GREENBELT, MD – Congressman Steny H. Hoyer (MD-05) delivered the following remarks today at the 42nd Annual Black History Month Breakfast, introducing keynote speaker Maryland Governor Wes Moore. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
“Good morning. After two years apart, I’m so pleased that we can gather in person once again for this special occasion. I have been proud to help organize this Annual Black History Breakfast for forty-two years in a row, and I thank my colleague and dear friend Rep. Glenn Ivey for joining me as Co-Chair for the first time this year. I also appreciate the efforts of the Black History Promotion & Education Committee and the Maryland Fourth And Fifth Congressional Districts Black History Month Planning Committee to put on this event each year.
“I also want to give a special thanks to the Printing Press in Leonardtown, Maryland, for the print reproduction of this program and to the program’s designer, Ms. Cynthia Harvey-Pryor. This program would not be possible without the energy and dedication of all our volunteers. Black History Month and events like this breakfast offer us an opportunity to celebrate the many contributions that Black men and women have made – and continue to make – to our nation. These gatherings bring us together to reflect on the obstacles that Black Americans had to overcome to make those contributions.
“Most importantly, they inspire us to recommit ourselves to dismantling similar barriers that persist today. I cherish these opportunities at a time when some people in America turn their backs on history. Officials in certain corners of the country have banned books, censored teachers, and cut funding for classroom curricula that convey the nuances of American history – especially Black history. Supporters of these efforts claim that educating our youth about this history will somehow make them ‘unpatriotic.’
“They caution against teaching our kids that our founders weren’t always perfect arbiters of justice and morality. They ignore that our nation’s founding promise of ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’ long went unfulfilled for countless Americans. This fear stems from a failure to appreciate America’s capacity for moral growth – the source of true American patriotism.
“Chief Justice Roger B. Taney made a similarly grievous determination in his infamous 1857 Dred Scott decision. Regarding the idea that 'all men are created equal,' he claimed that the ‘words above quoted would seem to embrace the whole human family, and if they were used in a similar instrument at this day would be so understood.’ He insisted, however, that ‘the enslaved African race were not intended to be included, and formed no part of the people who framed and adopted this declaration.’ His originalist views held that America and its laws were forever bound by the prejudices that influenced its founding.
“He was wrong. We advanced beyond the bounds of our past. Over a century later, another Marylander served on the same court from which Taney issued that opinion: Justice Thurgood Marshall. Unlike Taney, he sought to fulfill our founding promise rather than to leave it unkept. On the bicentennial anniversary of our Constitution, Justice Marshall argued that ‘the true miracle was not the birth of the Constitution, but its life.’ What gave it that life? What has kept the heart of our democracy beating all these years? It is resistance born of courage and commitment facing a rising sun of every new day begun.
“The moral power of Black resistance – our theme for Black History Month 2023 – has shaped every era of our nation’s history. Those who resisted ought to inspire Americans today, just as they inspired Americans in the past. We look up to people like Crispus Attucks, the formerly enslaved sailor who became the first casualty of the American revolution when he perished in the Boston Massacre.
“We find inspiration in heroic Marylanders like Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, who escaped slavery and helped others do the same. We give thanks for the courage of leaders like Dr. Martin Luther king Jr., Rosa Parks, and my dear friend John Lewis, whose nonviolent resistance ushered in a new era for civil rights. As Robert F. Kennedy said when speaking against apartheid in Cape Town, South Africa, on June 6, 1966, ‘each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.’
“We have a responsibility to safeguard these heroes’ legacies and to pass their stories on to future generations. That’s why just a few weeks ago, my colleagues and I removed the bust of Chief Justice Taney that sat in the Capitol building and commissioned a new bust of Justice Thurgood Marshall to adorn our temple of democracy. We must honor past trailblazers in this way because their work remains unfinished. The heart-wrenching murder of Tyre Nichols at the hands of five morally corrupt police officers reminded us of that solemn fact. America’s moral growth must continue. Although all Americans have a duty to preserve the ‘life’ of our Constitution, we are fortunate to have many Black leaders who continue to propel that mission forward.
“Leaders like those who have spoken at this breakfast the last forty-one years. Leaders like our keynote speaker this year, Governor Wes Moore. Throughout his life, he has stood up for our country, our state, and our people. He made a simple yet profound commitment: to leave no one behind. When he was an officer in the 82nd Airborne leading troops into combat in Afghanistan, that commitment meant bringing his fellow paratroopers back home to their families safely. When he became a leader in the nonprofit world, that commitment meant developing new strategies to lift Americans out of poverty.
“Now that he is our governor, that commitment means ensuring that all Marylanders get a fair shot at a happy and prosperous life. Indeed, he has already put forward a bold plan to end child poverty in our state and to create a more competitive and equitable economy for all “Marylanders. He understands that even if our nation has left someone or some community behind in the past, it is never too late to march arm-in-arm with them into the future. Crucially, Governor Moore understands that service is the greatest act of resistance – not against America but against the cynicism and apathy that hold America back. That’s why he established the Department of Service and Civic Innovation on his first day in office. I look forward to seeing how this new agency will cultivate a culture of service that inspires young Marylanders to better themselves, their communities, and their country.
“His initiative reminds me of John F. Kennedy’s call to service, which inspired me and so many others of my generation to serve. When I endorsed Wes Moore in the primary, I said that I saw in him a man who would inspire. I know Governor Moore will continue to execute his vision and inspiration and transform our state for the better. That’s why I’m proud to yield the podium to him. Please join me in welcoming Governor Moore.”