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Attorney General Loretta Lynch Calls for 'Work' in Final Speech

'Adversity is not a call for despair. It is a call to action,' Lynch said at the Birmingham church that was bombed during the civil rights movement.
Image: Loretta Lynch
Attorney General Loretta Lynch at 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, on Sunday.Brynn Anderson / AP

Loretta Lynch delivered her final speech in office Sunday from the pulpit of the Birmingham, Alabama, church that was the site of a bombing during the civil rights movement.

One day before Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Lynch spoke Sunday afternoon at 16th Street Baptist Church about America's need to continue to work to fulfill the Civil Rights' heroes mission of equality. The church was a target of the Ku Klux Klan in a 1963 attack that killed four black girls.

"It has been the privilege of a lifetime to serve as your attorney general," Lynch said.

The speech came just a few days after President Barack Obama signed an order that declared Birmingham's civil rights landmarks as national monuments.

Lynch proclaimed individual Americans' need to engage in their communities, especially in the most difficult of times, just as King did.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch at 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, on Sunday.Brynn Anderson / AP

"If there is one lesson that we can draw, that we must draw from the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, it is that adversity is not a call for despair, it is a call to action — action because we have to work," she said.

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Before the speech, the church was filled with prayer, gospel hymns, speeches and odes dedicated to the work of King and Lynch, as well as a passionate reading of a poem about the lynching of 14-year-old Emmett Till in 1955 in Mississippi performed by three young black men and women.

Lynch was introduced by Joyce White Vance, the U.S. attorney for the North District of Alabama for the past seven years. Vance is retiring from the Justice Department after 25 years as a federal prosecutor.

Vance compared Lynch's work with that of the marchers in Selma in 1965.

"General Lynch is living proof that footsteps across a bridge matter," Vance said. "In the last decade, we've seen our first African-American president, first African-American attorney general and first female attorney general."

"It is an honor to introduce my boss to you," she added.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch at 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, on Sunday.Brynn Anderson / AP

Lynch — who received a resounding standing ovation when she took the stage — urged listeners not to grow bitter or complacent. She said Americans needed "to work" to achieve progress.

But before providing the meat of her speech, she reminded everyone who is president of the United States.

"I bring you greetings from the Obama administration," she said to cheers. "Because we are still here."

"As you know, we also have one president at a time in this country, and until noon on Friday, his name is Barack Obama," she added.

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Lynch's speech served as a historical overview of King's actions and the church's role in the civil rights movement. She said 16th Street Baptist was no better place to reflect on this work, as it has borne not only the fruits of progress, but also the costs.

"That progress is real, and it is remarkable," Lynch said. "It should be a source of pride and hope for all Americans. But Birmingham knows, 16th Street knows, that we can't take progress for granted."

She noted the murders at a black church in Charleston, South Carolina, as well as the signs of racial and religious intolerance the nation has seen since the presidential election as steps away from the hope for progress.

Lynch also brought up the work the Justice Department has done with police departments, particularly in Chicago, which just finished a yearlong review of its department.

"We have worked with police departments to enact vital reforms, because Americans should look at police departments as guardians, not threats," she said.

Although she noted the fear that has gripped many Americans since Donald Trump was elected president, she said there was much hope, as well.

She said she has watched Americans organize and protest peacefully, law enforcement take an interest in allowing and enabling the act of free speech, and young millennials step forward to serve their country.

"If it does come to pass that we do enter a period of darkness, let's remember this: This is when dreams are best made. That's when they come to us. That's when we find them," she said referring to King's famed "I Have a Dream" speech.

"I'll still be working," she said. "I'll still be standing with all of you while you work."