Ambassador Susman’s remarks at the screening of Lincoln at 20th Century Fox, Soho Square, London.
Ambassador Susman: Good evening everyone – welcome, and thank you so much for coming.
I want to express my deepest appreciation to our hosts this evening, 20th Century Fox, whose generosity has made it possible for us to begin our annual celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day with this unique and very special event.
Shortly, we’ll be watching Lincoln, Steven Spielberg’s epic picture about President Lincoln’s tumultuous final months in office, which yesterday got 12 Oscar nominations to go with the 10 BAFTA nominations it’s already received.
So I am sure we’re in for a real treat.
In fact, I learned recently that there are 14,000 books on him – apparently, historians and scholars have only written more about Jesus and Napoleon.
Even here in the UK, I have been pleasantly surprised at how much Lincoln is revered – as evidenced by statues in Manchester and London, and a bust in the Norfolk village where his ancestors came from.
I was also delighted to learn on my appointment to the Court of St. James’s that his son, Robert Todd Lincoln, was one of my predecessors as Ambassador.
There are many reasons for President Lincoln’s enduring appeal.
He embodied the American dream – born in abject poverty he rose to become President of the United States and one of the greatest figures in modern human history.
He is remembered for his incredible ability to inspire others with great speeches.
The Gettysburg address and his second inaugural speech are still the best proclamations of America’s vision and values.
Above all, though, Lincoln is respected and admired as a man of courage and conscience who saved our Union and made slavery illegal.
Lincoln took this bold and brave decision to formally abolish slavery because he knew it was morally right, even though he knew it was divisive and would inflame passions amid a civil war.
Ultimately, this principled stand would cost Lincoln his life.
But it set the United States on a new course to help America finally “live out the true meaning of its creed”: that ours is a nation founded on equality.
In the years and decades that followed, many took up the cause of freedom that Lincoln had begun, inspired by his example – none more so than Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
It is no coincidence that Dr. King chose the steps of the Lincoln Memorial from which to make his famous “I Have A Dream” speech.
Just like Lincoln, he fought against the odds for what he knew was just. And just like Lincoln, Dr. King paid the ultimate price for the dream of a country united.
It is fitting then that a film about Lincoln should begin our annual celebration of Dr. King’s life, his civil rights accomplishments and his legacy of justice and equality.
This year Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which falls on January 21, also happens to coincide with the second inauguration of our first African-American President.
In many ways, President Obama’s election represented another great stride on the long journey to equality that began with Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation 150 years ago.
But it’s important to remind ourselves that while Lincoln began to eliminate racial prejudice, it was ultimately those activists like Dr. King who fought hardest to throw off the bonds of injustice and oppression.
Through their courage and creativity they gave life and meaning to the vision of equality which Lincoln and the Founding Fathers dreamed of before them.
It is also true that their achievements were a victory for all Americans.
As Dr. King’s widow Coretta Scott King rightly said about Martin Luther King Jr. Day: “This is not a black holiday. It is a people’s holiday.”
Thanks to Dr. King and the remarkable actions of countless others, America today is more diverse, more inclusive, more compassionate and more just than ever.
That said, we cannot congratulate ourselves that in 2013 full equality irrespective of race, faith, gender and sexuality has been attained.
The distance still to be traveled is both a reproach and a challenge.
And on Martin Luther King Jr. Day this year, I believe we must honor President Lincoln and Dr. King by dedicating ourselves to finally fulfilling the promise of equal rights for all.
Thank you very much. It is great to have you here – and I hope you enjoy the film.