[ Text Version | WordPerfect Version ]

January 13, 1999

Thank you for that kind introduction.

I want to thank ABC, the League of Women Voters, and the National Conference for Community and Justice, for inviting me here tonight, and the Smithsonian for hosting this screening.

Each year, millions of Americans make a trip with their family, their school, or their church to Washington and to this museum. They come here to learn about our nation's history from the lives of the First Ladies to the story of the original Star-Spangled Banner.

But there are many more families and children who can't make it to Washington and see this history come alive. So instead, for them, you have created Selma Lord Selma and brought history to them in their own living rooms.

For children today, it is hard to believe that when the Selma voter registration drive began in 1965, only 1 percent of blacks were on the election rolls. It is hard to believe that when Martin Luther King came to Selma to launch that effort, he that year's Nobel Peace Prize winner had to fend off an attacker to become the first black to register in Selma's Hotel Albert. It is hard to believe that on "Bloody Sunday," when Hosea Williams and John Lewis led those brave souls across the Pettus Bridge, that there would be beatings, blood, and brutality remarkable even for the police of Alabama.

In 1965, many citizens could not imagine that all of this was happening in America. But television brought Selma to them, and they could not turn a blind eye. And in 1999, living in a time when we reap that which was sown for us in Selma and even at times take these fruits for granted, television is bringing this important chapter in our history not just to our nation, but to our nation's children.

I remember when I was growing up, my family would gather around the TV and watch shows in which we never saw a black face. Today, children are as used to seeing Bill Cosby on TV as they are Drew Carey and they think nothing of this. With this film, we are reminding this generation of the sacrifices made to have African-Americans accepted as an equal part of our society on television, at the lunch counter, and in the voting booth.

Indeed, I would not be standing here tonight as Chairman of the FCC had it not been for the sacrifices of the people portrayed on the screen. And although the civil rights challenges of today are indeed different than they were thirty years ago, we must never forget how we got here.

Selma Lord Selma is an important film. It is a reminder and a teacher of the struggles of the civil rights movement, and of the power of television to provoke us to action and to teach us our shared past.

Thank you, Julian Fowles, Yolanda King, Mackenzie Astin, Clifton Powell, Jurnee Smollett, the entire cast and crew, and Disney and ABC for bringing us this movie. I am sure that this Sunday, it will touch many children, prodding them to ask the right questions and to learn more about Martin Luther King and the civil rights struggle. Thank you and enjoy the film.