Remarks by Senator Edward M. Kennedy

I join in welcoming this year's Profile in Courage Award winner to the Kennedy Library. And I'm particularly pleased that we are meeting here in this beautiful new Smith Center.

This is the second year of the Profile in Courage Award, and the second year in a row that the award has gone to a Congressman from the South.

That is hardly coincidence. For the South is the place where many of the truest profiles in courage have been on display in the politics of modern times.

Our winner this year is no exception. He came to the House of Representatives in 1962, and he served only two terms. But he accomplished more in those two terms than most others accomplish in twenty terms.

By breaking the tradition of massive resistance and voting for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, he helped to create a New South.

And then by honoring a higher principle, by refusing to compromise with hate, by yielding his seat in Congress rather than obey his party's cruel oath and support a candidate for governor who would resegregate his state, he set a standard that few political leaders have equaled at any time in our history.

At the time, the Speaker of the House of Representatives was a great Congressman in his own right, John McCormack of Massachusetts. And he called Charles Weltner "one of the finest and bravest men I have ever met in all my years in public life."

A quarter century has passed since that extraordinary act of political conscience which electrified the country. As much as any other single action in those difficult years, his demonstration of political courage shored up people's faith in the integrity of our politics, and reaffirmed our commitment to the nation's founding ideal of equal justice under law.

In his book "Southerner" -- published in 1966, a few months before the courageous act for which we honor him -- he described his vision of the New South. And in words I would like to quote now, he placed his times and our times in a perspective that should still guide us today:

"The North has never had the wit," he said, "and the South has never had the will to solve the race problem. Vindictiveness from one quarter can combine with intransigence from the other, as they did one hundred years ago, and perpetuate themselves to the sorrow of the nation. But it need not be. We are not hopelessly condemned to relive history. Rather, if we have the wit and the will, we can add a new bright chapter to Southern history."

Charles Weltner had then -- and still has today as a Justice on the Supreme Court of Georgia -- both the wit and the will to advance us toward that ideal. And if more leaders had Charles Weltner's qualities today, we would be closer to achieving it.

As President Kennedy often urged, each of us can make a difference. In the South, in the Congress and in the country as a whole, Charles Weltner's example inspired us to stay the course on civil rights in the 1960's. More than ever, we need the inspiration of his example to stay that course today.

If President Kennedy were here, he would be particularly proud of this year's honoree. Charles Weltner is a profile in courage for his time, for our time, and for all time, and it is an honor to welcome him today.

Remarks made by Senator Edward M. Kennedy on presenting the Profile in Courage Award to Charles Weltner on May 29, 1991.