Remarks by Senator Edward M. Kennedy

Remarks delivered by Senator Edward M. Kennedy
Profile in Courage Award
May 29, 1990

First of all, I want to express our family's appreciation to all those at the Kennedy Library Foundation who have worked so hard to make this day happen and this award possible.

I also convey the gratitude of my mother. She knows all about this award, and she wishes she could be here for this announcement.

Mother turns 100 this July. Since Jack would be 73 today, mother asked me to pass along a message to our honoree, Congressman Elliott, whom she remembers as a contemporary of Jack's from the White House days.

Mother said to be sure and tell that nice young Carl Elliott not to worry about being in his 70's — he won't slow down for another 10 or 15 years.

And from what I know of Carl Elliott, mother is absolutely right.

If President Kennedy were writing "Profiles in Courage" today, Congressman Elliott would merit a special chapter of his own.

The story of this courageous Congressman ranks with any of those my brother wrote about. It is fitting that this first "Profile in Courage" Award goes to a member of my brother's generation, and I know that Jack would be proud of the choice.

In fact, I suspect it may be more than coincidence that Congressman Elliott's ordeal in politics was beginning in earnest, just as my brother's book was published in 1956.

The quality of political courage that Carl Elliott displayed throughput his brilliant sixteen-year career in Congress is all too rare in any era in American history. But it is especially rare today, when so many elected officials are catalyzed by public opinion polls, mesmerized by special interest groups, and terrorized by thirty-second spots.

But Carl Elliott is cut from a different cloth. He met the great political and social challenges of his day head on, risking the wrath and braving the insults of his constituents, striving with uncommon courage for racial justice and educational opportunity for all Americans.

A generation later, civil rights is still the unfinished business of America, and the path ahead often seems as difficult as it ever was. But because of the political courage of Carl Elliott, America is closer to the goal of equal justice under law and equal opportunity for all.

The other great battle that Carl Elliott led was over federal aid to education. It is a measure of the degree and speed with which his vision has prevailed that most Americans today who hear of this award may well ask what all the passion was about.

Because of the political courage of Carl Elliott, federal aid to education today is as American as apple pie — and an entire generation of Americans who have been able to afford a college education are in his debt.

Like most of the leaders whose stories were told by President Kennedy in "Profiles in Courage", Carl Elliott suffered heavily for his ideals. But we hope this Profile in Courage Award will bring at least some small measure of the recognition and respect he deserves for serving his country so eminently in one of the most difficult periods of our history.

Most of all, we hope that by honoring Carl Elliott, we will encourage the American people to value the quality of political courage more highly, so that more elected officials will feel able to do what they know is right.