Morris Dees, Founder of Southern Poverty Law Center, gave the keynote for the 2011 Young Innovator for Social Justice Prize Symposium. The Scholar's Convocation speech was titled "With Justice for All."
>> SARAH J. PURCELL: Good morning everyone.
I am Sarah Purcell, Director of the Rosenfield Program in Public Affairs, International Relations, and Human Rights and in the History Department at Grinnell.
It is a pleasure to see so many bright and happy faces here this morning for our Scholar’s Convocation which is the keynote address for our Grinnell Young Innovators for Social Justice Prize symposium week.
We've had a fantastic week already with a chance to meet our wonderful winners of the first ever Grinnell Prize. You can read more about them in the program and I hope that you will consider coming back, there is still a little time left to meet the winners and to hear them. In addition to which, they will probably be back on campus in the future giving short courses and interacting with our students. We intend for this to be a fruitful relationship with them.
You can meet informally with some of the winners this afternoon at 2:30. They will be in the Spencer Grill in the JRC. Then at 4:15 this afternoon, Rabbi Melissa Weintraub will give the final talk in the series here in Herrick Chapel. Tonight at 5:30 p.m. immediately following her talk, there will be a campus reception for the Prize symposium in the Bucksbaum Rotunda, so please join us for any and all of those activities.
When the Grinnell prize was conceived, the idea was to reward and inspire people under the age of 40 who are making great strides for positive social change and social justice in the world and to really capture those folks who have already made some demonstration of their impact and their innovation on providing justice in the world and solving social problems. But also then, to give them a push into the future while they still are relatively young to achieve even more for justice. When we were thinking about the symposium and when we would invite the winners to campus, we wanted to compliment their youth and the youth of our students with an opportunity to also hear from a real master of the social justice, activism and the fight. That is what we will hear this morning for the keynote.
The idea being that there is a resonance between people with longer experience in social justice work and our winners and then our students. And that this is a real generational conversation that we hope to inspire on our campus.
We are incredible thrilled and honored to welcome this morning Morris Dees, who is co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center and I know he is well-known to many of you in this room. He co-founded the S.P.L.C. in 1971 following a successful business and law career. He started a direct mail sales company specializing in book publications while still a student at the University of Alabama where he also obtained his law degree. He also launched a successful law practice in Montgomery, Alabama in 1960, and as a lawyer he won a series of ground-breaking civil rights cases that helped to integrate government and public institutions. He also served as finance director for former President Jimmy Carter’s campaign in 1976 and for Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern in 1972. Both Morris Dees and the Southern Poverty Law Center are known for innovative lawsuits that have crippled some of America’s most notorious white-supremacist hate groups. He personally has received more than 20 honorary degrees and awards too numerous to mention here, but they include the Trial Lawyer of the Year from the trial lawyers for public justice and the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Award, from the National Education Association. Dees has published three books and he was named one of the 100 Most Influential Lawyers of America by the National Law Journal in 2006.
The Southern Poverty Law Center continues its fight for civil rights and justice in the United States, not only working on issues of racial equality and rights but also spreading into many other areas of civil rights litigation and advocacy including immigrant rights, GLBTQ issues, children’s rights and really any challenge to civil rights and equality.
So I think it will be a wonderful session as we think about the Grinnell Prize going into the future, and I am really honored to welcome Morris Dees to Grinnell.
>> MORRIS DEES: Thank you for your warm welcome.
The things that she said about me and my career are things that I didn't do just by myself. In fact, the head of Immigrant Justice Project is Dan Warner, a graduate of Grinnell. He told me to be sure to send his regards to each of you.
I was thinking as I was driving here this morning from Des Moines. How did I get from the cotton fields of Alabama to the corn fields of Iowa? I just thought about it a while and I was thinking this morning, what I might say to you and a lot of you are not from Iowa, in fact most of you are not. So we all share a lot of things in common.
