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January 12, 2024

Ambassador Gutmann on MLK's speeches in Berlin 60 Years Ago

Guten Tag. Ich danke Ihnen allen, dass Sie heute hier sind, um den Martin-Luther-King-Tag zu feiern. I’m honored to be here with you to reflect on Dr. King’s impact both in the United States and here in Germany, where he visited almost sixty years ago. Thank you, Pastor Corinna Zisselsberger, for inviting us to this historic site. And thank you to Esther Hirsch, Osman Ors, and Roland Stolte of House of One for helping organize this event.
On the third Monday in January, every year, the United States celebrates the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. King was a pastor, an activist, and a Nobel Peace Prize recipient.

He and President Kennedy were the two people actively involved in American politics during my childhood that I admired the most. Not coincidentally, both also inspired Germans of all ages during my childhood. Dr. King was most famous leader in the civil rights movement in the United States from 1955 until his assassination in 1968. He inspired a generation of Americans, Germans, and people worldwide, of all ages, to speak out for liberty and justice for all, and against violence, hatred, and injustice.

Dr. King dedicated his entire life to improving the world in which he lived—and he challenged the rest of us to do at least some of the same. So, the Martin Luther King holiday on Monday, January 15, is not really a day off. It is a “day on,” a day to stand up and speak out to create a more just and equitable world. Why is Standing Up and Speaking Out so important?

Because today we sit here in the very place where Dr. King spoke 60 years ago this coming September. Yet this place was very different 60 years ago than it is today. And the difference between then and now says everything about why standing up and speaking out for liberty and justice for all is so important.

Consider what Dr. King told East Berliners then:

“It is indeed an honor to be in this city, which stands as a symbol of the divisions of men on the face of the earth. For here on either side of the wall are God’s children and no man-made barrier can obliterate that fact. Whether it be East or West, men and women search for meaning, hope for fulfillment, yearn for faith in something beyond themselves, and cry desperately for love and community to support them in this pilgrim journey.”

The civil rights movement that inspired me as a young person like you is all about living up to Dr. King’s dream of liberty and justice for all. The year before his Berlin speech, in the summer of 1963, Dr. King’s most famous “I Have a Dream” – Ich habe einen Traum – speech was addressed not only to the 250,000 people at the March on Washington, but to people around the world. His words still resonate today.

In 1964 when he visited Berlin, he insisted on crossing beyond the Wall into East Berlin and delivering the same speech here in the Marienkirche that he had delivered earlier that day in the West.

The Wall, he said, was a “symbol of the divisions of men on the face of the earth.”

“There is no East, no West, no North, no South, but one great fellowship of love throughout the whole, wide world,” he said.

Dr. King’s message of freedom and human rights not only had special significance then. It has special significance today.

We too often hear today how our differences bitterly divide us. In fact, however, joining together across our differences makes each of us stronger. That is why your being here today is so important.

What each and every one of us does—in our own words and actions—can make a positive difference in improving our world. By standing up and speaking out against bullies in your school, you contribute to improving your school. By befriending Ukrainian refugees or defending Jewish and Muslim people targeted simply because of their religion, you contribute to improving your society. Every action each of us takes to model the world we want to live in honors the legacy of Dr. King.

That is why I launched U.S. Mission Germany’s “Stand Up, Speak Out for Democracy” campaign. We are standing up and speaking out with our many partners across Germany who are dedicated to combatting all forms of hatred.

House of One is an inspiring example of religious tolerance, common hope, and common humanity. It is one of our partners in our new initiative.

Together, we can, and we will use our words and our actions to build a better future.

I hope I can count on you and other young people across Germany to partner with us. Remember: Everything you and I do makes a difference. And everything you and I don’t do also makes a difference. So, please join me and my team in speaking out, in singing out the values we share, and standing up against violence, hatred, and injustice wherever we see it. Standing UP and Speaking Out for democracy and against violence, hatred and injustice is the most meaningful way to honor Dr. King’s life and legacy!

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