Payne Co-Hosts Congressional Black Caucus Special Order Hour: “50 Years From Selma: Where We Were, Where We Are, Where We’re Headed”

Last week, Congressman Payne, Jr. joined Congresswoman Robin Kelly in co-hosting the Congressional Black Caucus Special Order Hour. The topic was “50 Years From Selma: Where We Were, Where We Are, Where We’re Headed.” Below are Congressman Payne Jr.’s opening remarks and video:

Mr. Speaker, I ask for unanimous consent that all members be given five days to revise and extend their remarks.

I want to begin by welcoming our new members, and by thanking Congresswoman Marcia Fudge for her leadership of the Congressional Black Caucus during the 113th Congress. Thanks to your dedication and tireless work, this caucus is better positioned to address the diverse challenges of African American communities.

I also want to thank the new CBC Chair Congressman G.K. Butterfield. I am confident you will do a great job leading this caucus with a steadfast commitment to justice and to building an America that works for everyone.

Let me also thank Congresswoman Robin Kelly for joining me in leading the CBC Special Order Hours this year. I am truly honored to take on this new role, and I look forward to working with you as we help carry out the critical mission of this caucus.

Fifty years ago, in the midst of the Civil Rights movement, hundreds of brave men and women gathered in Selma, Alabama to begin a long, arduous march to Montgomery in support of a fundamental truth: that every American, regardless of what they look like, has the right to vote.

On March 7th, 1965, 600 men and women set out from Selma, following the death of 26-year-old Jimmie Lee Jackson, a deacon from Marion, Alabama who died from gunshot wounds inflicted by a state trooper at a non-violent demonstration.

Theirs was a peaceful, nonviolent march—but it was met that day with fierce brutality.

It would take the marchers two more attempts to arrive in Montgomery. But on March 25, after a 12-day journey, they did arrive.

Since that day, our country has made significant strides in achieving equality and justice for all—but significant challenges remain unmet. 

Tonight, we examine where we have come from, where we are, and where we would like to go as a society—where we must go.

In 1965, Selma became the focal point of voter registration efforts. At the time, only 2 percent of the city’s eligible African American voters had been able to register.

The impact of the Selma to Montgomery march was profound: As Dr. King said, “Selma produced the voting rights legislation of 1965.”

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 banned discriminatory voting requirements that disenfranchised African American voters.

And yet today, the dream of full equality is still something many African Americans can only dream of.

Nearly six years after the end of the recession, people still struggle to find work, and the gap between rich and poor continues to grow.

For African Americans, the situation is severe, given the disproportionate effect of unemployment on our communities.

At the same time, there remains widespread poverty, a defining challenge of our time.

This persistent economic inequality threatens to undercut the gains African American communities have made. And it undermines the idea of economic mobility—the idea that with hard work and ambition, you can get ahead.

The economic crisis is not the only crisis facing African American communities.

Education is the most important economic investment we can make now and for future generations.

Yet across the country we have seen cuts to education at all levels, and attacks on critical programs like Head Start and Pell Grants.

These attacks undermine the ability of African Americans to get ahead. That’s why I strongly support President Obama’s new bold initiative for free tuition to community colleges.

So, too, do efforts to dismantle social safety net programs on which our communities depend. These efforts are irresponsible, unjust, and contrary to who we are as Americans.

We also know that efforts to undermine participation in the democratic process are contrary to who we are as a nation. Yet we still see discriminatory voting laws that disproportionately impact African American voters.

Too often, African American voices still go unheard.

This reinforces and breeds deep mistrust been the African American community and those in positions of power, including law enforcement officers.

While the majority of law enforcement officers put their lives on the line in faithfully executing the law and protecting our communities, others resort to excessive, and at times deadly, force.

We saw that in Staten Island, in Cleveland, in Ferguson.

People in all communities deserve to feel that they are safe and protected.

They deserve justice. But when an officer shoots and kills an unarmed teenager and avoids indictment—well, that is a miscarriage of justice.

Black lives matter. But both our law enforcement system and criminal justice system don’t reflect that. 

Now, there is no easy solution to build trust, and we know it won’t happen overnight. But it must happen.

It will require law enforcement and those with power to engage our communities.

Engaging communities has the power to change outcomes. It guarantees that all voices are heard. It lays a foundation for future relationships, for strong communities, and for justice.

It’s an ongoing process, and today, it’s needed more than ever.

And here we see a profound lesson of Selma.

Those who marched set out to secure the blessing of liberty for all Americans. But they knew the fight for justice would not be easily won.

And so, as we pick up the mantle of their fight, we must keep moving forward until all African Americans, all those who have suffered from discrimination and indifference, can realize the American Dream.

We must stand up for justice, fight for change, and not stop until we get it in a peaceful manner.

Fifty years after Selma, the march for justice continues.

Social and economic challenges remain unmet; discrimination persists; and African American voices are still suppressed.

But though these obstacles remain, we stand united, ready to face them.

The Congressional Black Caucus will make criminal justice reform a centerpiece of our agenda.

We will work to reduce the epidemic of poverty in this country.

We will work to create educational opportunities for African American children, and we will support efforts to strengthen our 105 Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

The CBC also remains committed to fighting against efforts to dismantle the social safety net.

We are determined to restore section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, and to make sure everyone, regardless of what they look like or where they come from, has equal access to the polls.

And we are resolved to ensure that the increasing diversity of this nation is reflected in American corporations.

Together, these policies will bring us closer to a nation where empowered African American communities benefit from full equality and live the American Dream.

There is no doubt that we are in a difficult time in this nation—injustices are widespread and threaten some of our most fundamental rights. But we will find no answers in apathy; no comfort in complacency.  

As we always have, we will continue the march for progress; for freedom, justice, and equality for all.