A picture of Representative Jeff Fortenberry
Jeff F.
Republican NE 1

About Rep. Jeff
  • America’s National Conversation

    by Representative Jeff Fortenberry

    Posted on 2015-02-04

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    FORTENBERRY. Mr. Speaker, first, if my friend, Congressman Green, wouldn't mind staying a moment, I would like to offer a few comments on what you said. Unfortunately, I missed the larger body of your talk, but I would like to add a few things, if you don't mind.

    Mr. AL GREEN of Texas. I welcome the opportunity to stand with you, my dear friend. Thank you.

    Mr. FORTENBERRY. I think it should be acknowledged that we were elected at the same time.

    Mr. AL GREEN of Texas. We are classmates.

    Mr. FORTENBERRY. We are classmates. While we are on different sides of the political aisle, nonetheless I hope that you consider me as much of a friend as I consider you.

    Mr. AL GREEN of Texas. I do. And if I may say, I rarely think of sides of the aisle when you and I are talking. It doesn't become a significant factor in our lives as we converse and we celebrate our friendship.

    Mr. FORTENBERRY. I would like to note a couple of things you pointed out in your speech, and then you can move on with your evening. I don't want you to stay through my other comments, but nonetheless, you said a few things. You talked about the important progress that has been made in this country, and I think that is notable. You talked about that particularly difficult period in the 1960s, and you referred to Black History Month as America's history month as well. I think those are all notable comments, and I wanted to tell you that.

    In that tough time, something happened to me that I would like to share with you. I was not born in the State that I represent. Nebraska is my home. It is where I have decided to raise my family. It has given me a bounty of opportunity, and I am so privileged to be a Representative from Nebraska. I was born in the Deep South in a State where segregation and racial difficulties were particularly difficult.

    When I was in third grade, it was time for my birthday, and we had a birthday party and I invited all of my classmates. This was basically a White, middle class stable school in a stable neighborhood, but there was one African American family, either because of the beginning of desegregation that was taking place at that time or because they lived in proximity, they were at the school. One of the young boys was named Philip Brown. He was not only my classmate, but my friend. So I invited all of the boys, including Philip, to my birthday party. Philip didn't come. And I saw him on the Monday afterward and I asked him, I said: Philip, I didn't see you at my birthday party. Why didn't you come? He said: I did. They wouldn't let me in.

    Now this is an 8-year-old child.

    I remember then thinking during the party, my father had come over to me and whispered in my ear, in terms of the time, he said: Jeffrey, is Philip a Black boy? And I said: Yes, and I didn't think any more about it.

    He had to go outside. My father had to go outside and talk to Philip's father because the establishment there, unbeknownst to us, but the establishment didn't let in African American children.

    Now, I want to fast-forward, though. I told that story to my little children. I have five daughters, and they are growing up now, but I told this to them a few years ago. To your point about progress being made, they were visibly upset. They said: Daddy, you have to go find Philip. You have to go find him.

    Mr. AL GREEN of Texas. What a wonderful thought.

    Mr. FORTENBERRY. Because they were deeply touched, wounded, if you will, by this story. How could this happen to a little child? But I think you rightfully acknowledge that those days are behind us. And through all of the difficulties, toils and struggles that occurred, thankfully they are behind us. And I think what you said is appropriate, that Black History Month ought to also be called America's History Month because these chapters are an important, essential part of our national fabric and our national culture.

    Again, I didn't intend to dialogue with you. But I was sitting there thinking of this, and I have never shared that story publicly. But I think the main part of the story is the painful look on my own little children's faces when they heard that, and I think that means good progress.

    I yield to the gentleman.

    [[Page H800]] Mr. AL GREEN of Texas. I appreciate you sharing that vignette with me because it is very much heartfelt. It is good to have a person to tell the actual story. If you have read it, you will know of what I speak; if you haven't, I commend it to you--Dr. King's ``Letter from a Birmingham Jail.'' Mr. FORTENBERRY. I am very familiar with it.

    Mr. AL GREEN of Texas. It is one of the greatest pieces of literary history, saving a few holy books, I would say. It is absolutely one of the best stories of what that time was like. Dr. King talks about how he had to explain to his children why they couldn't go to a certain theme park, and how he could see the clouds over their heads as they were saddened by their inability to go to the theme park because of who they were.

    I ask people to please read that letter because it really parallels what you are saying tonight here on the floor of the House of Representatives. You are right--we have come a long way from those times. These times are difficult in a different way, however. There is still great work to be done, and you and I can work together to get some of this additional great work done.

    But notwithstanding all that I have said tonight, I conclude with this: On a bad day, it is still good to live in the USA.

    Mr. FORTENBERRY. Amen.

    Mr. AL GREEN of Texas. On a bad day when your spouse wants to leave you, or on a bad day when your puppy wants to bite you, let your puppy bite you and let your spouse leave you, in the United States of America, on a bad day, it is still good to live in the USA.

    {time} 1800 Mr. FORTENBERRY. I thank you for listening to me and your commentary tonight. Let's continue our robust friendship and our collegiality as we work through differences and difficulties, which are inevitable in a body like this where there are indeed philosophical divides.

    There ought to be certain principles that unite us, and I have myself quoted from Dr. King's letter in the Birmingham jail in other speeches.

    Mr. AL GREEN of Texas. Thank you very much.

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