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Johnson Pays Tribute to King's Legacy, Rededicates MLK Federal Building After Major Renovations

As prepared for delivery

Remarks by
Martha N. Johnson
U.S. General Services Administration
MLK Federal Building Rededication
Atlanta, Ga.
January 14, 2011

Thank you for that kind introduction.

I am honored to be here in the company of so many of our country’s great civic heroes: Representative John Lewis, Reverend Joseph Lowery , Reverend Gerald Durley, Martin Luther King III, Andrew Young, and many other distinguished guests and leaders of the community.

I bring greetings today to this gathering from President Barack Obama and my colleagues in his Administration.

It is a great pleasure to be here to rededicate this beautiful public building in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. King’s life and prophetic teachings are indelibly woven into the fabric of American life, culture, and history, and are now immortalized in the chiseled marble and timeless granite of this federal building.

Two nights ago, President Obama spoke to our nation about terrible events that recently occurred in Arizona.

He expressed our collective shock and dismay, extended our compassion, and noted that our prayers are with the victims and their families and loved ones.

He also asked our country to reflect on two questions: “How can we honor the fallen? How can we be true to their memory?”

They are questions that we must all consider in the months and years ahead. How can we be true to the memories – the hopes – of those who have fallen?

Today, as we grieve for those lost last week and pray for those still recovering, we honor another fallen hero, Dr. King, who was taken from us in another act of senseless violence in a not-so-distant decade.

Dr. King ultimately lost his life in the cause of justice and equality but my deep memory of him – even as a child watching the news and listening to my parents – was that he gave his life every day to the cause.

He preached, he marched, he organized.

He taught, he wrote, he traveled to meet people.

He strategized. He rallied the fainthearted.

His biographer talks about how hard he prepared and how he practiced his speeches and sermons in front of the mirror at home until he knew them by memory.

Dr. King WORKED. He worked hard. He worked steadily. He worked seven days a week on streets, in churches, at rallies, and in small sessions.

So, I am struck that today we are here to capture again his memory and bring it close in.

And, how better to do it than to connect his memory and his hopes with work, and the work of our public servants as they shoulder the great work of our democracy.

As his name graces this building, so too will his memory grace the work of our civil service as they meet the public and as they conduct the business of our shared government in these light-filled rooms.

I am privileged to be here today representing the U.S. General Services Administration, whose mission it is to support the agencies of our federal government so that they can fulfill their missions.

We take care of the Department of Veterans Affairs so that they can more effectively care for our veterans. We support the Department of Education so that they can educate tomorrow’s leaders.

OUR work at GSA is to provide America’s civil servants with safe and effective workplaces in which to conduct the business of government.

We believe that federal buildings should reflect those values we hold dear in public service and across our nation: that we all seek an accessible, open, sustainable, high-performing, and INCLUSIVE government.

These beliefs are rooted in a rich tradition; American workplaces have played, and continue to play, an important role in our national story and in the fight for equality, civil rights, and social justice.

Throughout our nation’s history, the workplace – whether factory floor, office park, or farmer’s field – has often been the frontline of the ongoing struggle for inclusion, recognition, and respect.

Why? Because the workplace is an arena where people are stretched and tested.

It is where we demonstrate our hard work; our capacity to think, build, and contribute; and, in the words of Dr. King, the content of our character.

I’ve seen this firsthand as I’ve travelled around the country visiting construction sites and small businesses, and I lived it when I was a young employee in a diesel engine factory, as a waitress in a small town restaurant in the upper Midwest, as a teacher, and later as a manager and executive.

America is a nation of proud workers, and our workplaces anchor and sustain our communities.

They build and empower our citizens.

Work is as indelible to our national spirit as the words on our founding documents.

It’s the lifespring of the American dream. It’s what sustains us. It’s what gives us hope for a better tomorrow and a brighter future for our children.

I believe this, and I am honored to work in the administration of a president who believes it too.

President Obama knows that the promise of America’s future lies in the vitality and success of our businesses and our workers.

He knows that if our nation supports them, they will support our nation.

And he has made it clear that his administration won’t rest until every American can enjoy the confidence, comfort, and pride of employment.

Today, we face great challenges and deep sorrow.

But standing here in the company of these giants of social justice, in a building that bears Dr. King’s legacy, and surrounded by people who gave – and give – their efforts to civil service, I am reminded that our country has fiber, courage, and tenacity.

We have shared memories and experiences.

And, we are woven together as a sacred community through our work and our dedication to each other.

This building was born in the era of the Great Depression, and it stood – and still stands – as a powerful symbol of renewed strength.

Today we rededicate it, and are reminded again of our democracy, our community, our workplaces, and our faith in the future.

Thank you.

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