Former US Attorney General calls for action in MLK Jr Day address

Published: Jan. 16, 2023 at 5:15 PM CST
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PEORIA (25 News Now) - This weekend would have been Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s 94th birthday, something former US Attorney General Eric Holder reflected on in the moments before he addressed the crowd of Peoria leaders and residents.

“He was 39 years old, think about that, 39 years old when he died,” Holder said. “There was a lifetime of good works still in front of him so I think about what it Is we miss about his premature death, and how much work there is that remains to be done.”

What still needs to be done was a running theme of his remarks Monday afternoon. He encouraged those in attendance to ask themselves what they could do in their everyday lives to further civil rights and justice.

As the nation’s first African American Attorney General, appointed by the first Black President Barack Obama, Holder said the progress the country has made is not lost on him, but that progress isn’t always enough.

“This nation is better now than it was 50 years ago and 50 years before that,” Holder said. “I’m tired of progress, I’m tired of saying that’s enough.”

“It’s good that we’re making progress, but at what point do we stop saying that progress is enough and we actually have the things we fought so hard for,” he continued.

Holder will turn 72 years old this month. He hopes the younger, politically involved generation can make the goals of equality and opportunity come through. His children are in their 20′s, and he believes those accomplishments can happen in their lifetime.

Representative Jehan Gordon-Booth celebrated the 31st annual luncheon. A young history-maker of her own, Gordon-Booth was chosen as the lead budget negotiator for the Illinois General Assembly. She’s the first woman and the first African American to hold that position.

“Our budget is a reflection of our values, and where you put your money is what you care about,” she said. “I look forward to being able to bring a fresh set of eyes and a new lens to that process.”

Gordon-Booth will sit at the head of a table responsible for doling out billions in taxpayer dollars. The position was previously held by longtime Chicago Representative Greg Harris.

She admits the position will be hard work, and at times she may be the only diverse voice in the room. Her message to others: find a space at the table for yourself.

“If you are a young person, you are a person of color, you are a person that looks different than everyone else at the table, understand that you are supposed to be at that table,” she said.

Peoria’s welcome for Fmr. Attorney General Eric Holder

Peoria welcomed Holder to the River City with several gifts. Ali presented a book about Nancy Legins-Costley, the first woman freed by Abraham Lincoln as a young attorney, as well as locally sourced wine.

Local artist Johnathon Romain presented Holder with a portrait of Barack Obama, signifying what he said the Obama presidency meant to himself and Black Americans. He called it “Lest We Forget”

Johnathon Romain, alongside daughter Kennedy, present "Lest We Forget" to Fmr. Attorney General...
Johnathon Romain, alongside daughter Kennedy, present "Lest We Forget" to Fmr. Attorney General Eric Holder.(WEEK)

In the portrait, Obama is looking off to the right with tears running out of his eyes. His gaze drifts over the words of the Declaration of Independence declaring all men are created equal, something written when Black people were still enslaved, Romain said.

“That’s the irony of those words and that’s the irony of his presidency,” Romain said.

Behind the former president is a lynching scene, where a young man hangs from a tree.