Remarks by Senator Edward M. Kennedy
I'm honored to be here today with President Gerald R. Ford, the winner of this year’s Profile in Courage Award, and Congressman John Lewis, the recipient of the Profile in Courage Lifetime Achievement Award.
Today we honor two outstanding leaders who withstood the heat of controversy and persevered in their beliefs about what was in our country’s best interests. History has proved them right.
This is the 12th year of this annual award, and I am proud that it has become so recognized as symbol of noble public service. It was inspired by the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by President Kennedy, and it was instituted to celebrate his life and his belief that political courage must be valued and honored.
We hope that the Profile in Courage awards will encourage young men and women to enter public service -- and that it will inspire political leaders at the local, state, and national level to dare to take on even the most difficult issues, and demonstrate their own devotion to high principle.
In his book, President Kennedy told the stories of courageous political leaders who faced crucial decisions and made them under great pressure, and often at great risk to their own careers. I believe my brother would be especially pleased with our winners this year. He would feel that their stories of courage would have made outstanding new chapters in his book.
At a time of national turmoil, America was fortunate that it was Gerald Ford who took the helm of the storm-tossed ship of state. Unlike many of us at the time, President Ford recognized that the nation had to move forward, and could not do so if there was a continuing effort to prosecute former President Nixon. So President Ford made a courageous decision, one that historians now say cost him his office, and he pardoned Richard Nixon.
I was one of those who spoke out against his action then. But time has a way of clarifying past events, and now we see that President Ford was right. His courage and dedication to our country made it possible for us to begin the process of healing and put the tragedy of Watergate behind us. He eminently deserves this award, and we are proud of his achievement.
Our other winner this year, John Lewis, is a legend for his courageous leadership over so many years in the civil rights movement. For a generation he has asked America to be all it could be. Despite more than 40 arrests and countless vicious beatings, John Lewis never stopped believing in the ideals of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. He organized his fellow citizens and helped them to obtain their most fundamental right in a democracy -- the right to vote -- and he has continued to fight for civil rights ever since.
He rose from poverty to become a member of the United States Congress, where he continues to lead the battle against injustice wherever he finds it. In John Lewis, we are humbled to see a person of towering physical and moral courage – a man who has accomplished what so many others would fear to try. He is indeed a worthy recipient of the Profile in Courage Lifetime Achievement Award.
It is now my privilege to introduce President Kennedy’s daughter Caroline. She will read the Profile in Courage Citations for our honorees and present their awards. Caroline is the graceful force behind these annual awards, and she is a joy to all of us who know and love her. Every day, she reflects the spirit and ideals of her parents, and makes us proud of all of her accomplishments. We thank her for her wonderful leadership here at the Library -- Caroline Kennedy.
Remarks delivered by Senator Edward M. Kennedy on presenting the 2001 Profile in Courage Award to President Gerald R. Ford and the Lifetime Achievement Award to Congressman John Lewis, May 21, 2001.