Administrator Michael Regan, Remarks on Bloody Sunday Anniversary, As Prepared for Delivery
March 6, 2022
It’s an honor to stand here today on this most sacred ground, a ground infinitely stained with the blood, sweat, and tears of our brothers and sisters who marched toward justice 57 years ago…
Men and women like John Lewis, Hosea Williams, Amelia Boynton, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Diane Nash, Ralph Abernathy, and a little girl named Sheyann Webb, who after being beaten with billy clubs and bombarded with tear gas, found within herself a mighty strength that carried her across this very bridge.
We gather here to heap praise upon this legion of giants who suffered unspeakable violence, who faced indignity after indignity, and who – sustained by the faith and hope and love in their hearts – changed the shape of America forever and for everyone.
It’s an overwhelming feeling to be here today, seeing as my own destiny is intimately wrapped up in the heroism of the men and women who marched triumphantly across this bridge – not centuries ago, but just a generation ago.
I can’t help but think of my father, Zeb Regan Jr., with his books laid out before him, studying by candlelight. Raised in the segregated south, he had no choice but to rely on a candle’s burning flame. There was no electricity in the home he grew up in because white landowners surrounding our family’s property didn’t want power lines running across their own property… one of the many ways Black people were oppressed.
And yet, when my father was called upon to serve, there wasn’t an ounce of hesitation in his bones. Just a young man back then, he dutifully answered the call to serve in Vietnam… to serve the country he loved.
It is that same love that propelled the heroes of the civil rights movement… that gave them the courage to fight for equality and ultimately secure the Voting Rights Act… that propelled them in their journey to justice, a journey that is not yet complete but is our responsibility to carry forward.
Selma taught us, in the words of Dr. King, that “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability but comes through continuous struggle.”
The ongoing journey to justice is evident in communities like Lowndes County, which sits right in the middle of Highway 80 between Selma and Montgomery, and was a wellspring for the civil rights movement.
I was in Lowndes County yesterday, “Bloody Lowndes” as it came to be known, because when organizers and protesters attempted to register Black people to vote, they were beaten, battered, and evicted from their homes.
This is the history of Black communities across America, and this is a history our children must know.
Today, Lowndes County still endures untold inequities – from continued efforts to disenfranchise residents, to skyrocketing cases of COVID-19, to failing wastewater systems that spew environmental toxins into people’s yards and back into their homes, creating conditions ripe for a resurgence of hookworm in the community that will only get worse with climate change.
I visited Lowndes County, so that I could see firsthand the injustices that folks have been living with for decades – pipes protruding from the side of their homes, spilling waste into the same places where their children play.
I met two beautiful little children who’ve become conditioned to accept that this is just the way things are. But they shouldn’t be, not for the children of Lowndes County… and not for anyone.
The good people of Lowndes County show us that the fight for civil rights is inseparable from the fight for environmental justice for health justice for racial justice for economic justice.
We cannot be for one without the other.
President Biden and Vice President Harris know that systemic inequities facing communities like Lowndes County can only be solved when racial justice is our North Star.
The President and Vice President see everybody for who they are and who they can be when they’re given the opportunity and resources to soar.
That’s why this Administration established Justice 40, so that the benefits of the federal government’s investments are delivered to communities who’ve long borne the burden of pollution.
And that’s why I’m personally committed to working closely with governors and local leaders across the country, to ensure that the historic infusion of funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law goes toward climate-resilient infrastructure in communities that need it most – and to ensure that solutions aren’t developed from the top down, but the bottom up.
So, let me be clear. Everything we do – everything I do – at the Environmental Protection Agency will be rooted in the realities and demands and aspirations of communities who’ve suffered at the hands of indifference, neglect, and inaction… communities like Lowndes County, Alabama; Mossville, Louisiana; Detroit, Michigan; the South Side of Chicago, and too many others.
Our legacy must be that we did not just deal with the issues up to the fence line, but that we saw the people on the other side of the fence. We looked them in the eyes. We listened to them. We learned from them. And we made their lives fundamentally better.
If there were ever a moment when we could break the pattern of injustice that has long plagued this country, I believe that moment is now.
Let us honor the legacy of our civil rights heroes, on whose shoulders we stand, by seizing this moment.