I think it probably started back in the cotton fields of a small community I grew up in, in Montgomery County, Alabama. My people didn'thave any land, they were just renters, share croppers you might call them. There were only two classes of folks down there. There were the blacks that worked the fields and the white folks that owned them. I was really glad my parents didn't own any land -- I am now but then I didn’t, I was ashamed of it then -- but now I am glad because I had the chance to meet a whole different group of people because I was out in the cotton field picking cotton with them.
I think it was more than just that. I think it was a little community that I grew up in that area and I kind of put the blame maybe for what I do on my teacher in that little small school. We only had 75 students in the school. Ms. Vera Bell Johnson was my teacher in the 4th, 5th, and 6th grade, they were all in one room. She was also my Sunday school teacher in a Baptist Church that did not look much different from this. You could never really tell when you were in school and church back in the 50s when I was going to school because we had a Bible verse in both places every day.
Ms. Johnson wanted us to grow up to be successful people, good boys and girls and men and women. There were two things, this dear lady, who taught my dad, taught two of my boys, and taught me, too, before I think they closed that little school to get rid of her. There were two things she thought that we could not do if we were going to be successful. We couldn't smoke cigarettes. And we couldn't drink alcoholic beverages.
I did great on the first one.
I promise you if all America, you especially, had had Ms. Johnson for your teacher nobody would smoke cigarettes because you would remember that little rhyme in your head as soon as you saw one. We had to say this; I am telling you almost every day in that little school when she was there. We had to say that, “Tobacco was a filthy weed and from the devil does proceed. It picks your pockets and burns your clothes and makes a smokestack of your nose.”
On this drinking thing, she was much more serious. She had a button about this big around and I know she got it in those prohibition days, for your foreign students that is when America had this crazy experiment outlawing drinking. France, England and other countries could not understand that but we did and this button, I am sure she led the troops when that constitution was debated and voted on. She led the troops down in our county. On this button it said, “Lips that touch wine shall not touch mine.” She died an old-maid.
One day she was going on and on in class with her temperance lesson. I am 12 years old, I am just a lawyer to be in 1948. I am sitting there, listening. I had heard her talk before. I said, “But Ms. Johnson, you told us last week that Jesus in one of his miracles turned water into wine.” She said, “Yes Morris, but we would have thought a whole lot more of Jesus if he had not done that.” That was just part of her mentorship.
The other part was that she had a social consciousness in her own way back then, she would take us out in front of that little school and we would raise the flag and put our hands on our hearts and pledge allegiance. And I remember the words that stuck with me so many years afterwards and often times she would often repeat them in class. “One nation, with liberty and justice for all."
There was not much that little lady could do back in that small community in the 40s to go against the customs but she often told us that she did not think that “colored people" as she called them were treated fairly. Well, I did not do a whole lot back then early on. It took another one of my neighbors to take a giant step forward.
Rosa Parks did not live far from my grandmother’s house, refused to give up her seat on the bus and started America’s Civil Rights Movement. I like to think it is the last battle in the American Revolution. It gave so many people rights they did not have. But it took another man to lead that social action movement, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King. A man who laid claim to a destiny that his people had been denied so long.
He was a person who had to face many of his contemporaries -- like you will if you come up with new innovative ideas -- that had little vision. He had to face politicians and policy makers with no backbone. And finally he faced a terrorist with no conscience. And when he faced that terrorist in Memphis, Tennessee, he was not there trying to integrate anything, which was part of his whole mission to equal the playing field for blacks and whites in America, and people of color. He was there demonstrating and speaking for truly the least among us. Garbage workers who were making very little pay, less than a dollar an hour for 10 to 12 hours of hard work every day. He made that talk at a church there before that fatal day when he lost his life and Dr. King said, “You know folks, I have been to the mountain top and I have seen the promised land." He said, "I might not get there with you but it is the land of fairness and justice.”
