department of Justice and throughout his life.
“I’m grateful to this great nation who gave a black kid from East Elmhurst, Queens, New York City more support and opportunities than any individual could have hoped for.”
But he also highlighted all that he felt still needed to be accomplished after his departure.
“We still have unfinished business and work to do, reform of our criminal justice system must continue,” Holder said. “The historic wrongs visited upon our native people must be righted. The widening gap of income inequality must be reversed, and in the defense of our nation, we must always adhere – always adhere – to the values that define us.”
As the ceremony came to a close a surprise guest was introduced – Franklin. Walking on stage she embraced Obama and Holder (only the President got a fist bump).
During a brief struggle with the stool behind the podium Obama jumped up to help, “Hold on, queen,” he said.
Franklin sang a rendition of “America the Beautiful” closing with her own tribute to the Attorney General.
“He’s courageous, integrity, a hero, yes he is. He’s a champion, he’s a warrior, yes he is, yes he is.”