KEYNOTE EVENT: FREEDOM TO SERVE
July 28, 2023 at 6:45PM ET
Welcome — David Von Drehle, Washington Post Columnist
Sponsor’s Message — Theodore (Ted) Colbert III, Boeing
Truman Library Director Kurt Graham
Archivist Colleen Shogan
Remarks — Adm. Michelle Howard
Remarks — Adm. Linda Fagan
Keynote Welcome — The Hon. Emanuel Cleaver II
Introduction of President Biden — The Hon. James Clyburn
Truman Civil Rights Symposium Address — President Joe Biden
Closing Remarks — Alex Burden, Executive Director, Truman Library Institute
Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome David Von Drehle, columnist for The Washington Post. [Applause]
David Von Drehle:
It is my honor to serve on the board of the Truman Library Institute, the nonprofit partners of the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum, and organizers of the Truman Civil Rights Symposium. I’m delighted on behalf of the Institute to welcome you to the symposium’s keynote address.
Some four years ago when the idea for this symposium hit me, while I was mowing the lawn, I was convinced that a commemoration of the 75th anniversary of these historic executive orders was about much more than just Harry Truman. He was not much for hero worship. “Do your duty,” Truman said, “And history will do you justice.”
Instead, our purpose has been threefold. First, to honor and learn about the patriotic, self-sacrificing service of millions of men and women from the earliest days of our history who sought to advance and improve a nation that, in spite of their service, oppressed them. Second, to examine the power of their example in motivating one American leader, the unlikely grandson of slave owners, to do his duty and turn his power as president in the direction of justice. Third, to take a lesson from women and men who met the challenge of this new opportunity, and thereby point us today to our new tests, to our nation’s new needs, and to the world’s new horizons.
What I could not envision behind my lawnmower was the extraordinary generosity measured in time, talent, and treasure that would be needed to make this symposium a reality. The first email went to my childhood friend and longtime hero, Admiral Michelle Howard, whose reputation then opened every door and whose effort, even while she was serving the nation as chair of the National Base Naming Commission, was tireless on our behalf. The same is true of our honorary co-chairs, Representatives Emanuel Cleaver and James Clyburn, and of the other honorary committee members, including those who are with us tonight, US District Judge Richard Gergel, Brigadier General Donald Scott, and Ambassador John Estrada.
Our Planning Committee taxed personal networks and expertise to conceive and create these fascinating and moving programs we’ve been enjoying last night, today, and tomorrow morning. Our stellar cast of presenters spans such breadth of knowledge and experience, and yet they all share the common trait that we’ve paid them only in our gratitude. Our presenting partners allowed us to meet in the nation’s most magnificent venues, the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, and tonight at the National Archives, where we’re hosted by Dr. Colleen Shogan, Archivist of the United States.
There was the tireless and committed staff of the Truman Library Institute. It’s a small staff, but big in spirit. We’ve been supported by the enthusiastic and energetic institute board, and by our federal partners at the library and museum. The list goes on and on. I’ll name only a few more. Because it’s not possible to do this without money, I’ll mention our donors: our Kansas City friends led by CPKC, Leigh and Tyler Nottberg Family Foundation, Ann Baum of the G. Kenneth and Ann Baum Philanthropic Fund, Jan and Tom Kreamer, Holland 1916, Kristen and Don Trigg, Cheryl and Billy Geffon, M. Jeannine Strandjord, and finally, our partners at the Boeing Company.
It was several years ago that we went on our capital campaign and approached Boeing for the first time. There was no relationship there, and we didn’t know what we might be able to expect. Not only did Boeing agree to sponsor a new civil rights display at our $30 million modernized museum, which we hope you’ll all come and see if you haven’t, in Independence, Missouri. They pushed us to do more, and it is as much their spirit of encouragement as our spirit of determination that allows us to be together today. They have been excellent partners. When they said yes, I knew this would be possible. Without another word from me, I present the president and CEO of Boeing Defense, Space, and Security, Ted Colbert. [Applause]
Theodore Colbert III:
Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. We have so many distinguished guests in the room. I just like to welcome you. They’re entirely too many to name, but I’ll say welcome once again to everyone. On behalf of my 150,000 teammates at the Boeing Company, it is an honor to support the Truman Civil Rights Symposium and commemorate the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9981.
Tonight, we are here at the National Archives, the place that houses the Charters of Freedom, the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, and of course, the Bill of Rights. The truth is, when these documents of democracy were written, the liberties they created to protect did not apply to all Americans. Despite serving in every American conflict since the Revolutionary War, African American freedoms, even their freedoms while fighting and protecting our nation, were not, in fact, actually equal.
That said, when President Truman signed Executive Order 9981 on July 26th, 1948, abolishing discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, or national origin in the United States Armed Forces, he created enduring change. The first line reads, “Whereas it is essential that there be maintained in the armed services of the United States the highest standards of democracy, with equality of treatment and opportunity for all those who serve in our country’s defense.” The signing of this order marked a crucial moment in the civil rights movement, and we have come a long way.
Fast forward 75 years and there’s still work for us all to do together. At Boeing, our dear company, we acknowledge the toll that systemic racism and social injustice have had on people of color, particularly the Black communities here in the United States. We also believe that actions are much, much stronger than words when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion. We must act, as Truman did, to address the gaps in treatment and opportunity in our country through a mix of grants and sponsorship events just like this one, and employee giving across our company. We are focused on education equality in the United States, and diversifying the aerospace talent pipeline around the world.