I think most of you know what Dr. Martin Luther King was talking about. He was talking about a story of another group of ex-slaves. A group of slaves, Jews, who had been kept as slaves in Egypt and they had been released from slavery and were seeking their promised land. This group traveled from place to place, received awful treatment along the way, and finally they got to that river that separated them from that promised land, the River Jordan. And they stood on the banks of this river and they looked across -- after wandering for so long in the wilderness -- and they looked across and they saw people doing well. People had fine homes and the fields were beautiful. They were ready to go and take advantage of the opportunities they had been promised. Several people in the group said, "I don’t know, I don’t know if we should go over there now because these people are different than we are. They may not accept us. We don’t kind of look like them." And they argued back and forth, and others said lets go now. Most of you probably know this story. They did not go; they wandered for 40 more years in the wilderness before they came back.
Well America, since Dr. King led the Civil Rights Movement and since he died, it has been a little more than 40 years and America during that 40 years didn't really cross that metaphorical river so to speak and take full advantage. We have taken three steps forward and two steps back until November two years ago, when the voters of this nation elected America’s first African-American president. Something that Rosa Parks and Dr. King and others would be so proud of. I know I was. I know that my family was. I know that many of you were. But since he has become president, things have become quite different. I don’t really think that most Americans want a black president or a black face for this country. Because the backlash against Barack Obama has been enormous. Not that there aren’t valid criticisms to make with anybody who’s in that position of leadership, but here is a president who undertook things that had happened in this country that he had nothing to do with. Eight years of deregulating banks that caused the worse housing crisis that we have seen since the Great Depression, two wars that he had nothing to do with starting that we will spend 2 to 3 trillion dollars and maybe more before they are over. You name it. A crisis that is facing America today and it gives opportunities for new innovators to deal with.
But not only did we have political issues dealing with this, we are having talking heads on television like Glen Beck who says Obama hates whites -- ridiculous. And others that pour out what I call mainstreaming of hate. The things that we heard from Neo-Nazi groups and Klan groups earlier are coming from people today who are talking to millions of people on Fox News and other places as if it is just okay to say. There has been an increase in hate groups since Obama took the presidency, of about double the number. There are some 1,000 hate groups today in this country ranging from Neo-Nazi skinheads to -- you name it. You can find them on our website. There has also been an explosion of these so-called patriot groups. The kind that Timothy McVeigh was a part of when he bombed the Oklahoma Federal Building. We have seen a tripling of them groups since Obama took presidency.
There is a lot of ill-feeling, there is a lot of trouble, and there is a lot of concern and anxiety going on in our country today. Things that you as students are going to be dealing with for years to come. But you know, I think the real issue is not just Obama but maybe something he represents and that is America is changing. When I was in Ms. Johnson’s class in 1948 in that little school in Pike Road, Alabama, about 17% of the people in the United States as a whole were people of color. This last census has that number now up to 37% and this last year in 2010, over 50% of the babies born were people of color. So by the year 2040, this nation will not look like the people in this room and myself, it will be a different face of America. In between now and then, there are going to be some drastic changes. But when you have changes it is kind of like shifts of rocks under the earth, they come together and clash and you get earthquakes out of it all. Well there are going to be some real changes in this country and there is going to be some resistance to those changes. How are we going to split the economic pie? Who gets more healthcare or how much money do we spend fighting battles in Iraq and Iran and other places in the world. There are going to be some real issues.
I think that regardless of how it comes out, we are going to be more successful as a nation.
I had no idea what diversity was all about. I grew up on that little cotton farm as I said. It was just the blacks and the whites and I did not take my first trip out of Alabama until I graduated from law school. I took a trip outside at that point. Obviously we went to the beach but that is not out of Alabama; that is just down the road a little piece. My folks did not have money to travel so I did not know much about the broader nation and I did not understand this whole issue with diversity and the change until I had an opportunity to represent some immigrants, some new Americans.
