First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton
Newburgh, New York
July 14, 1998
Thank you so much, Newburgh. I am absolutely delighted to be here and to see all of you. I know its a hot afternoon and I appreciate your coming out because that says a lot about how much you value this community and the future you think you can build here for yourselves and your families and your children and your grandchildren. Thats the best kind of treasure that any of us have -- how we build a better future for all of us. And as I have been here just for a short while, I have seen with my own eyes and heard from your elected officials that kind of progress you are making here.
I want to thank your Congressman Maurice Hinchey for not only that introduction but for what he said and how he has worked to make those words a reality on behalf of the people of this area. I want to thank your Mayor for introducing the program and for herself making history because I checked -- I guess I dont need to tell you that your mayor is the first African-American women elected a mayor in New York State. Let me also thank your city council and your city manager, Harry Foor, and everyone who has worked together. I also want to thank your Superintendent and your school board who I had a chance to meet before I came out here for the work theyre doing to build the next generation by improving education. I want to thank Mr. Aldridge for coming here and supporting these efforts and for the work that he does in New York State. I want to thank Arnold Moss and Nancy Abraham for what theyve done here to revitalize on Landers Street housing in this city. Bob Benewise and Alison Lee and Peter Smith and everybody who has worked together to give Newburgh the reputation that it has had and that it does have -- a beautiful jewel of the Hudson River Valley. A well-deserved term. There are so many of you from the Palisades, interstates parks commission to the Kingston-Newburgh enterprise Community Commission.
All of you working together and I want to say a special word of appreciation
to the woman Aisha Lindsay who sang the Star-Spangled Banner so beautifully.
Every American everywhere because whenever we go anywhere, I see with my own
eyes how much this country has given to all of us. There is no basis of comparison.
Were a young country, were still growing, we dont have anywhere
near the history represented by our distinguished visitor -- the General Counsel
from France. But we have the spirit that made America great and will continue
to make America great as long as we do our part to ensure that it lives into
the next century.
Thats why when the President and I were talking about how we might mark the Millennium, because you know the century is going to change and the millennium is going to come whether we do anything or not. And we knew that there were lots of people planning New Years Eve parties for the year 2000 and thered be new products that would call themselves Millennium Toothpaste,or something. But we thought that maybe we could take some time out and just think about what it is that we valued about our country and what values we wanted to take with us into this new millennium. And so we came up with a theme, to Honor the Past and Imagine the Future. And then I decided, after talking with my husband, that one of the best ways we could do that would be by going out in our country, as I am today, and looking at places that are treasures. Places that embody the history we value but also represent the future we are building together.
So we started this effort yesterday morning at the Smithsonian in front of the great Star-Spangled Banner that flew over Fort McHenry while the British were bombarding us during the War of 1812. It lasted through the night, that September night of 1814 and because it lasted, Francis Scott Key could see that Baltimore had not fallen and could write the words that we heard sung earlier. Then I went to that Fort and I went to a monument honoring Francis Scott Key, and this morning I started in New Jersey at the invention factory where Thomas Edison invented things like the light bulb and the motion picture camera and the phonograph. Things that changed our lives forever.
And here I am now in Newburgh. Each one of these stops reminds us of the treasures we have and the ones that we are in danger of losing if we do not take action together. Newburgh, as you know better than I, is home to some of the most renowned architectural masterpieces of America -- just look behind me and look around you as you walk down these streets. Within these city limits, we see so much of Americas history over the past two, three centuries. A town settled long before our revolutionary war, built by the sweat and ingenuity of people from all backgrounds and walks of life. Graced by the talent of leading architects it developed into a thriving economic and cultural center. But like many cities, particularly in the older part of our country, its fortunes fell during the depression only to rise and fall again. Today, while challenges still remain, this beautiful city is again on the verge of a rebirth that will make it possible once again to claim its rightful place in the life and history of America.