Boeing partners with historically Black colleges and universities through organizations like the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, and external technical affiliates like the National Society of Black Engineers, the Black Engineer of the Year, the Women of Color in Technology, to name just a few. Since 2018, we’ve quadrupled our intern hiring through our HBCU partners, and extended the company’s reach to more than 6,500 HBCU students in the country. [Applause] We’re also proud to partner with the National Archives, supporting plans to permanently display the Emancipation Proclamation in the Rotunda, alongside the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. [Applause]
All of us at Boeing are committed to creating a more equitable, diverse, and inclusive workplace, and in turn driving change that will lead to a more equitable and inclusive society. Diversity is a force multiplier. When you create an environment where we can all show up every day, every day as our authentic selves and contribute to a mission, you just can’t lose.
I am proud, very, very proud and privileged to serve as the first Black CEO of Boeing Defense, Space, and Security, and I’m grateful for all the African American engineers, scientists, mechanics, and electricians that came before me and worked diligently to solve the hardest challenges facing our industry. In order to be the first, you must build on hundreds and thousands of other firsts that have come before you.
With Executive Order 9981, President Truman was the first to use his executive power to implement a civil rights policy, and we ought to be proud of that. Collectively, when you step back and reflect on all these firsts, you see this momentum of change. So, I’d like to finish by saying thank you again to the Truman Library Institute for bringing us all together this evening to continue that momentum. Let’s get on to the next first together. Thank you. [Applause]
Please welcome Dr. Kurt Graham, director of the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum. [Applause]
Good evening. When Alex Burden and I set out to reimagine the Truman Library, under the direction of then Board Chairman John Sherman, we always said the physical renovation would be followed by a national and international programmatic thrust. Well, here we are.
Remarkably, our title sponsor for this event, the Boeing Company, also underwrote the civil rights gallery in our newly renovated museum exhibits. Sherry is out here somewhere. I wanted to call her out and thank her for those conversations and for that original gift. Thank you for your generosity and for that display of corporate responsibility.
I wanted to underscore one thing David Von Drehle said as well. He glossed over it, but this entire symposium was his idea and his idea alone. He called me and Alex two years ago and said, “We need to do something big around deseg in 2023.” His vision, his passion, and connections have made all of this happen. David is not simply a Kansas City treasure. He is a national treasure who happens to live in Kansas City. David, thank you for your commitment to what we like to call the Truman business. [Applause]
Eight years ago today, I went to work for the first time as the director of the Truman Presidential Library and Museum. Happy anniversary. I think there are some flowers or chocolates or some around here somewhere. We’ll get to that momentarily. I had no way of knowing then that what sounded like kind of a cool job would become the honor of my professional life: to represent the legacy of one of our nation’s greatest statesmen, a man I have come to appreciate, as if a personal friend.
Earlier this week, chairman of our board, Pat Ottensmeyer, and I had the privilege of addressing the captain and crew of the USS Harry S. Truman, as part of the 25th anniversary celebrating her commissioning. As I spoke to the sailors assembled on a flight deck of that massive aircraft carrier, I looked out into that sea of faces, the face of America. It was Black. It was White. It was Asian, Hispanic. It was Native American. It was male and female. Everyone was there. I realized that they were all there because 75 years ago a farmer from Missouri said, enough, because this most unlikely champion of civil rights affirmed that when I say all Americans, I mean all Americans. So it is that we are here to celebrate Harry Truman as well we should.
We also celebrate those who paid a personal price for the freedom we enjoy, a freedom propelled by pluralism and rooted in firsts: the first Black man on a submarine, the first African American woman to enter the naval nuclear program, the first Black jet fighter pilot, the first African American female four-star Admiral. The list goes on and on. Some of these firsts are shockingly recent. Many of these pioneering soldiers and sailors faced racial ridicule and bullying. To claim their rightful place, they had to overcome being berated and belittled. Those who went before them, those who would have been first, those who were denied their place were beaten, blinded, and in some cases killed.
As Judge Gergel and Congressman Clyburn so eloquently reminded us last night, human progress does not stop in the face of tragedy. Setbacks can, at times, serve as a catalyst for change. Isaac Woodard lost his sight that Harry Truman might see. His eyes were put out that ours might be open, that we might see all Americans. This symposium is more than a celebration of past progress. It is a reminder that every generation must make the conscious choice to defend the rights of all Americans. President Truman made that conscious choice in his time. Today, our current president will soon stand right here to recognize the ongoing relevance of that critical decision. It is appropriate that this happened here at the National Archives, the parent agency of the Presidential Library system.
I am delighted that the newly confirmed archivist is here to extend her personal welcome. Dr. Colleen Shogan is the 11th Archivist of the United States, the first woman, and by my standard the first scholar to hold this position. She holds a PhD from Yale University, has published extensively on the presidency, and I’m very excited about the kinds of things, things like this, that will be accomplished under her leadership. Will you please join me in welcoming to the stage Dr. Colleen Shogan. [Applause]
Good evening and welcome to the National Archives. We’re thrilled to be part of this important celebration commemorating the 75th anniversary of President Truman’s executive orders desegregating the armed forces and the federal workforce.
Let me tell you a little bit about the National Archives and Records Administration known to many as NARA. Our mission is to preserve and protect the nation’s records, and make them accessible so that all Americans can understand history. By doing this, we enable citizens to hold our government accountable, and engage in our democracy as informed participants.
To give you an idea of our breadth, the holdings in the National Archives include 13 and a half billion, that’s billion as in B, pages of textual records, and tens of millions of maps, charts, drawings, photographs, and films. Close to 300 million of those records are in digital format, and you can access them online at archives.gov anytime.
Now, as Kurt said, I’m a scholar of the presidency and executive power. Because of that background, I strongly believe that the comprehensive study of our shared American history brings us together and strengthens our democratic ideals. I think it’s very fitting that we’re talking about Harry Truman today at the National Archives, because Harry Truman was a great student of history. When he was about 10 years old, his mother gave him a blackboard. On the backside of that blackboard, there were short biographies of all the presidents up until that time. Truman later reflected that reading those short sketches of presidents ignited his love of learning about the history of our country.