After the Vietnam War, after America lost that war, about 500,000 Vietnamese were brought to this country, some to this state by Catholic Relief Services and other groups because had they stayed behind, these people probably would have been tortured or killed imprisoned, so they came here. About 50,000 of those settled in the Houston/Galveston Bay, Texas area. They got to this country with the clothes on their backs. They worked hard. And down there Vietnamese people began to take over all kinds of business through their hard work -- car washes, fruit stands, small grocery stores, small business of all types. About 50 or so of them decided they wanted to go down to Kemah, Texas, where the Gulf Coast is. They wanted to get into the shrimping and fishing business.
Well they had no money to buy expensive boats, and there were several hundred American trawlers working those areas fishing. Boats there cost $200,000, $300,000, $400,000, and these Vietnamese fisherman having fished in the warm waters around Saigon Harbor and other places around Vietnam, they understood how to make it on the cheap, so to speak. So they bought old broken down boats, boats Americans had long abandoned, sitting in shallow harbors just rotting away. And they would fix these boats up and these 50 or so Vietnamese fisherman went out to fish. And it was not long when they were out-fishing the American fisherman in their big, fancy, expensive boats -- and there is no other way to put it -- the American fisherman became jealous.
They had an association, 1200 members and they went to the Texas legislature and said we want you to pass a law, not allowing these people to have fishing licenses. Well the Texas legislature in its wisdom said, "We can't do that. These are our friends, they are our allies. This is a free enterprise country." So they refused to do what these American fishermen wanted them to do. So the American fisherman turned to the oldest existing terrorist group in the world, founded in the mid 1800s in America, the Ku Klux Klan. They turned to the Texas Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and said we want you to help us get rid of these Vietnamese fishermen. Well the Klan was glad to help and they burned some boats and the F.B.I. and other people tried to catch them. They knew who did it. It was difficult to catch them, but it certainly frightened the Vietnamese. They burned a giant cross like the Klan burns and down there in Kemah, Texas, where Clear Creek Channel comes out. And this frightened the Vietnamese. They understood the Khmer Rouge, the terrorists in Cambodia and Vietnam, so they decided that they weren’t going to take those boats out in the open waters to the chance of getting shot at or sunk, so they put their boats up for sale.
I got a call from a lawyer who represented them in real estate matters who said can you come and help us and see if we can stop the harassment of these fishermen. I remember going down with some people from the law center and walking up and down the dock in Kemah, Texas. I saw the little boats sitting there in the water. You probably seen them in pictures, little tiny boats with glass wheelhouses, kind of rocking there, docked up. Shrimping season opened two weeks from then, and they had little for sale signs in the windows of these boats. The kind of signs you would buy from a hardware store.
Nguyen Van Nam was with me, the leader of the Vietnamese fisherman and I say, “you know Nam, we have done a little investigation, we can bring a lawsuit in federal court and we can get the court to issue an order prohibiting anybody from bothering you. It is called an injunction. We can get a quick injunction I believe with the help we have gotten from law enforcement to put the facts together. And if anybody violates that rule -- that court order -- they will go to prison for criminal contempt of court."
The fisherman agreed and we went to work. We had to work quickly because shrimping season opened. The judge gave us a quick hearing. And we found some American fisherman who didn't like what they had seen, either. They had learned these Vietnamese as friends. So they told us stories about how they had been threatened by the Klan and others if they let the Vietnamese park their boats at their docks, they would burn their docks. Perfect testimony.
Well, we were getting ready to go to court on Monday morning and Sunday, about midday, I got a call from Nguyen Van Nam. He said, "Mr. Dees, drop the lawsuit." I said, “Oh no, Nguyen! Why? What's happened?” He said, “Our people are frightened but the leaders of the other Vietnamese business have come to us and said, 'Let the Klan have the fishing. We don’t want them bothering our other businesses.'” I said, "Man, it don’t work that way. If you cut and run now, they’re gonna come after everything you got. They don’t like you here." I said, "Do you think you could pull together leaders of the Vietnamese groups in town and also the fishermans' families? I want to talk to them. Because if you tell me I have to drop your lawsuit, I have to tell the court we are out of here, no clients."
