Gov. Janet Mills’ speech at the 38th annual Martin Luther King Jr. dinner Monday night at the Holiday Inn by the Bay in Portland:

“Let us all hope,” wrote Martin Luther King, Jr. from his narrow cell in Birmingham, “that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow,” he continued, “the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.”

More than half a century later, I wonder – have we yet arrived at the not too distant tomorrow that Dr. King hoped for?

Our nation has made progress in clearing the dark clouds of injustice.

On bridges and buses, school steps and street corners, Americans with courage in their hearts and hope in their souls for a better future put their bodies on the line to ensure that all would someday be free.

From Birmingham to Little Rock and Greensboro to Selma, they awakened generations to the injustices that permeated the nation.

And together, leaders young and old in communities nationwide fought to end the legalized segregation and sanctioned brutality of our past.

Our country established new laws, new rules, and with them, new expectations, for one another.

No longer would we tolerate the disenfranchisement of our brothers and sisters.

No longer would we accept ourselves as a nation that creates second class citizens.

No longer would we ignore the struggles of our neighbors to preserve an unfair status quo.

Today, the dawn of social media has shined a light, and brought the eyes and swift judgment of the world, on those individuals and governments who demonstrate prejudice.

And together, we congratulated ourselves and celebrated a new era of peace.

Our society conquered injustice, rejected racism, and raised our children to neither see color or disdain diversity – or so we were told, right?

In his letter from that Birmingham jail, Dr. King also wrote, “Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

Progress is not inevitable. While we work to create a nation of equality and justice for all, we are ever cognizant that storm clouds remain on the horizon.

The drumbeat of hate and fear can grow, and, indeed, is growing.

We must remain vigilant.

And in confronting those who would perpetrate hate – with the strength of our unwavering conviction that freedom, equality, and justice is for all – we must always be vigilant to defend those rights – in our courts, in our statehouse, in our US Capitol, on our streets, on a bridge or a bus or a prison cell in Birmingham or elsewhere.

Because, as Dr. King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

In 1964 Dr. King came to Maine to speak at Bowdoin College. After his remarks, a student asked him, “What do these ideas have to do with me, a white student at a basically all white school in a predominantly white state?”

Dr. King responded, “If you conscience stops at the border of Maine, you are less of a person than you should be, and you are as responsible for what happens in Birmingham as you are in Brunswick.”

It is easy to put distance between us and injustice.

But sometimes injustice comes to us.

When we work towards equal rights for women.

When we work towards equal rights for LGBTQ individuals.

When we see economic injustice in depressed rural towns that feel left behind.

When we avoid the stare of a homeless veteran bracing for the cold in Maine.

When we talk as if we are so much better than “people from away”…

The other day I attended a Naturalization ceremony here in Portland, at King Middle School. Forty-six individuals of all ages, religions and races – men and women and young people – from 31 different countries – from Canada to Angola – took the complicated oath to become United States citizens.

Some came from comfortable homes in democratic countries. Others escaped war, tyranny and abuse.

Now they are all our neighbors, friends and coworkers. The live and work in nearly all the counties of Maine. They are raising their families and going to school here and offering their talents and expertise to a state that badly needs them.

Dr. King I think would welcome them. And he would tell us to love them just as we love our neighbors who have been here for decades, those who have lived here for centuries, just as we love and respect our indigenous friends who were here before that.

Freedom comes in many forms and is not easy to achieve.

In 1965, young Madeline McHugh from Hattiesburg, Mississippi, asked “What does Freedom Mean?”

She said, “Whenever I think about sunlight and fresh air, or peace and springtime, I think about men wanting to be free. There are men who want freedom all their lives and never get it: there are men who have freedom all their lives and never know it. . .. but I think men who know they are free and try to help other men get it show how precious freedom really is.”

Until every man, woman and child can see the radiant stars of love — of brotherhood and sisterhood — shining over our great state and our great country, none of us is truly free.

Let us work hand in hand until we can all look up to see those thousands of radiant stars, that scintillating beauty, together as a state, as a nation.

 

Thank you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Governor Janet T. Mills Remarks

38th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Observance

January 21, 2019

Portland Holiday Inn

 

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