That’s a really amazing story to me. Harry Truman certainly didn’t know it at the time, but his blackboard was the very early version of our presidential library system. While our collection of federal records makes the National Archives and Records Administration the largest archive in the world, many citizens learn about American history through our presidential libraries. These 15 institutions situated across the United States give everyone a chance to see, hear, and learn about the various historical eras of our nation’s past.
It’s no surprise, given my background, I’m a big fan. I’ve got my presidential library passport right here. Okay. You should get one too. In less than two weeks, I’ll have another stamp on my passport when I visit the Harry Truman Presidential Library in Independence, Missouri.
I’m pleased we’re partnering this evening with the Truman Library Institute, one of our great nonprofit foundations, which supports NARA Presidential Libraries. I want to extend a special welcome to all of the foundation’s staff, board members, and donors, who recently invested over $30 million in the renovation of the Truman Library, and I can’t wait to see it. Our ability to share this important history with the American public could not happen without the dedication and generosity of foundations like this one. So, thank you.
I also want to give a special welcome to the history and social studies teachers from the Kansas City region who have come to Washington for this symposium. As the Archivist of the United States, I welcome every opportunity to engage with teachers to foster civic education and awareness of our democratic principles.
Thank you again for visiting us this evening. I’ll leave you with a very famous Harry Truman quote, which I like to repeat to myself from time to time. “Do your best, and history will do the rest.” Have a great evening. [Applause]
Please welcome Admiral Michelle Howard. [Applause]
Adm. Michelle Howard:
Admiral, why do you get the stepstool? Well, I wanted to have them make all of you kneel, but they said no. No, that’s not appropriate. Everyone, good evening. Good evening to this wonderful event and commemoration. This is a year of multiple anniversaries. What I don’t want to be lost is that, in the year of the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9981, this is the 75th anniversary of the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act, signed out in June of 1948. [Applause]
It’s as if in one seminal year, President Truman’s signature on EO 9981 and the Armed Forces Integration Act brought to life Frederick Douglass’ words about the equality of men and womankind. He was adamant, and he used to say this all the time, “Right is of no sex, and truth is of no color.” How did we get there, especially with the women? Those seeds were in World War II. If I may, you’re going to have to allow me to be parochial and just talk about the Navy and the WAVES. I don’t want to miss out on the SPARS, the WACs, and the Women Marines, but this is my history.
The women of World War II who volunteered, all of them provided their talents willingly, but there are some stalwarts. For me, one of them was Grace Hopper, first woman to get a doctorate from Yale in mathematics. As soon as the war broke out, she tried to get in. She didn’t weigh enough, so they refused her. She argued her way in and was put on top of Harvard University to work on the first computing programs. She, when she left the Navy, went on to become the inventor of COBOL. If you haven’t met Dr. Hopper, you probably have met her in some ways. This is the woman who invented the words, “there’s a bug in the machine.”
So, scientists, healers, instructors, women were allowed to volunteer and serve, but for my Navy, not African American women. That didn’t happen till the end of the war. Mildred McAfee was the head of the WAVES. She and the Secretary of the Navy, Knox, were at odds. She wanted to bring women in, but she did not want to bring them segregated. He didn’t want to bring in any African Americans. We were the last service to bring in African Americans and to make them officers.
It literally took the death of Knox and a new Secretary of the Navy for Mildred McAfee to get her way, and she brought in the first African American women as WAVES and made them part of the officer corps that she created. It’s because of her that we have some stalwart leaders both in the officer and enlisted, and I will tell you about one, Edna Shannon Young from Tennessee, who when the war started would walk down the street of her small hometown, look at the American flag, and want to do something for her country. So, as soon as Mildred McAfee got the law changed, she was in. She became a yeoman, and she was fantastic at it.
So, when the Armed Forces Integration Act was passed in June of 1948, 75 years later this month, in July of 1948 Edna Shannon Young enlisted as one of the first six women to enlist in the Navy as active duty. There’s this fantastic picture of her and the other women raising their right hand and swearing the oath. So, this great work of all these women has to be put in the idea that they were volunteers. Women have never been conscripted in any of our wars. We talk about the all-volunteer force. What we don’t talk about is the always volunteer force of the American woman, and everything she has done for our country. It took Truman and Congress to recognize those contributions and allow women the opportunity to continue to serve, and to protect our country and the Constitution.
Thomas Paine, in his famous pamphleteer Common Sense, starts off in this preface with this idea, “Time makes more converts than reason.” What he’s saying is that you can have logical discourse, you can have the best of arguments, but it’s generally those experiences that you gain over time that changes your mind, that allows you to absorb the biggest of culture change. It was revolutionary talk from a revolutionary man, but since the signing of Executive Order 9981 and the Women’s Armed Forces Integration Act, time has made more converts of all of us.
The recent Iraq and Afghanistan wars highlighted that women and people of color can serve as ably as any other citizen. I was delighted when I was a four-star to read a quote from an NCO on the ground in Afghanistan. The reporter was pushing him on the potential inadequacy of some of his comrades, and Sergeant Vetterkine said this, “There is no female soldier. There is no male soldier. Out here, our sex is soldier.”
