For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
August 24, 2004
Remarks by First Lady Laura Bush and Dr. Spencer Crew at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center Public Dedication
August 23, 2004
9:30 P.M. EDT
MRS. BUSH: Thank you for joining us to dedicate this national treasure, and to honor the lives of those who fought and longed for freedom. (Applause.)
The Underground Railroad was comprised of people bound by a basic belief in freedom and dignity for all. Tonight, we are part of that link -- and we can be the pathway to freedom for those who still long for liberty. While the construction of this center is complete, our cause and the cause of freedom, is not. (Applause.)
DR. CREW: That is why I think of the Freedom Center as a cultural institution of conscience. It must be more than a museum, but a mission. And the Underground Railroad can be a model.
The wonderful Langston Hughes asked so eloquently, vividly and memorably: What happens to a dream deferred?
Slavery deferred dreams. And that was just the start.
We know about the physical hardship endured by slaves. We've read about them. We're taught about them. But all of us here cannot even begin to imagine the psychological, emotional and spiritual devastation of having your very humanity stripped away. In fact, I can think of only one thing worse than knowing that your life simply does not belong to you. And that is that the condition still exists today.
The Emancipation Proclamation made slavery illegal in the United States. But the harsh truth is that slavery survives. As we sit here tonight, around the globe there are still people in shackles. In some places in the world, there are people, including young children, braving the longest hours in the most imaginable pain, in the most unsanitary conditions.
There are innocent people forcefully and brutally taken from their families and their homes; they are denied all of the identity and pride and esteem; they are abused and beaten -- all to serve someone's selfish demands.
Today, the shackles are sometimes made of iron as they were over 150 years ago. But they might also take the form of a deadly disease like AIDS. They may be the religious restraints that forbid far too many women from contributing their full potential. They might be extreme poverty; over one billion people -- including half of the entire population on the African continent -- live on the equivalent of less than $1 a day.
My friends, there are still people in shackles, but we can set them free. Dreams do not have to be deferred. Hope does not have to be destroyed. Futures do not have to be out of reach.
We shall overcome. But until we do -- the train still has passengers to pick up. (Applause.)
MRS. BUSH: The Freedom Center is a source of inspiration on our continuing journey toward freedom for all. This is more than a center of education, more than a memorial of remembrance, or a monument for justice. The Freedom Center is a cornerstone of the American conscience. All who come here will be reminded of the struggle for human rights and the responsibility of all free people to condemn oppression.
Visitors will be reminded that freedom's heroes have their roots not in celebrity but in compassion. Harriet Tubman didn't have a publicist. Cameras were not documenting the life of Frederick Douglass. William Lloyd Garrison didn't establish "The Liberator" for fame or fortune. Harriet Beecher Stowe wasn't driven by a book deal. Those who made up the Underground Railroad were connected by one simple ideal -- they cherished freedom. And because they knew the promise of liberty, they made bringing freedom to others their life's legacy.
Many slaves who escaped to freedom turned around and risked their lives again to lead others out of the darkness. They believed, as James Russell Lowell wrote in his Stanzas on Freedom, "True Freedom is to share all the chains our brothers wear, and with heart and hand, to be earnest to make others free." (Applause.)
DR CREW: That is our challenge, too, to make others free. To become Freedom's Heroes of this day, our day.
Because if we truly cherish freedom, then we must serve as contemporary underground railroad conductors for all of humanity. The journey must go forward wherever the forces of oppression exist, and whenever they exist.
MRS. BUSH: The conductors and passengers of the Underground Railroad remind us of our continuing mission to advance the ideals of freedom. And in their example we recognize three essential values -- values that are symbolized in the three pavilions of the new Freedom Center: courage, cooperation and perseverance.
DR. CREW: In the spirit of courage, freedom's heroes take the first dangerous steps. They speak out, they are corruption's confronters, they expose those who exploit.
In the spirit of cooperation, freedom's heroes find ways to join together, because it is an enduring and profound truth that the world's total is greater than the sum of its parts.
In the spirit of perseverance, freedom's heroes pursue pathways to liberty, usually in the face of stern resistance and overwhelming obstacles. Their struggles may take months, years or decades. But they never, ever give in. In the end, they change their world. And so will we. (Applause.)
MRS. BUSH: The Freedom Center will lead more Americans on a journey that advances freedom and understanding. And it's my hope that all the world's children will learn that there is more hope in the world than hate, there is more opportunity than oppression, and there is more love than loss.
Years ago, slaves escaped to freedom under the darkness of night. Today, we illuminate their struggle and we ensure that their stories and the flame of freedom will be shared with future generations. As we light a thousand candles aglow, we honor the lives of those who fought for freedom, both then and now, and we ensure that their hopes for a better world will never be extinguished. (Applause.)
END 9:38 P.M. EDT