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Mfume Speaks at CIA's Martin Luther King, Jr., Celebration

January 16, 2007

The CIA held its annual Martin Luther King, Jr., celebration at the Agency's headquarters this morning. The keynote speaker was Kweisi Mfume, former president of the NAACP and former member of the House of Representatives from Maryland, who was visiting the CIA for the first time.

Mr. Mfume was introduced by CIA Director Michael V. Hayden. Here are General Hayden's remarks, as prepared for delivery:


It is a pleasure to be here. The images we have just seen remain powerful, no matter how familiar they've become. Today, I'd like to paint in your minds a less-known image of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. It is a moment almost eight years before the "I Have a Dream" speech, a moment when Dr. King first stepped into a leadership role in the civil rights struggle: December 5th, 1955.

Several thousand African Americans gathered at Holt Street Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, that evening to mark the end of the first day of a citywide bus boycott and to decide the next steps in their protest against segregation. Both the sanctuary and the basement of the church were standing room only. An overflow crowd listened to the proceedings via loudspeakers outside. Earlier that day, the Montgomery Improvement Association had been formed to organize and lead what would be a yearlong protest. Dr. King, at age 26, had been elected its president. He began his remarks to the huge crowd with these words:

"We are here…because first and foremost we are American citizens, and we are determined to apply our citizenship to the fullness of its meaning. We are here also because of our love for democracy, because of our deep-seated belief that democracy transformed from thin paper to thick action is the greatest form of government on Earth."

Dr. King could have opened his maiden speech as president of the Association in many other ways. He could have focused immediately on Rosa Parks' courageous act of civil disobedience, or on the injustice of segregation, or the frequent humiliation and mistreatment of blacks on Montgomery's buses.

But Dr. King knew the boycott – and, indeed, the entire movement that unfolded over the following decade – would be about much more than solidarity with Rosa Parks or ending segregation in the South. Well before he became a national icon – well before his every word and deed were chronicled and scrutinized – Dr. King knew that the dawning civil rights movement would be about how Americans define themselves. At its core, the struggle would be about who we are as a Nation—how we see ourselves and what we represent to the rest of the world.

Social and economic justice were the ends he sought. Civil disobedience, the means. But just as importantly, love of country was the message he used to draw support. By appealing to our best instincts – our founding declaration that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights – Dr. King reminded us, at a crucial moment in our Nation's history, what it means to be American. He challenged us to bridge the gap between our words and deeds, to turn thin paper into thick action.

Through the strength of his eloquence and the grace of his example, he transformed the way Americans of all creeds, colors, and backgrounds thought about and treated one another. He helped us realize that all must enjoy the privileges of equality and justice if America is to truly be the land of the free. Along the way, he made us not only more faithful to our values, but stronger as a Nation, and better as people.

Today we celebrate the extraordinary achievements of this extraordinary man. And we have an opportunity to reflect on the work still left to do to make his dream a reality.

Here at CIA, we are working very hard to foster and sustain an environment where every person is valued for the skills, talent, intellect and experience they bring to our unique mission. Because our work is more important than ever to the security of the United States, every officer simply must contribute to his or her full potential. There is no second-class officer here. And there is nothing more important to the future of this Agency than extending opportunities to every employee so that we can develop tomorrow's leaders.

We also must continue to strive for a workforce that reflects our diverse world – not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it is essential to our success. Our job is to understand the complex and rapidly changing world around us. There are few things that will do more to put us on that path than to hire and retain men and women with a broad range of ethnic and cultural backgrounds, language skill, education and experience. Put simply, diversity of workforce equals diversity of thought. Our entire leadership team is deeply committed to expanding CIA's diversity so that we can more effectively identify, collect, and understand the information that is vital to America's safety.

Martin Luther King Jr. understood well the rich benefits that flow from having men and women of all backgrounds work together to overcome tough problems. He spoke time and again about building genuine brotherhood – the kind of brotherhood that enables us to see each other's challenges as our own. The kind of brotherhood that inspires us to work together, find solutions, and share the joy of success.

Perhaps more than anything, Dr. King was a man of hope. He faced countless difficulties and disappointments: He endured fatigue and imprisonment, carried tremendous responsibilities, and faced constant threats to his safety and that of his family. Yet he held firmly to his belief that brighter days would come – that the forces of light would prevail over the forces of darkness.

When he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, he said, "I accept this award today with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind."

It can be hard to maintain that kind of optimism in our line of work. The intelligence we see day in and day out rarely spells good news. But hope for a better future is what inspires us to serve our country, and it keeps us going when things get tough.

I would venture to guess that most of us here share Dr. King's "abiding and audacious faith." For that inspiration, and the many, many other wonderful things he did for our country and our world, we are sincerely grateful. The gifts he gave us endure. And so, today, we celebrate both his life and his legacy.

Now, it is my pleasure to introduce our keynote speaker – a man who, like Dr. King, has spent most of his life working on behalf of others. He is best known for his service as congressman from Maryland and as President and CEO of the largest and oldest civil rights organization in the United States, the NAACP.

But his commitment to improving our society and to promoting policies that expand opportunities for all people reaches back to very early in his career: to his work as a student leader at Morgan State University, a radio talk show host in Baltimore and member of the Baltimore City Council.

The arc of his career is all the more impressive when you consider the adversity he once faced as an underprivileged high-school dropout, who lost his mother and was essentially on his own at age 16. His is a remarkable American story of accomplishment and determination. Please join me in welcoming a man who transformed a very difficult life into one of service, leadership and inspiration: Mr. Kweisi Mfume.


Historical Document
Posted: Mar 16, 2007 12:09 PM
Last Updated: Jun 18, 2008 09:49 AM