President Truman set the conditions that allowed us through love of service, love of our country, and devotion to the Constitution. He set the stage so that we the people are now all of the people. Truly a man who created common sense for our age. Thank you. [Applause] [Pause]
Please welcome Admiral Linda Fagan, 27th Commandant of the United States Coast Guard. [Applause]
Adm. Linda Fagan:
Good evening. Good evening, distinguished guests. I just want to thank Admiral Michelle Howard for her courage and trailblazing for all of us. What an incredible example she has been to women and all of us who are currently serving in the service. [Applause]
Thank you for the opportunity to share a little perspective on President Truman’s leadership in 1948, and the signing as we integrated the armed services and brought women into the service. It is remarkable to be here at the National Archives to reflect on the birth of our nation, the meaning of the foundational documents that reside here in this great building as we continue our journey towards achieving the ideals of equality that were written down more than 247 years ago. The United States military has progressed on that journey. We continue to progress on that journey, just as the rest of America continues to lead the way forward.
President Truman’s executive order in 1948, all of the executive orders were important, an important way point on that journey. The integration of the armed services, the federal civil service, and women into the force affirm the right of all people, all people to serve their nation as equals. His courageous leadership laid the foundation for subsequent advances in civil rights throughout American society, and created a stronger and more capable military to protect our national security. As I’ve reflected at a number of the commemorations this week, I don’t believe I would stand here as the 27th Commandant of the United States Coast Guard if it were not for his courage to begin the journey forward that allowed me to realize that opportunity when I went to the Coast Guard Academy in the 1980s.
Today, our service members are our most valuable military resource. Even in an age of rapidly changing technology, our strong defense, our nation’s defense depends on our people. For the Coast Guard and the other military services, our challenge is to continue to adapt to that rapidly changing world with constantly evolving threats. We trained to execute traditional missions, just as the risk and the environment we execute those missions in continues to rapidly evolve. We must be truly ready for anything.
A recent example of this challenge has played out in the news just a few weeks ago, where the Coast Guard led an international search and rescue effort for the crew of the submersible Titan. It was a first in our service’s history, a search and rescue case executed nearly 1,000 miles offshore, looking for an object almost three miles underwater. This is not something we have trained to do, or we have even thought about needing to do. Yet, as complex and unprecedented as that mission was, our people rose to the challenge.
It demanded them to collaborate with people of different backgrounds from many different communities in the science community and international communities. It called for creativity, not conformity. It required every person to challenge their assumptions, think differently, and contribute to that mission. The success was a result of the diversity of the team that was enabling that search and rescue.
In a complex and unpredictable global security landscape, diverse and inclusive-led teams outperform non-diverse teams. It is a fact that diversity brings readiness, resiliency, and creativity to teams. To succeed in future challenges that the Coast Guard and the entire US military will confront, we must harness the experiences and perspectives of every member of our workforce. Our workforce must reflect the great diversity of the nation we serve. We must create a climate where all are welcomed and valued. Diversity in all of its meanings creates strength, resiliency, and a ready workforce and team.
President Truman understood that the strength of our military is drawn from the strength of our entire nation, and he built that understanding through his own military service leading soldiers in combat during the First World War, and as president as he made the decision that brought World War II to a conclusion and laid the groundwork for the international order that we still rely on today. He knew the United States would require a strong military, and he knew what was necessary to build that strong military for the nation.
In his own words, as written in Executive Order 9981, “It is essential that there be maintained in the armed services of the United States the highest standards of democracy, with equality of treatment and opportunity for all those who serve in our country’s defense.” Those words were true in 1948, and they are true today. Thank you for the opportunity to share some perspective with you this evening. Thank you for supporting the United States Coast Guard and the United States military. Thank you. [Applause]
Please remain in your seats. The program will continue momentarily. [Music] [Pause]
Emanuel Cleaver II:
Good evening. As the member of Congress, representing Independence, Missouri, Harry Truman’s home. I spent a lot of time over the years just thinking about President Truman’s legacy. When people think about Harry Truman, some remember his defense of democracy. Some remember his fair deal in the face of economic uncertainty. Tonight, we’ll all remember his humanity in the face of discrimination. When I think of Harry Truman, I’m also reminded of Joe Biden, who joins us here tonight. Well, when I think about Harry Truman, I’m reminded that there are a lot of similarities. Both men came from working class backgrounds, and they used grit and determination to ascend to the presidency. They were drawn to public service, not by ego but the need to go. They swore they’re oaths as Americans and they lived as Americans. During their time, mothers, fathers, sons and daughters found themselves in a global war. Now generations may divide but decency unites Truman and Biden. President Biden’s commitment to the working class, affordable education and social equality embodies President Truman’s view of the fair deal, and it calls us to build back better. You never heard that term before? [Laughter] I’m creative. [Laughter] Reading today’s newspaper will no doubt remind us that President Truman’s wisdom is needed as much today, as it was in 1947. Too often, my colleagues turn to Scripture without realizing their own hypocrisy. Blessed are the poor in spirit unless they need some income assistance. Blessed are those who mourn unless they are saying Black Lives Matter. Blessed are the meek unless they’re gay, trans-female, black, or brown. Blessed be the leader whose spirit can do both things. Thank you for joining us tonight. When I think about the short program tonight and the President being here with us, reminds me of my grandpa, almost anything will. My grandpa was a great preacher, and he would have his grandchildren sitting in front, and he had a cane. So, we knew what that meant. One Sunday, Grandpa stood up as he did every Sunday for the offering, and the ushers came down, got the plates, many of you who are in Protestant churches, you’ve seen it. They go out and pass the tray. They brought the tray down to the front for the blessing of the offering, and grandpa said, “Get it out of here,” and everybody looks quizzical. “I said get it out of here. Get those plates out of here right now.” So, they turned around to leave and one of them had enough gumption. He turned around and said, “Pastor Cleaver, why do you want us to get out of here?” He said, “Because it’s tainted. This is a tainted offering,” and they said, “What do you mean it’s tainted?” He said, “It ain’t enough.” [Laughter] President Truman and President Biden realized it ain’t enough to just go into the Oval Office. You got to do something. Jim Clyburn, my friend, realized that it ain’t enough to just get oneself elected. You have to help get somebody else elected, and so remember, Truman, Biden, ain’t enough.
