“We’re at a space today that’s rich in our nation’s history, a place where citizens have gathered for more than a century to debate the great issues of the day. From this platform and from this very podium Abraham Lincoln spoke nearly 150 years ago as a presidential candidate and when Lincoln came here, he did not shy away from talking about the greatest threat that our republic faced at that time which is the terrible institution of human slavery. I will not shy away today either.
The issue of the confederate flag has become an issue in this presidential race. Let me make this clear. I believe that we have one flag in this country, the flag of the United States of America. I believe that the flag of the Confederate States of America is a painful symbol and reminder of racial injustice and slavery, which Lincoln denounced from here over 150 years ago. And I do not condone the use of the flag of the Confederate States of America. I do believe that this country needs to engage in a serious discussion about race, and that everyone must participate in that discussion. I started this discussion in a clumsy way.
This discussion will be painful, and I regret the pain that I may have caused either to African-American or southern white voters in the beginning of this discussion. But we need to have this discussion in an honest open way.
In 1968 the Republican Party embarked on a strategy to divide white people from black people in the south just as they were divided when Abraham Lincoln stood at this podium 150 years ago. That is intolerable. Ending that is what this campaign is all about.
I am determined to find a way to bring white Americans and black Americans–as Dr. King said–to the same table of common brotherhood. As I said, we have started in a difficult way, but there is no way to escape the pain of this discussion. To think that racism was banished from the face of this country–even after the success of the civil rights movement is wrong.
Today in America, you have a better chance of being called back for a job interview if you’re white with a criminal record than you do if you’re black with a clean record–never having been arrested or convicted. Institutional racism exists in this country not because institutions are run by bigots or racists, but because of our unconscious bias towards hiring people just like ourselves. I am determined we will overcome this. I am also determined that we will not leave anyone behind in this discussion–no matter what their color, no matter where they live.
I understand Senator Edward’s concern last night that we not have people from the north telling people from the south how to run their states–but we all need to understand that we are in this together and that it will be a difficult and painful discussion, and feelings will be hurt. And what we must do is that people of good will must stay at the table.
If we are ever to vanquish the scourge of racism left over from 400 hundred years of slavery and Jim Crow, only 40 or 50 years ago [did] the Civil Rights Movement begin to see relief from that. We can’t think it is over; we must have the dialogue Bill Clinton promised us; we must continue that dialogue, and we must all be at the table. Many of the people in the African American community have supported what I have said in the past few days, because they understand. Some have not, so I say, to those, I deeply regret the pain I have may caused. Many of our white supporters have understood, but to those who do not, I regret the pain that I have caused. I will tell you, there is no easy way to do this. There will be pain as we discuss it; we must face it together–hand-in-hand, as Dr. King and Abraham Lincoln asked us to do.
Because this is about taking back our country and when white people and brown people and black people vote together in this country, that’s when we get social justice in America.”