Remarks by Senator Edward M. Kennedy

Thank you John [Seigenthaler] for that very generous introduction. John is a dear friend to all the members of the Kennedy family, and a respected journalist in his own right, and it’s a privilege to be here with him today.

This year the Profile in Courage Award Committee recognized that the events of September 11th have awakened a new and deeper appreciation for the ideals of public service.

Today we honor two men who, in their quiet determined way, lived up to those ideals, despite the risks to their own positions of authority. Their example encourages people everywhere to reach for the best in themselves, and not succumb to fear and hate.

The Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofi Annan responded decisively to the tragedy of September 11th and America will be forever grateful for his courageous leadership. In the days following the terrorist attack, he helped to build international support against terrorism. His quiet work behind the scenes convinced skeptical international leaders that a strong stand must be taken for the sake of all nations.

Under his able leadership, the United Nations is now working to address the great humanitarian needs of the Afghan people and to help build an effective, representative, and strong Afghan government. For his unwavering support in the war against terrorism, all Americans salute him.

The Secretary-General has also brought to the forefront of concern the international health care crisis caused by AIDS. In Africa and throughout the developing world, he has dared to criticize the veil of secrecy behind which the deadly disease has so often been hidden. He has succeeded in focusing worldwide attention on the epidemic and has issued a global “Call to Action.” He has encouraged other nations to make an unprecedented commitment to eliminating the disease. His tireless work and personal leadership are braking down barriers and saving of many lives.

Whether it is fighting AIDS in Africa, genocide in Kosovo, or terrorism around the world, the Secretary General, has risked the wrath of world powers and many other countries to do what he believes is right. He has made the United Nations a champion of human rights and he has always worked for peace.

In his address at American University in 1963, President Kennedy said, “Genuine peace must be the product of many nations, the sum of many acts. It must be dynamic, not static, changing to meet the challenge of each new generation.” In Secretary-General Kofi Annan, we have a dynamic Profile in Courage who is meeting the challenge of this generation.

Mayor Dean Koldenhoven is another example of public service at its finest. Today we recognize him for his principled stand against religious intolerance. It cost him a second term in office, but in braving a firestorm of fear and prejudice, he left behind a magnificent legacy.

In May of 2000, local members of the Islamic community in the Chicago suburb of Palos Heights sought to purchase a vacant church and made plans to turn it into a mosque and school for members of their faith. Hearing of the plans local residents, and some members of the City Council, fought against it. The claim was made that the land was needed for a recreation center, although it had stood vacant for two years and been deemed too small for that purpose in the past. At City Council meetings, an ugly undercurrent of intolerance surfaced, as derogatory comments against Muslims were made by residents and Council members alike. Officials tried to block the licenses for the needed renovations. When that tactic failed, the Council proposed a two hundred thousand dollar payoff if the Islamic community would give up its plans for the property.

Through all the turmoil Mayor Koldenhoven was steadfast against such bigotry. He called on the best instincts in his constituents and reminded them of the fundamental rights on which this nation was built. “It hurts me,” he said at the time. “Here we are, coming up on Memorial Day. People fought and died for these freedoms; we talk about them, but then some people decide they’re not freedoms for everyone.” He vetoed the monetary payoff as an “insult” to the Muslim community. In the end, the Muslim community chose to build their Mosque elsewhere, and the Mayor was defeated for reelection.

There was a time in our own city of Boston when there were signs in the windows offering jobs, but with the warning that “No Irish Need Apply.” In 1960, many people said that a member of the Catholic faith should not be President of the United States or live in The White House. Today, when we thought my brother’s election had put so much religious prejudice to rest, we hear again the dark rumblings of some who say members of the Islamic faith cannot be good Americans and should not live and worship in our neighborhoods. Again today, we find we must struggle to rise above intolerance and remember our historic values.

Mayor Koldenhoven held firm to his principles with unwavering resolve and honored our history, his own deep faith and our Bill of Rights. This man of such fundamental decency has been a member of the bricklaying profession all his life. He has built many strong walls. But as he showed us, the dangerous walls of religious intolerance between our fellow citizens are walls that must be torn down. He is truly a Profile in Courage.

It is now my privilege to introduce Caroline, who continues to inspire all of us with her leadership here at the Library. I know her parents would be especially proud of the skillful work and dedication she brings to the Profile in Courage Award each year. This year she has added a new book to that effort, “Profiles in Courage for Our Time,” which has been edited and compiled by Caroline to tell the heroic stories of the winners of this Award since it was first established in 1989. As these stories make clear, not all of our heroes are in the distant past. She will speak about our most current heroes – the men and women who made such extraordinary sacrifices in our time of national crisis and whose actions touched us all so deeply. It’s my honor to introduce her now – Caroline Kennedy.

Remarks delivered by Senator Edward M. Kennedy at the 2002 Profile in Courage Award Ceremony, May 6, 2002.