Thank you. Thank you very much. I hope I’m enough. Good evening to all of you, and thank you for joining this. As we gather to celebrate the civil rights legacy of the 33rd President of these United States. I spent a great deal of my 30-plus years in Congress, reflecting upon the consequences of Harry Truman’s presidency and its impact on our nation’s pursuit of a more perfect union. President Truman’s heritage would suggest that he would be an unlikely champion for civil rights. He grew up in a segregated town in Missouri, in a family of slave owners and among friends who were adherence to white supremacy, but when he learned of the fate that had befallen Sergeant Isaac Woodard, Jr., a decorated Black World War II veteran, who upon being honorably discharged, was traveling home to Winnsboro, South Carolina. President Truman experienced a Saul to Paul transformation. Sergeant Woodard while proudly wearing his uniform adorned with combat ribbons had been brutally attacked and intentionally blinded by police officers in Batesburg, South Carolina. When he heard of the incident, President Truman is reported to have exclaimed, “My God, I had no idea. It was as terrible as that. We have got to do something.” He followed that exclamation by stepping outside his comfort zone and becoming the first president to address the national conference of the NAACP, signing Executive Orders 9980 and 9981, which desegregated the Armed Forces and the federal workforce, and appointing the first federal commission to address the issue of equal treatment and fair play. In short, he shaped a more perfect union. Tonight, 75 years and 13 administrations later, we are honored to have with us another president who is not afraid to step outside of his comfort zone. Not unlike Truman, our 46th president, Joseph Robinette Biden is constantly underestimated by the pundit class. According to them, he could not win the presidency. The headlines were not all that different. From that iconic headline, “Dewey defeats Truman,” in the November 3, 1948 edition of the Chicago Tribune. Like Truman, Joe Biden has proved the naysayers wrong. When he came into office, prognosticators opined that it would take years to regain the jobs and economic footing lost during once-in-a-century Coronavirus pandemic and an inept response. President Biden responded with the American rescue plan that puts shots in arms, reopened schools and cut child poverty in half. It spurred and it started an equitable economic recovery. The bipartisan infrastructure law that provides long overdue funding to repair roads and bridges, provide much needed public transit and high-speed rail makes the largest investment in clean drinking water in American history, and help ensure every American has access to affordable high-speed internet. The CHIPS and Science Act that is bringing semiconductor manufacturing back to American soil and creating regional tech hubs to ensure Silicon Valley’s prosperity will be shared across the country. The Inflation Reduction Act, which includes historic investment in clean energy manufacturing and takes on big pharma to bring the cost of insulin and other prescription drugs down. The Safer Communities Act, to tighten the loopholes in background checks for firearm purchases and break the cycle of violence through crime prevention and mental health treatment investments. The PACT Act upholds our sacred commitment to our veterans by expanding healthcare screenings, assistance for our Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and surviving families impacted by toxic exposure. The past, ah PACT you, [Laughter] but the PACT Act does something else. It went back and grabbed those Vietnam veterans who did not get proper assessments, and I’ve talked to several in my congressional district, who said to me that when the PACT Act pass, that benefits meant from 15% and 20% up to 95% and 100%. Now, President Biden was doing all of this by implementing $116 million in student loan debt forgiveness for 3.4 million borrowers and then bending the long arc of the moral universe towards justice by fulfilling a campaign promise that shocked the prognosticators when he made it, putting the first black woman on our highest court in the country. President Biden has repeatedly stepped outside of his comfort zone and deliver for the American people because of his wisdom, courage, and determination, unemployment is at a 50-year low. 13.2 million new jobs have been created and consumer confidence is high and rising. For the first time in generations, we are bringing manufacturing jobs back to America, and last month, the economy grew 2.4% exceeding expectations and inflation dropped to 3%. In short, Bidenomics is working and the American people are beginning to respond because of his temperament, temerity, and tenacious nit, Joe Biden has restored our nation’s preeminence around the world and rejuvenated the American people. Ladies and gentlemen, it is my great honor to present the 46th President of the United States of America, Joe Biden.
