U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., spoke on the Senate floor on Monday to discuss the current events and America’s founding. Rubio pushed back against the “1619 Project” from the New York Times which hopes to “reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of [the United States’] national narrative.”
Rubio said the following:
The events of the last few months, I think, what we’ve seen in the streets, the protests, all the issues that surround that, I think it forced the country to grapple with our history on the issues of race. And in particular what we teach young Americans about what that means and how it fits in the broader story of America.
Is America in fact a nation founded on racism, one that makes our very founding and its principles almost irredeemable? It’s an important question. You can’t ask Americans or any generation to sacrifice or defend a nation they believe is so deeply flawed, and so it’s one that I think we have to talk about.
This country was founded in the year 1776, and it was founded by this Declaration that all men are created equal, that your rights come from God, from your creator. Now, we take those words for granted today. They were extraordinarily radical ideas 244 years ago. Up until that time, every person on Earth was told that your rights were whatever the sovereign allowed you to have, whatever the king allowed you to have. You didn’t have any rights that were natural to you. So the very principle itself was pretty radical.
The problem is that from the very beginning, many of the people, including who put their name on that document and our laws at the time, did not reflect that founding principle. And our story can largely be summarized as a 244-year journey to more fully live up to the promises made at our founding.
For our first 89 years as a nation, human beings were owned as slaves. And beyond just the horrors of slavery, they were the subject of torture, of rape, of seeing their children sold away, away from them, never to see them again. When that horrible institution finally came to an end, it was followed by another 100 years of separate and unequal, where black Americans were told where they could live, where they could work, where they could go to school, and more. They were told where they could eat, where they could sit or not, where they were allowed to stay overnight. They were even told what side of the road they would be allowed to walk on in many parts of this country. They were denied the right to vote, either directly or through intimidation or threats. And it was a time when, in many parts in this country, any black man was one false accusation away from losing his life at the hands of a lynch mob.
This is a shameful truth, an undeniable part of our history, a stain on our legacy as a nation. But it is not the whole story.
From the very beginning, it was clear that the promise of our founding and our failure to live up to it, these two things could not ultimately coexist. From the very beginning, within a year — and even before the founding of our nation — there were already Americans working to end slavery. Sometimes they paid for it with their lives. Ultimately, it became the single most divisive issue in the country to the point that it was only resolved through a bloody civil war.
For the next 100 years, during the era of separate and unequal, it was also Americans who worked to end segregation and Jim Crow laws. Americans of every walk of life. Little children who braved angry mobs to desegregate a school, the protesters and those in the streets who faced down Bull Connor’s dogs and beatings, little girls who died when their church was bombed.
Ours is not simply the story of a people who for 189 years failed to live up to the promise of America. Ours is also the story of the Americans who ultimately succeeded in making us a nation that was closer to who we were supposed to be. That’s why at least for me, when they play the national anthem and the flag that I face and put my hand over my heart to honor, that flag — that’s not the flag of slave owners. That’s the flag of the abolitionists. That’s the flag of Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass, who were American heroes. The flag that I pledge allegiance to, it’s not the flag of the segregationists. That’s the flag of the freedom riders — of the people who made the march from Selma to Montgomery. That’s the flag of Rosa Parks and Dr. King. Our history does not simply belong to the villains. It belongs even more so to the heroes who frankly made us more American in each successive generation. I have heard in some corners people suggest that our founding documents themselves are documents embedded in racism because, I imagine, many of the people who signed it indeed were or did not live up to the words they signed their names onto.
But that would be forgetting the fundamental fact that every single great movement in American history — every movement for equality in the history of this nation — has not been a rejection of our founding documents; has not been a rejection of our founding principles; has not been a call to overthrow the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence. Every one of these great movements in the history of this country towards equality has been an appeal to those principles — a demand that we live up to those principles.
Dr. King said the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, an appeal to our founding documents, which he called a “promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.”
As we talk now about what is taught to our children in our schools and in our lives, I think our children deserve to know the truth about their country. All the truth. We must teach our children about the times in which our nation fell short. We must teach them about the people responsible for us falling short. We must point to the times, even now, when we fall short. That is the only way you learn the lessons of history, and the only way to avoid repeating them.
But we must also teach them that it was Americans who dedicated and even lost their lives to end these evils. While we’re at it, we should teach them too about the greatness of our country. Teach them about the young Americans who died far from home for the freedom and liberty of others; who lost their lives in Iwo Jima and Guadalcanal, in Normandy and the Ardennes, in Chosin and Fallujah, on San Juan Hill, and in Manilla Bay.
Teach them also, teach them about how when disaster strikes anywhere on this planet, it is their country who responds first and with the most. To Fukushima, Japan and West Berlin. After an earthquake hit Haiti. After floods impacted Pakistan. How it’s Americans and their charities and their government who have literally saved the lives of millions of people on the African continent from starvation, from the ravages of HIV-AIDS. And teach them how on a summer night in 1969, the entire world stopped and watched with amazement as man first stepped foot on the Moon and there planted the flag of their country.
Our children deserve to know the truth about their country. That in the history of mankind there has never been a great power that has used its means to help more people and more places than anywhere in human history. No other great power in human history has done what the people of this nation have done, both individually through the money we give to charities and through their government. This is also true about America. Our children deserve to know that they are citizens not of a perfect country, but of the single greatest nation in the history of all of mankind. They deserve to know that they are the heirs to a 244-year journey to achieve in one land, a nation where all people are viewed as equal under the law, whose rights come from their creator. And they deserve to know that their country is a special one, one worth defending, one worth protecting, and one worth passing on to the generations that will follow them.
Mr. President, I yield the floor.