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President-elect Bush Delivers Martin Luther King Day Address at Houston Elementary School

Aired January 15, 2001 - 12:02 p.m. ET


FRANK SESNO, CNN ANCVHOR: In this country, it is a day to remember slain civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. And part of that is George W. Bush, the president-elect. He is speaking now at Kelso Elementary School in Houston.


PRESIDENT-ELECT GEORGE W. BUSH: I was told this is an annual event of Rod Paige's, to travel this vast city and this huge school district and remind people, particularly the students, about what he just said. And so I'm so thankful that you would have me, Ron. And Principal Hayes, thank you very much for going to work and putting up with all the crowd.

I want to thank the teachers who are here. I want to thank you for teaching. Yours is a noble calling, an incredibly important profession, and Rod and I will always remember that in those august halls in Washington, D.C.

I want to thank the parents who are here. I want to thank my friends who are here. And I want to thank the students for your welcome.

Before I begin, there are two members of the state senate who have taken time out of their busy schedules to come and say goodbye. I can't tell if they're here to say goodbye with relish or with sadness.


But nevertheless, I will tell you I say goodbye to them from a perspective of sadness and that's two good friends, Senator Ellis and Senator West; Ellis from Houston, West from Dallas, now chairmen of powerful committees.

Senator Ellis, chairman of the Finance Committee.


That means give Houston more money, I think.

Senator West, chairman of the powerful Jurisprudence Committee.

(APPLAUSE) We didn't always agree. If I always agreed with Ellis, you might hold me somewhat in suspect on issues, but we did agree on working together and so I'm so thankful you two guys came. I really appreciate it.

I've got a new address, starting at the end of this week. And so it's fitting, on my way out of the state, to come to an elementary school. Public education has been my number one priority as your governor. It's going to be a fundamental priority of ours in Washington.

I'm so proud of the promotion I received from the people. I know you're proud of the promotion Rod Paige received. For years you've been proud to call him superintendent. Now the people of America will be proud to call him Mr. Secretary.


I nominated Dr. Paige because he is a very intelligent, capable, a can-do person. He's results-oriented, but also because he shares the ideas of Martin Luther King: equal opportunity, equal treatment and equal rights.

Dr. King was a strong and clear voice, strong and clear voice for freedom. His passion for justice was rooted in his faith. He saw men and women put down and held back. He also saw violence and petty oppression. But he saw something deeper: the image of God in everyone.

"There's no greater scale of essential worth," Dr. King said. Every human being is etched with the indelible stamp of the creator.

This faith in the value of every person inspired others to face police dogs and hoses and violence. It inspired millions of Americans to face their own conscience. And our nation is better for it.

Dr. King also said those we would change, we first must love. He changed America greatly because he loved America greatly.

He called on our country to live up to its principles, its founding ideals and unending possibilities. America does not always live up to our ideals.

Many Americans still face prejudice. The hopes of too many children are frustrated by deep poverty and unequal schools. And when this happens, our whole country feels the loss of their gifts.

Our work is not finished, but our goal is not uncertain. Dr. King defined that goal as creating the blessed community where all are valued and all are welcomed.

This is the guiding goal of our country. It places big demands on each of us, regardless of where we stand and what we do.

As president, my job will be to listen not only to the successful but also to the suffering, to work toward a nation that respects the dignity of every single life.

I remember the promise etched in this day honoring Dr. Martin Luther King. Dr. King's dream places demands on each of us, old and young alike. We can live it in the way we treat others. We can live it in the standards we set for ourselves and the goals we seek in our lives.

As the boys and girls study here, it's important to remember what Dr. Martin Luther King said about education. He said it has two purposes: The first is to teach us to think critically, to understand true from the false, real from the unreal, facts from fiction. The second purpose is to build character so that we also know good from bad, right from wrong, just from unjust. Intelligence plus character, Dr. King said, that's the true goal of education.

That's what Dr. Rod Paige has stood for here in Houston. He believes every child can learn if given a chance. He believes that if you set high standards of learning and behavior, our young people will rise to meet those standards. Because of his leadership and the support of fine teachers all throughout this important school district, schools like Kelso Elementary are a point of pride for the state of Texas.

Dr. Paige and I have a lot of work ahead of us, and we're ready. And we're ready. We're ready to bring a spirit of reform and results to public schools all across the country.

We're going to urge more resources and flexibility to our schools, and expect more in return, so that no child is left behind.

We will insist on high standards and real accountability, but we will leave the greatest authority in the hands of the people who know best, the teachers and parents and local folks all throughout America.

Last year, in the course of a long campaign, I had the honor of visiting Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. It's the scene of one of the great victories in our nation over racial segregation. It was there that nine African-American children asked only to be able to go to school. It took an act of a president and the assemblage of National Guard units to allow that to happen.

Today the challenge is different, but there's still a challenge. See, every child can go to school now. The fundamental question is, is every child learning? Access is equal, but not opportunity when not all children are learning in America.

Some schools are not fulfilling their mission, leaving too many of our children without the basics they need to succeed. This is a violation of America's promise. The dream of equality is empty without excellent schools, schools that stress reading and discipline and character and decency.

That goal will take presidential leadership and leadership from our new secretary of education.

It is a goal we set. It is a goal we will work endlessly to achieve.

So today, we remember a great life. And I'm so honored to do so here at Kelso.

Dr. King's message was about the possibility of greatness in every single life in America. Here at Kelso, you all are learning to use your gifts with diligence and care and commitment. I urge you to continue the process at school and once you're out of school.

Thank you so much for having me. God bless. God bless America.


SESNO: President-elect George W. Bush there at Kelso Elementary School in Houston. You saw him make reference to and then shake the hands of Rod Paige, that is his man -- his nominee to be education secretary. President-elect Bush noting that Martin Luther King was a strong and clear voice for freedom, and making the connection to education, something that George W. Bush plans to make a centerpiece of his administration, stressing that today the challenge in civil rights is different than it was when Martin Luther King was engaged in his struggle.

On the subject of education, he says, access is equal today, but too many schools are not fulfilling their commitments to provide quality education, leaving too many kids behind, and he pledged to make that the highest priority of his administration.



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