Thank you. Please, please be seated. You know, I had an opportunity to meet members of the Truman Board, and we’re talking about all that Harry Truman did. I was reminded, and I’m going to send the Truman Library a copy of it. My grandpa was an Irishman named Ambrose Finnegan, and I lived in Scranton till the economy just drew down and there was no work. My dad was a salesperson, and we moved down to Delaware – Claymont, Delaware. We go home all the time to Scranton. One day, I was back in Scranton and a lot of my friends, I moved there to Delaware when I was in third grade, but we’ve been home a lot. We still call Scranton home. We were up there on St. Patrick’s Day, when I was 14 years old and I was standing on the corner watching everybody go by they’re going to the event. Harry Truman was a speaker at the Truman dinner that year, and the sort of the David Broder of the Scranton Times was a guy named Tommy Phillips who was elderly man, younger than me, but elderly man, who was the chief political reporter, and they got a picture. I hadn’t thought about on long time but I’ll send it over to the library, of me at 14 years old standing in the corner, and it was a warm day for February. I’m standing in the corner long sleeve shirt with my buddies. President Truman was coming around the corner, coming over Dimmick Avenue and he was in a convertible. Purely by accident, I assume it was an accident, that photographer from a newspaper got a picture of me making eye contact with Harry Truman. I’m sure a lot of people made eye contact with him, but I was looking and you can see in the photograph, we’re looking at one another eye to eye, and that’s when this Tommy Phillips, the David Broder of the day in Scranton wrote, “That’s when Joe Biden knew he was going to be president.” [Laughter] I knew I was going to be president when Jim Clyburn went ahead and endorsed me. That’s when I knew I was going to be president. Thank you, Jim. It’s a great honor to be here tonight, and I mean that sincerely. Summer 1918, First World War, train moves through the outskirts of Paris. An American army captain rides alongside an all-white regiment heading to the front lines. A son of a slave state, the grandson of slave owners, Captain Harry S. Truman looked through his glasses toward the bloodstained soil of the Second Battle of the Marne that ended just a few months before. It was a pivotal victory led by the vital part of America’s 369th Infantry Regiment, the Harlem Hellfighters, an all-black regiment that spent 191 days on the front, longer than any unit of its size in history, a link in the distinguished line of ancestors and descendants of enslaved and free, risking their lives in every war since our founding for ideals they hadn’t fully known on American soil, equality and freedom. A fearless captain, on a consecrated battlefield in a segregated military, a snapshot in time in the work of all time to redeem the soul of America, which we’re still struggling to do. Representatives Clyburn and Cleaver, the German families and leader of the Truman Institute, distinguished guests, my fellow Americans, I speak to you tonight, not from a battlefield but from another sacred place, the National Archives, home of timeless words that point to our North Star, a light for the dreams and the pains of centuries of enslaved people in America. An idea once the most simple and most powerful idea in the history of the world, that we’re all created equal, endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights and to deserve to be treated with equality, not just the beginning, but throughout our lives. A covenant, a covenant we made each other so central to who we are and were enshrined in our Declaration of Independence. We hold these truths to be self-evident. Our constitution, we the people, our Bill of Rights, with the freedom of religion, speech, press assembly, and more, all safeguarded in this hallowed place. History requires us to acknowledge, but we’ve never fully lived up to the promise of America, capturing the essence of these documents, but our aspiration is to be a more perfect union and ensure that we never fully walk away from it either. Just like the Army Captain who became President of the United States of America walk toward our North Star when he signed Executive Order that Jim mentioned, 9981, that desegregated the United States Armed Forces July 26, 1948, 75 years as of yesterday. Harry Truman, born in Missouri, family and community embraced the Confederate sympathies, but savage violence and venom toward black veterans and the power of the Civil Rights Movement changed his mind and his heart. Guided by a prayer, he memorized as a child and the prayer went like this, “Oh, Almighty and everlasting God, Creator of heaven, earth and universe, help me to be, to think, to act what is right because it is right.” That was a prayer he memorized. History says he spoke to. When the time came. Harry Truman did what the very American thing. He rose to the occasion, and he chose to do right. The American military had been segregated since our founding, yet hundreds of thousands, hundreds of thousands of people of color, men and women still courageously served with love of country that often didn’t love them back. They served in a revolutionary war, declaring independence from a king only to be enslaved by a master. You protected the Union in the Civil War, only to face this Union under Jim Crow. They sacrificed during two World Wars, fighting against autocracy only to be denied the freedom of their own democracy. They’re patriots, like the Buffalo Soldiers, legends for their valor in combat; the Tuskegee Airmen, flying more than 15,000 sorties in the battle; Native Americans serving in our military at the highest rate of any demographic and nearly five times the national average; Hispanic Americans like those of the 65th Infantry Regiment, helping liberate a Nazi concentration camp and protect allied roads and airfields and post; Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders, like the 4th and 42nd Regimental Combat Team, liberated Europe, a team that included one of my dearest closest friends and a mentor of mine when I got here as a 29-year-old kid, the late Senator Danny Inouye, who served in the Senate with another friend, a great Hawaiian veteran, the late Senator Daniel Akaka. The list goes on, including rank and file cooks, custodian secretaries, mailman, too often overlooked and forgotten, but made it work. Yet, when these veterans came home, they were still denied equal opportunity and housing, education, jobs, even marriage. Families held in incarceration camps. Many of them denied the benefits of the GI Bill because the states, the states put up barriers to be able to collect that GI benefit, and targeted in racist violence that was callous, and all too often, casual and common. Let me take you back to 1946. Jim already spoke to this, February, South Carolina. Sergeant Isaac Woodard, a decorated Black World War II veteran, saw three years of war in the Pacific, returning home to finally see his family, asked the bus driver to stop so he could use the restroom. Instead, the driver called the police. On arrival, a cops pulled him off the bus while he was still in uniform, beat him so badly, they permanently blinded him. Beat him so badly, they blinded him when he was in his uniform. I’m still astounded by the cruelty and viciousness. Sergeant Woodard reunited with his family, but he could never look into their eyes again. Five months later, July in Georgia, Army Veteran George Dorsey who spent five years the Pacific, home with his wife for just 10 months, they’re driving with his brother-in-law and sister who was seven months pregnant when a white