Well that night in a room about this size with about half this many people present in a small church. I was standing in a pulpit with a Catholic priest interpreting. Many of these people sitting there had the clothes that they came to this country in, patiently listening. I said, “You know folks, America is a nation of laws. Laws that protect the minority from the majority if the majority is breaking the law. It is a concept that most people don’t understand in other parts of the world, a democratic system."
I said, "Don’t, don’t, don’t drop your lawsuit, stick it out. There was a man that most of you don’t probably know, who also used our courts in the face of horrible tragedies for his people. His name was Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King. His churches and his people's churches were bombed when they tried to get the right to vote, and good schools, but they stuck with America’s justice system and won cases time and time again. And they wouldn't have gotten their rights had they not done so.”
I left and I know it must have been a contentious evening there. I couldn't tell much about the people’s faces as I talked to them. Later that night around midnight, I got a call from Nguyen Van Nam. He said, “Mr. Dees, continue the lawsuit.”
We put on a good case and the judge issued a very strong order, naming about 30 people, and requiring them not to go near the Vietnamese fishermen under contempt of federal court. That made the Vietnamese happy and they were going to go out to fish on Monday morning. They invited me down to the blessing of the fleet, a tradition in Vietnam. I got down there at Seabrook, Texas and Kemah -- little towns on either side of Clear Creek Channel where the boats come out of the channel, out into open waters. It was about 5 in the morning. Fog was hanging heavy over the bay. As I got to the dock, there were families of these fishermen there waiting; a Catholic priest there to bless the boats as they went by. We did not hear any boats until finally there was a little diesel engine chugging, a boat popped out from the fog and came out into the open waters by the viewing stand, and the priest blessed that boat. And then another and another, until about 15-20 boats had gone out into the water to fish.
The sun began to burn through the fog as daylight came. I could look around me on either side and I could see the sun glistening off the badges of the United States marshals, who had been sent there by the court to enforce that court order. The marshals are the police force of the federal courts. Also as I looked around me, I could see the pride on the faces of these new Americans as they found a place at America’s table. Not just a place at America’s table, but so to speak building that table -- bigger and better and greater for the rest of this country.
I have to tell you, standing there that morning, I felt so proud to be the lawyer representing these new Americans. But I also felt proud of America’s justice system, seeing the majesty of our justice system at work. And for the first time, I really understood that America is great because of our diversity, not in spite of it. We are facing these horrible laws being passed by states like Alabama, and Arizona, and New Mexico, and other places. Demagogic laws restricting the rights of Latino immigrants -- who in this country is probably some 11 million -- maybe undocumented, that is the only crime they committed. But they are working the packing houses and the fields and the construction work and doing work, as the New York Times said in a story this morning, that Americans won’t stoop down and do. Work that needs to be done.
In Alabama the law is so bad -- it's just a political thing -- farmers are screaming now that there is nobody to pick our tomatoes and plant this and that. But it is politicians who are demagoging people who have no vote and have no power like George Wallace did to the blacks and they had no vote and had no power.
Today you won’t see anybody in Alabama doing that because African-Americans do have the vote and do have the power.
But this is not something new for America and I doubt it will end with that. When my people came to the United States from Ireland in 1840’s and 50’s -- over 2 million, much greater percentage than those Latino’s in our country today -- they were roundly condemned. They said they didn't speak English, they spoke some cottony thing that was not English. They said they were stealing American jobs. Doesn’t that sound familiar? Well, good thing we didn't have a Bachmann running for president then, because she wants to build an electrified double fence along Mexico. But these people got into this country and did well. Actually some of them were actually lynched. You saw the Gangs of New York movie, they were killed in Boston, Philadelphia, New York for stealing American jobs. They were demeaned as trouble makers, as drunkards, you name it. And I'm telling you, if I had been standing in a church, in a pulpit in Boston Commons, making this speech then, like I am doing today, and I said, "Let me tell you folks. Before 100 years from now, one of my kin folks is going to be the president of the United States." I would have been booed out of the room, maybe arrested.
