[Congressional Record Volume 162, Number 10 (Tuesday, January 19, 2016)]
[Pages S87-S88]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]


  Mr. DURBIN. Mr. President, yesterday Americans once again paused to 
remember a great and prophetic leader, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, 
Jr. Chances are, you heard a snippet yesterday of Dr. King's immortal 
``I Have a Dream'' speech.
  Maybe you heard a tape of Dr. King dreaming of that day when ``my 
four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not 
be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their 
character.'' That is the Martin Luther King, Jr., that we like to 
remember: the dreamer. But Dr. King did more than inspire us. He 
challenged us. And he challenges us still.
  Dr. King told us about his dream for America in 1963. He was murdered 
in 1968. In the 5 years between the March on Washington and his death, 
Dr. King's mission--and his challenges to us--grew.
  Like the prophet he was, in his final years, Dr. King spoke more and 
more frequently and forcefully about injustice. Many of the injustices 
that Dr. King spoke of remain with us today. Some are even greater 
today than when Dr. King died.
  Three years after Dr. King's assassination, the writer Carl Wendell 
Hines penned a poem which he entitled, ``A Dead Man's Dream.'' These 
are his words:

     Now that he is safely dead let us praise him
     Build monuments to his glory, sing hosannas to his name.
     Dead men make such convenient heroes.
     They cannot rise to challenge the images we would fashion 
           from their lives.
     And besides,
     it is easier to build monuments
     than to make a better world.
     So now that he is safely dead
     We, with eased consciences, can teach our children that he 
           was a great man,
     Knowing that the cause for which he lived is still a cause
     And the dream for which he died is still a dream
     A dead man's dream.

  So wrote the poet Carl Wendell Hines 45 years ago.
  The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were 
two of the most important laws passed in the last century. Dr. King's 
leadership and the sacrifices of millions of other men and women of 
good faith who believed in his mission were indispensable to the 
passage of those two historic laws.
  But Dr. King knew that civil rights and voting rights were only 
partial victories without economic justice. As he, himself, said of the 
now iconic Greensboro lunch counter sit-ins: ``What good is having the 
right to sit at a lunch counter if you can't afford to buy a 
  At the end of his life, Dr. King was planning what he called the Poor 
People's Campaign. He was challenging America to offer greater economic 
justice and opportunity to poor people of all races and backgrounds. We 
have much more work to do if we are going to make that part of Dr. 
King's dream a reality.
  The Great Recession ended officially in 2009. Economic growth has 
returned to America. But for African Americans and many other 
Americans, economic fairness is farther out of reach than it's been in 
  Wall Street has regained all of the value it lost in the Great 
Recession and then some. But middle-class and working-class Americans 
haven't recovered from that economic disaster.
  When you factor in inflation, the average American family hasn't had 
a raise since 1971, shortly after Dr. King's death. A recent survey 
shows that 62 percent of Americans have less than $1,000 in their 
savings accounts--and a third of those undersavers have no savings 
account at all.
  In 1965, the average CEO was paid 20 times as much as the average 
worker in his or her--usually his--company. Today the average CEO earns 
more than 295 times as much as the average worker.
  The economic disparities are even greater when you factor in race. 
Think about this: African Americans are almost three times more likely 
to live in poverty today than White Americans. And the median net worth 
of White households is 13 times the level for Black households.
  We have a long way to go to achieve Dr. King's dream of economic 
justice and fairness in America. We should strengthen the Wall Street 
reforms that Congress passed to prevent a repeat of the kind of 
recklessness that caused the Great Recession, not gut those reforms.
  Dr. King was murdered in Memphis, TN, where he had gone to show 
support for striking sanitation workers. Two months earlier, two black 
sanitation workers in Memphis had been crushed to death by faulty 
equipment. The city's sanitation workers organized a strike for job 
safety, better pay, and the right to unionize; and Dr. King took on 
their cause.
  For years now, the rights of working people to band together and 
unionize has been under attack--an attack financed by wealthy corporate 
  Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in 
Friedrichs v. California Teachers' Association, which asks the Court to 
overrule decades of precedent protecting the ability of working people 
to win fair wages and working conditions through effective unionizing.
  If we truly believe in the America Martin Luther King gave his life 
for, we should protect the right of workers to form and join unions, 
not work to diminish and destroy that right.
  The words that Dr. King spoke at the 1963 March on Washington have 
become part of our American creed. But the 1963 March was not the first 
time that Martin Luther King had spoken to a large crowd in Washington.
  In 1957, on the third anniversary of the Supreme Court's historic 
Brown v. Board of Education decision that found segregated, ``separate 
but equal'' schools to be inherently unequal and unconstitutional, a 
29-year-old Martin Luther King spoke in Washington at a rally billed as 
a Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom. For 3 years, Southern States had 
engaged in what they called ``massive resistance'' to the Supreme 
Court's ruling.
  Martin Luther King titled his remarks at the 1957 Prayer Pilgrimage 
Give Us the Ballot. His message was simple: If Congress and other 
elected officials will not enforce the law of the land, give African 
Americans the ballot, and ``we will elect legislatures that will.''
  Eight years later, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act. For years, 
the Voting Rights Act was hailed by both parties as a great 
achievement. It was repeatedly reauthorized by large, bipartisan 
majorities in Congress.
  In 2013, however, a slim conservative majority on the Supreme Court 
gutted the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder by striking 
down the provision that required certain jurisdictions to preclear any 
changes to their voting laws with the Department of Justice.
  If we truly believe in Dr. King's dream for America, let's work 
together to restore the Voting Rights Act this year.
  One year to the day before he died, Dr. King delivered a sermon at 
Riverside Church in New York City that cost him the support of many old 
political allies. It was a speech condemning America's actions in the 
war in Vietnam.

[[Page S88]]

  If Dr. King were alive today, I think he would be heartbroken, and he 
would challenge us to confront the tidal wave of guns that have turned 
so many American neighborhoods into combat zones.
  Yes, the Second Amendment speaks of a right to bear arms. But 
children ought to have a right to play on school playgrounds without 
getting caught in gang crossfire.
  Americans ought to be able to go to a movie or to a college lecture 
or a church Bible study class without risking being killed by someone 
who is too sick or too dangerous to have a gun but has one anyway.
  Martin Luther King was taken from us by gun violence. If we truly 
believe in his dream, let's work together to find ways to keep guns out 
of the wrong hands.
  ``It is easier to build monuments than to make a better world.'' That 
is what the poet said. But people don't elect us to do the easy work. 
They expect us to do the hard work, the necessary work, of making 
America better, fairer, and more secure.
  I ask my colleagues: Let's work together to advance economic justice, 
protect voting rights, and end the violence that is turning too many 
American neighborhoods into war zones. In short, let's work together to 
advance Dr. King's dream.