mob attacked them, pulled them from the car and fired 60 shots, 60, 60 shots at close range, leaving their bodies barely identifiable. My God, how sick. It’s unbelievable what racism fueled by ignorance can unleash in this country. The next month, August 1946, in response to similar acts of racist terror, a 17-year-old college student wrote a letter to the Atlantic constitution. Here’s what he said. He said, “We want and are entitled to the basic rights and opportunities every American citizen.” That was a college student at Morehouse College. His name was Martin Luther King, Jr., but a young King wasn’t the only person awakened. A president was awakened as well. Harry Truman felt a moral imperative to respond to the mistreatment of black veterans. He heard their calls for a double victory, to win freedom abroad and at home. He felt the urgency from civil rights leaders like A. Philip Randolph and the NAACP. An unlikely character in the Civil Rights story of America, Harry Truman set his sights on our North Star. He created the President’s Commission on Civil Rights. He initiated the groundbreaking report entitled, “To Secure these Rights.” That was the title, “To Secure these Rights,” condemning segregation and outlining necessary changes in law and policy, protecting the right to vote, prohibiting discrimination and jobs and traffic, desegregating the military, and much more, but as you might guess, the backlash was instant. A friend wrote to him pleading to change course, but President Truman wrote back, “I’m asking for equality of opportunity for all human beings, and as long as I stay here, I’m going to continue to fight.” Members of the old party, members of the military rejected his civil rights agenda. Undeterred, Harry Truman acted, and we’re a much better nation, a much better nation for his courage and commitment and for the sacrifice and service of all our patriots who fought for our democracy. This year commemorates two other significant milestones, the 75th anniversary of women in the military and the 50th anniversary of an all-volunteer force. As Commander-in-Chief, I’m honored to oversee the greatest fighting force literally, not figuratively, in the history of the world, and that’s not hyperbole. [Pause] I might add the most diverse fighting force in the history of the world. Folks, these two points are not unrelated. More than 40% of our active-duty force are people of color, 40%. About 20% are woman up from just 2% in 1948, a fighting immigrant force and those native born, hailing from big city suburbs, small towns, tribal communities. As our military became more diverse, it became stronger, tougher and more capable. Proving our diversity is a strength, not a weakness, a necessary part of our warfighting, our deterrence and our successful military operations, and our unity, out of many, not division, ensures good order and discipline. Unit cohesion, effectiveness and military readiness. We’ve seen it with generations of patriots, regardless of who they are mentored by and train by fellow servicemen from every background, like my friend, the late Colin Powell, he was a friend. Like so many veterans, I’ve had the privilege to award our nation’s highest honors, working toward the same mission, forming lifelong friendships, returning home to put on civilian clothes and enrich every part of American life. Bonding through a deep love of our nation that draws our greatest strength on our greatest strategic assets, the full talents of all the American people, and I meant that. Think about it, of all the American people. Some of you are tired to hear me saying what I’ve been said for many years. We have many obligations as a government. We only have one truly sacred obligation, to prepare and equip those we send into harm’s way and care for them and their families when they come home and when they don’t. For me and my wife, Jill, for our family’s personal like many of you, one of the most important duties. Jill and I have stood at Arlington to undertake the Rite of Remembrance. So, we head back home and as we head back home in Delaware for our son, Major Beau Biden, Bronze Star, Conspicuous Service Medal. In fact, Jill couldn’t be here tonight because she just returned from Europe, where she paid her respects at the Brittany American Cemetery, the final resting place of thousands of Americans, World War II troops. It matters to Vice President Harris and our entire administration. It matters that we have the best leaders to lead the best force in the world that represent our entire country. From my perspective, that’s America. That’s America. It includes the first ever black Secretary of Defense who wanted to be here tonight, but he’s traveling the Indo-Pacific to strengthen our security ties in the region. Secretary Lloyd Austin, a decorated former four-star general, a warfighter with more than 40 years of service embodying the very spirit of why we’re here tonight. There’s Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks, a prodigious scholar and leader the first woman confirmed as Deputy Secretary of Defense. I also got confirmed two or four-star generals to lead our combatant commands, second and third women in the history to do so. It matters, but something dangerous is happening. I’ve worked across the aisle in my entire career. I think my colleagues will attest to that. I have good friends in Republicans. We disagree. A guy disagree like the devil with, but is a decent and honorable man does what he says. He is a Republican leader in the Senate. We disagree on almost everything. The Republican Party used to always support the military, but today, they’re undermining the military. The senior senator from Alabama, who claims to support our troops is now blocking more than 300 military operations with his extreme political agenda, like General CQ Brown, F16 pilot and a wing commander and the first African American to lead any branch of the Armed Service to be the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. That’s who we have nominated. He’s waiting. Admiral Lisa Franchetti, the second woman in our Navy ever to achieve the rank of four-star admiral who I chose to make history again as the first woman as Chief of Naval Operations. I’ve also nominated other outstanding leaders of all backgrounds, we need them. Right now, tens of thousands of America’s daughters and sons are deployed around the world tonight, keeping us safe from immense national security challenges, but the senator from Alabama is not. For the first time in more than 100 years, we don’t have a city confirmed Commandant of the Marine Corps. By the fall, we may not have a Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. We might not have a military leaders for our Army and Navy either. This partisan freeze is already harming military readiness, security and leadership and troop morale. Freezing pay, freezing people in place. Military families already sacrificed so much unsure of where or when they change stations, unable to get housing or start their kids in the new school because they’re not there yet. Military spouse is forced to take critical career decisions, not knowing where or if they can apply for a new job. A growing cascade of damage and disruption all because one senator from Alabama and 48 Republicans who refuse to stand up to him to lift the blockade over the Pentagon policy offering servicemen and women their family’s access to reproductive health care rights they deserve if they’re stationed in states that deny it. I think it’s outrageous, but don’t just take it from me. Hundreds of military spouses petitioned to end the extreme blockade. One spouse referencing senator from Alabama said, “This isn’t a football game. This nonsense must