Then when the Jews came here from Eastern Europe in 1905-1920, escaping torture and all of Eastern Europe and Russian places, they were condemned too as new Americans. Oh my goodness, there were signs that said no Jews or dogs allowed in this hotel.
It was no different than the way the Irish immigrants were treated. Harvard actually ended up in 1924 with about 18-20% of its students being Jewish and so did a lot of other schools, Yale and Princeton, and they said, “Whoa, we have a Jewish problem here," - so they cut the quotas back.
Well, we solved those problems.
Had we not had those good people here, we probably would not had Jonas Salk here, because that is where his people came from; a man who invented the Polio vaccine that saved millions and millions of Americans from torture and death. I could go on and on about the people that came to this country. It is going to be up to you to realize that we need these people from all over America in this country today, especially today. The Chinese who came in to build the railroads that cut through the granite Sierras, and many died -- 20% of them died or injured -- and after they connected the rails from east to west, congress passed a law that said no Chinese person could become a citizen of the United States that was here, and came for that. The same with the Japanese who were rounded up. And others.
This nation has a history and it's important that you learn the history. It is also a tragic history, but it's a great history. Democracy allows for ups and downs. It is up to you as students to stay on the cutting edge of this fight for justice, because the march for justice continues.
It didn't end with the Civil Rights Movement, like we like to package little things up in history classes. It's not going to end with the rights of gays and lesbians, bisexual and transgender people who are gaining more rights today. It is not going to end with the equal rights for women, that has been a big movement that has gone a long ways; it started with the simple right to vote. It is not going to end there. There are going to be a lot of other issues. Issues that are unpopular often to deal with.
This country is divided in so many ways and probably the most important and significant way is along class lines, economic lines. You know, I think America is going to solve these problems. Back when we saw James Byrd dragged behind a pickup truck to his death down in Texas and Matthew Shepard, a student like many of you, who was beaten and killed because of his sexual orientation at the University of Wyoming, we think, "What's going on in this country?"
We looked around at colleges and campuses, we looked around at communities and we sent investigators out and researchers and think what can we do with the Southern Poverty Law Center. It is one thing to fight hate in court but we are missing out on something here. Maybe we can teach acceptance and tolerance in the classrooms. So as we went out looking to find what is going on in this country, people were telling us and our researches everywhere, "We are not like that. Those people committing these horrible things, they don’t represent us." We found people reaching out to those individuals who had been prejudiced against and biased against in one way or another from hate crimes to discrimination. They were reaching out to them saying, "We understand your pain. We want to be a part of you and we want you to be a part of us."
The stories our researches brought back were sometimes very touching. I remember one story out of Billings, Montana, you may have heard. There is a town about like this state with about 4% minorities; well Billings had hardly no minorities, hardly no Jews. Small town. There a Jewish family purchased their little son a menorah, the candleholder they used in Hanukkah. This little boy was so proud to get his candle holder that he put it in a window where you could see it from the street, on a table, and he lit a candle each night of Hanukkah. There was a man who saw it and did not appreciate or like what he saw there -- I guess it was a man, they never caught him -- and he threw a brick through the window.
Well there was another man in that town that didn't like what he had seen either, that desecration and discrimination. He was a business man, he was not Jewish. He had a shop, he sold things in town. He took the letters of the marquee of the place where he sold his products and in place, put there, “Not in our town." They had cardboard menorahs made at a print shop and they placed those with the help of the schools and the police department and others in the town, they placed them in the windows of most houses facing the street in Billings in support of that little victim of that hate crime. One night the mother and father took this little boy around after dinner so he could see. As he drove down the street, he looked and he could see the back light from the houses backlighting and showing these menorahs, he kept seeing more and more and he turned to his mom and said, “Mom, I didn’t know so many Jews lived in Billings.” She said, “No son, they are our friends.”