But some might ask, Well, what does it really mean to save a building, what does it mean to honor George Washingtons service as we do here at the very first historic site. You know there are a lot of other very important things that we should be worried about in our country. What difference does it make if we were finally able to restore this beautiful Dutch Reformed Church, for example? Well I answer that question in a couple of different ways. First there is a very practical answer, we know from all of our experience, that when a town like Newburgh, with the history that you have here, is able to revitalize that history, you become a beacon for economic development and tourism that creates jobs and opportunities for the people who live here day in and day out. And by virtue of investing in your past, you create a brighter future for your people. You also begin to tell yourselves and your children the story of what is special about Newburgh.
I mean it makes a difference if you are a school child in Newburgh that you know you just live maybe a few blocks from where George Washington lived after Yorketown. That makes America more real. There are children that have no idea of anything like that. And yet you can walk down, you can bicycle by a place that is so significant in our history. And what does that tell you and tell us about what our obligations as citizens might be? What does it mean that youve had so many renowned Americans come to Newburgh, making their statements and leading their causes, black and white, and every kind of background there is in the great diversity of America? Well it means that here in Newburgh, you represent America. Youre not just one kind of American, youre every kind of American. And that in itself, is a great gift to you and to the rest of the country.
Because it is key that when we talk about saving Americas treasures,
we include everybody. Youre mayor and I were walking down the street and
thats one of the points she made -- is that historic preservation today
is inclusive. Were not leaving anybodys history out. When I leave
here and go on tomorrow and the next day, Ill be visiting Harriet Tubmans
home, Ill be visiting a stop on the underground railroad, Ill be
visiting with people who were among the early labor leaders of our country,
Ill be going to the womens rights convention commemoration in Seneca
Falls. As grateful as we are to all the great leaders, the military leaders,
political leaders, business leaders, who contributed so much in making Newburgh
and America what it is today. We are all so grateful to our grandfather and
our grandmothers who built this country brick by brick, family by family, job
by job, year after year.
So when were talking about saving Americas treasures, we are talking about saving American history for everybody. It is not just for a small group of people who like old buildings and appreciate and appreciate the beauty of architecture, that is very significant, but what those buildings stand for and what people did in those buildings, standing for religious freedom, for example, like what they did in the building behind us, that is as relevant today as it was a hundred and fifty years ago. And one of the values that America must take into the next century is an appreciation for our freedoms and our liberties and our opportunities. And one of the ways we can do that is by reminding ourselves that it wasnt very long ago that many of us did not have access to those same liberties, freedoms, and opportunities.
So what I would hope is that out of all this energy that I feel out of the exciting plans I heard from your mayor and city manager out of the partnership with the state and the federal government that the congressman talked about, we can see the kind of commitment to rebuilding Newburgh that will enable it once again to take its rightful place. And that I will have the opportunity in a couple of years to come back here and to see families living in the Landers street development. To see more of the houses I drove by that were boarded up open once again, for residential and business purposes for people who are here. And that many of the significant pieces of architecture that have survived despite the ravages of neglect and weather will be renovated, and put to new use, and will be once again sending out their messages of why they were important and still are.
Now how does that happen? It doesnt happen by waving a magic wand, we know that. It happens by everybody rolling up their sleeves and getting to work, and contributing in whatever way is possible, it happens because people put aside trivial differences and work for the common good for something bigger than any of us can possibly represent. It happens because we take care of the basics. You know the congressman referred to the Presidents program to put more police on the streets. Well you know you cant have preservation in a neighborhood if you cant go outside can you? You cant care very much about history, if youre worried about your safety. So preservation is not just about buildings, it is about the quality of life, it is about the possibilities of life, it is about individual choices every single day. So let me thank you for being such caretakers of one of Americas treasures. Let me thank you for what you are doing to pull together to commit yourselves to giving all that you can to making Newburgh all that it can be because you know and the rest of the country will know that if youre able to fulfill your dreams for what Newburgh can be in the future, that you will see not only beautiful buildings, but jobs, economic opportunities, tourists, vital changes that will literally recast the future of the residents of this city. That is my hope, so that when we leave here, I want progress reports, I want the mayor to let me know how saving Newburgh treasures is proceeding and I want to return sometime in the 21st century to see for myself what the citizens of Newburgh have made. God Bless you and good luck.