January 12, 1988

We're here today to honor a man who dedicated his life to the pursuit of a dream. In honoring one man's commitment, we're also rededicating ourselves to the fundamental principle behind that dream. That principle, which goes to the very essence of America, is simply this: that it is self-evident that all men are created equal and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.

Today we still cherish these rights and values upon which our country was built and for which our forefathers gave their lives, for which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., gave his life. The fight for genuine equality of opportunity goes on. It still continues for many Americans today, yet let us not ignore the strides that have been made and the great strides that are being made toward ending discrimination and bigotry in our towns and communities, in our government, and most important, in our own hearts.

And there are many reasons for hope. Advancements in employment and education should not escape our attention. Black employment has risen 26 percent during our expansion. That's more than twice the rate of the job gain of whites. The unemployment rate for black youths has declined dramatically.

Great strides are being made in education, as well. The publication we released last spring, "Schools That Work,'' describes many schools that are doing a good job educating disadvantaged children. One shining example is the Garrison Elementary School in the South Bronx in New York City. The student population is half black and half Hispanic. The school lies in one of the poorest sections of New York. Yet for the past 5 years, Garrison has ranked in the top 12 percent of New York City schools in reading achievement. By the time they reach the sixth grade, nearly every student performs at or above grade level in both reading and math.

You know, James Madison once said: "A well-instructed people alone can be permanently a free people.'' Together we strive to ensure that every American receives a sound education and that, in so doing, we secure our freedom, as well. Secretary of Education William Bennett has been leading the charge for higher standards and more discipline. We can give no better gift to our young people than giving them the basic skills needed to reach their potential and fulfill their dreams.

The value of a good education was not lost on Dr. King. He entered Morehouse College at the age of 15 and earned a Ph.D. 11 years later from Boston University. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s own life was one of dreams. It's fitting that we honor the man who went from being a minister in the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta to being the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Dr. King said the evening before his assassination: "I just want to do God's will. And he's allowed me to go to the mountain. And I've looked over, and I've seen the promised land . . . so I'm happy tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man.'' These are the words of a man at peace with God and himself, content in the knowledge that what is right will inevitably triumph. He gave his life, as so many of our forefathers did, for his principles. And it is thanks to his strength of character and his God-given talents that the dream he spoke about so eloquently will live on forever.

And now we'll sign the proclamation honoring the 59th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birth.

Note: The President spoke at 1:17 p.m. in the Roosevelt Room at the White House.