And therein I think lies the answer. When we build bridges across the divides that separate us, it will be because we become friends. We learn to care about and appreciate and love those people who are different. The crises that we are facing in America today -- with unemployment and millions without healthcare, people suffering -- it will be because our leaders in this country -- being pressured by people just like you -- to reach across those divides that separate us and come up with a solution to help us all, so we will have truly a nation with liberty and justice for all. Dr. Martin Luther King walked among us at a time there was no liberty and justice for all. Most of you can't even imagine, unless you’re my age, what it was like in the South and actually in other parts of the United States. It was not just the South. When blacks were treated less than second class. Dr. King then was concerned that America as a nation, as a democracy would continue. He told us an old story, I heard him tell this story. He spent much time in Montgomery. He told us this story as a warning. I think he would tell you the same story today if he was here.
It was an old story. It was a story about a nation that started with great promise, a nation that no longer existed. It had strayed from its values and ideals. Those Jews that left slavery in Egypt got to that river as Dr. King said. They did cross finally after 40 years. America has been waiting 40 years since the Civil Rights Movement and I think with the election of Obama we kind of crossed that river too and made that big jump, metaphorically just like those Jews did. When they got there, they build themselves a great city -- called a city-state back then -- with high walls around it to protect it. A big gate they locked at night. And inside of that town, those that worked hard and were successful had nice homes and building lots to put those homes on and fertile fields. They had a banking system, they had a school system, they had a court system, law enforcement, just like we do today. In the middle of this town, they had a great marketplace where people from outside of this town came in and brought their products to sell.
There was a farmer who got there early in the morning with his wagon laden with produce from his farm from a neighboring town. And as he was there early in the morning waiting for those gates to open, he saw able-bodied men and woman reaching out begging for a few grains from his wagon. Upon inquiry he learned that, well, if you were not part of the in-group of this town, you did not have money and power, you did not get a job and if you got a job it was not a good job to feed your family. When this farmer put his product in the stall in the marketplace, he heard grumbling from the people walking by. Upon inquiry, he talked to them and heard them dissatisfied with the way things were going in the town. If you were in the in-group, sometimes you did not get arrested when somebody who was different and not part of the in-group got arrested. Same when you go to court, you did not get a fair shake.
This really bothered this farmer because he knew the trials and tribulations of these people. He knew their suffering and he was a man of some means and reputation in his little community. He asked for an audience with the leaders. I think some of you might know who this farmer was. He was the biblical prophet Amos. Amos stood up in front of those leaders and said, "You know folks, you got a good thing going here. But unless you're fair to all the people among you and give people an equal opportunity, you're not going to get to keep what you have and pass it down to future generations. It's going to be taken away from you." And Amos closed his comments out, comments that were used by Dr. Martin Luther King when he spoke to us so often. Amos said, “People, don’t be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
I feel confident that you people here -- with the reputation of this school for social action -- and people who come out of here, and others like you all across this country, will not be satisfied until justice truly rolls down like waters. Remember, remember, that equal rights begin close to home. That’s where people seek equal justice. In our schools, in our communities, our workplaces. And unless people find equal rights and equal treatment in these places, we’ll look as a nation in vain for progress in a larger world. But I have confidence that you will live up to the promises in our Constitution. The promises that were made whole by Dr. Martin Luther King and others in America’s civil rights movement. That you truly will not be satisfied until you do your part.
I think that one day -- when myself and most of you out here who are gray-haired like me are gone -- one of you is going to write a story about your generation. I would say a book, but it will probably be on the Kindle or maybe something else. I have to tell you, I've got confidence in you and in this country. And that book is going to be a book about your generation, which I think is going to be one of America’s greatest generations.
Thank you so much.