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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
November 20, 2001
President Dedicates Robert F. Kennedy Justice Building
Remarks by the President At Dedication Of the Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice Building
The Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice Building
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all. Please be seated. Joe, thank you for those stirring words. There's nothing quite like the eloquence of a loyal son. I want to welcome you and all your brothers and sisters; and your mom; Senator Kennedy. I want to thank the Attorneys General who are here. I want to thank our current Attorney General. Thank you for being here, Director. I want to thank the members of the Congress who are here; the Senators and members of the House of Representatives for coming, both Republicans and Democrats. I want to thank Administrator Perry; ladies and gentlemen.
I'm so very pleased to be with you in giving this building a great American name. Seventy-nine Americans have held the title of Attorney General, and 25 of them worked in this building. But in the history of this department, and in the memory of our country, we hold a special place for Robert Francis Kennedy. (Applause.)
He first worked here 50 years ago, as Joe said. Just out of law school at the University of Virginia, he reported here every morning to the Criminal Division. He was 26, married, the father of one; a baby girl who is now the Lieutenant Governor of the State of Maryland. (Applause.)
Ahead of him were many more accomplishments and a lot more children. (Laughter.) There's no doubt in my mind that he would look upon his sons and daughters and his grandkids with such incredible pride.
America first saw him and heard his voice in the mid-'50s, when he was Minority Counselor to the Senate committee investigating organized crime. There was something about him that no one could miss, an intense intelligence present, a voice that could quiet a room. As a friend has remembered him, Robert Kennedy was not a hard man, but he was a tough man. He valued bluntness and precision and truth. Those under investigation learned those qualities firsthand.
In the eyes of John F. Kennedy, no man ever had a more faithful brother. During his presidential campaign, he said, I don't know what Bobby does, but it always seems to turn out right. We are told that after the election the younger brother wasn't sure he wanted to join the Cabinet, and he said so to the President-elect. Robert tried to make the case explaining why he should not become attorney general. There was no reply. The President-elect simply left the room, and casually returned a few minutes later to say, so that's it, General. Let's go. (Laughter.)
To this day, visitors to the West Wing, seeing the Rose Garden and the Colonnade, instantly think of the pictures of the two brothers together. And from this day, his birthday, everyone who enters this building or passes by will think of Robert F. Kennedy and what he still means to this country.
He was not our longest-serving Attorney General; yet none is more fondly remembered. And few have filled their time here with so much energy or seen events of such consequence. He was at his brother's side during the 13 days in October, 1962, where he was firm, and discerning, and calm.
In this building, he set to work on what would become The Civil Rights Act of 1964. Here, he gave the orders sending 500 U.S. Marshals to protect the Freedom Riders. He stood for racial desegregation. And to those on the other side of the issue, he said this: "My belief doesn't matter. It's the law. Some of you may believe the decision was wrong. That doesn't matter. It is the law."
With us today are some of the people who worked for our 64th Attorney General, each of whom counts it as an experience of a lifetime. They still look up to him. Time has done nothing to weaken their loyalty to the valiant and idealistic man they knew and followed. Robert Kennedy was a serious man, concerned with serious things. And he loved his friends. He was a strong man who understood weakness, a man who knew privilege, but also suffering. He fought to gain power, chose to use it in the defense of the powerless.
To millions who never knew him, he's still an example of kindness and courage. America today is passing through a time of incredible testing. And as we do so, we admire even more the spirit of Robert Kennedy, a spirit that tolerates no injustice and fears no evil. That's how this country sees him.
But today and every November 20th, a large and loving family thinks of the dad they miss. Some of you know your way around this building because he brought you here. As Joe said, the Attorney General's conference room was then his office and a playroom. And as the photos displayed here make it clear, he also enjoyed one of my favorite perks of office -- you get to bring your dog to work. (Laughter.)
Of all that he left behind, nothing brings Robert Kennedy more clearly to mind than his good wife. In the first year of their marriage, he recorded his feelings by quoting the book of Ruth: "Whither thou goest, I will go, and we will be together forever."
For 33 years, Ethel Kennedy has walked with grace and dignity, faithful to God and to the memory of her husband. Any tribute to Robert Kennedy must also be a tribute to Mrs. Robert Kennedy. (Applause.) She shares in all his achievements. She's added many of her own. Mrs. Kennedy, America honors you as well.
This great building, and all who work here, serve the public in the cause of justice. It now bears the name of a good and decent man, truly devoted to justice. On behalf of the people of the United States, I proudly dedicate the Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice Building. (Applause.)
END 3:06 P.M. EST