stop right now. Enough.” It’s time for the Senator to confirm the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the next Commandant of the Marine Corps. It’s time for servicemen to receive the pay and promotions they’ve earned and deserve. It’s time for the senator of Alabama to let these generals and admirals fully serve their country and servicemembers care for themselves and their families. I urge Senate Republicans to do what they know is right, keep our country safe like Harry Truman, approve all those outstanding military nominees now, now, now, which is routine in the past, I might add. Enough with the attacks on our military, from those voices slandering American military, saying it’s becoming weak, soft and less capable. We hear it from a senior senator from Missouri, who held his fists high in salute on January 6, even as veterans turned police officers protected him in our nation as insurrection has held a dagger at the throat of democracy. We hear it from the junior senator from Texas, who fell for Russian propaganda suggesting that their military, the Russian military is better than ours, calling our military emasculated. Where the hell…? [Laughter] Sorry. Frankly, they have no idea what in God’s name they are talking about. As Commander-in-Chief, I can tell you without reservation, not just being in this business for a long time, but being a student of history, we have and always will have the strongest, toughest fighting force in the history of the world, and again, that’s not hyperbole. That’s real. I’m sorry to go on, but as my grandpa would say, “This gets my goat.” Let me close this. In June of 1865, a Major General from the Union army arrived in Galveston, Texas to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation, and free the last enslaved Americans from bondage. Juneteenth, a day that reflects the Psalm, what the Psalm tells us, “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” Last month, two years after I made Juneteenth a federal holiday, the first new federal holiday since Dr. Martin Luther King Day, nearly 40 years ago, I hosted a Juneteenth Congress of the White House, the beacon of our republic, I might add, built by enslaved people. Watching their descendants, students, dancers, and singers perform in that lawn of the White House was spiritual. To think thousands of black Union soldiers killed during the Civil War, to think enslaved people remain shackled two years after emancipation, to think how many long nights they looked to the light in the North Star to keep the faith that despite Americans original sin of saying this nation could be saved, that is patriotism. That’s patriotism. During that powerful concert, we heard the great Jennifer Hudson sing from her soul about the glory that will come, an echo, an anthem of a movement. I can’t sing, so I’m not going to try, but I’ll quote, “It’s been a long time coming, but I know a change is going to come. Oh yes, it will.” That’s what happened 75 years ago and American president chose to do right and that’s what we commemorate tonight, a forward march in our own lives in the life of the nation toward the North Star, the idea of America a peace in the heart of all of our people. I know we’ll do this. I’ve never been more optimistic about America’s future. Let us reflect and repair. Let us rise to the occasion and redeem the soul of this nation. Teach us to have a decency and respect. Change the dialogue. Let’s remember who in God’s name we are. We’re the United States of America, and there’s nothing, think about this. Literally, there’s nothing we’ve ever set our mind to we haven’t accomplished, nothing ever, if we decided we’re going to do it. Nothing beyond our capacity when we act together, so let’s reach out even to those who are less than generous. Try to pull them in, so we can act together, and I mean this from the bottom my heart. May God bless you all. May God protect our troops. [Music]
Please remain in your seats. The program will continue momentarily. [Pause] Please welcome Alex Burden, Executive Director of the Truman Library Institute.
Testing, testing. Testing, testing. This one’s working. I got my lesson after last night. What a night, what a speech, what a president. I got a little bit I want to say tonight, but before I get started with my script, I feel like I was put in the role of a closer last night and tonight, but then after last night, following Jim Clyburn and Judge Gergel and Josh Earnest and Barack Obama, I felt like maybe I’m not the closer, maybe I’m the pitcher they put in when you’re about nine runs down. They need somebody to come in and burn up some innings, so I’m burning up some innings, and so proud to be on the same stage that President Joe Biden just occupied, hearing the words Harry Truman, the name Isaac Woodard, desegregation of the military coming from the current president’s mouth, celebrating the President that so many of us adore and work so hard for, I’m filled with pride. I’m filled with gratitude to all of you who are a part of this. Kurt Graham and I came to town with our board chair and the President’s grandson earlier this week. Over the last several days, the United States Coast Guard, the United States Navy, the USS Harry Truman, the National Archives, the Smithsonian, the Library of Congress, congressman, senators, and the President of the United States has joined with us to celebrate, to commemorate this incredibly important moment. Thank you. [Pause] There’s been a lot of wonderful stories. We had three great programs at George Washington University today. Those stories, those programs are recorded and available on our website, trumanlibraryinstitute.org, our YouTube channel. We’ve met some incredible veterans, the panel of four veterans that were with us, Admiral Howard, General Terrence Adams, General Donald Scott and Ambassador Estrada, fantastic stories, great American stories. I encourage you to watch them. One name that we’ve heard consistently, the name that really got President Truman’s attention 75 years ago, was Isaac Woodard, the brutal beating that led to President Truman’s awakening. I’d like to introduce Isaac Woodard’s grandniece, who is with us for the symposium. Laura, are you in the audience? Hi, Laura. Laura Williams. [Pause] Laura is a wonderful representative of Isaac Woodard and his legacy and everything that that horrible moment has led to some change, change that’s still needed. She’s a wonderful representative. She’s a wonderful storyteller. She’s written a children’s book. A documentary about Isaac Woodard is coming out. There is already a PBS documentary about Isaac Woodard and Harry Truman and the awakening. I encourage you to watch that, but again, gratitude, pride in what we’ve done, appreciation for all of you, and thank you for being with us. I will agree with President Joe Biden. This matters. History matters. Harry Truman’s legacy matters. Integrity matters. What he stood for matters and the work that we’re all doing in support of his library and his legacy, it matters. Thank you all for supporting it. Boeing, thank you for being the title sponsor of the symposium, CPKC, Jen and Tom Kramer, Billy and Cheryl Geffon and people from all over the country stepping up and helping us out, we appreciate you. Stay tuned, there’s more tomorrow, 9 o’clock, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. Our final panel, 9 o’clock starts a little bit thereafter. We’ve got a great program. Honored to have a General CQ Brown, Jr. closing us out with some wonderful remarks. [Pause] I think my 56-year-old arm is out of gas, so that concludes my remarks. I hope you have a wonderful evening and take care. Thank you.
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