Eric Holder, the first African American to serve as U.S. attorney general, said goodbye to his colleagues at the Justice Department on Friday with an emotional speech highlighting progress on civil rights, especially those of LGBT people.
"I think we can officially say now that Eric Holder is free," he said, removing a wristband bearing the phrase "Free Eric Holder" and tossing it into the crowd of department employees at the farewell ceremony.
The wristbands originated inside the department as months passed without a Senate confirmation vote on President Barack Obama's nominee to succeed Holder, black federal prosecutor Loretta Lynch, who was finally confirmed this week, five months after her nomination was announced.
"I don't ever want to be free of this great institution. I don't want to ever be free of the relationships that I have forged with so many of you. I don't want to ever be free of the notion that I am a member of the United States Department of Justice," Holder said.
The outgoing attorney general devoted a portion of his remarks to the department's achievements over the last six years in advancing the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
"The LGBT community is something that I tried to focus on. I think that is the civil rights issue of our time. This whole question of same sex marriage will be resolved by the court over, I guess, the next couple of months. Hopefully that decision will go in a way that I think is consistent with who we say we are as a people, but I also think that is really just a sign; it's an indication, one part of the fight for overall LGBT equality," he said.
Holder, the 64-year-old son of West Indian immigrants, also spoke about the recent observances of the 50th anniversary of the voting rights march in Selma, Alabama, that was repressed violently by police and became infamous as Bloody Sunday.
"And then, you know, the thing that I think in some ways animates me, angers me, is this whole notion of protecting the right to vote. We celebrated this year the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Voting Rights Act. We went to - I went to Selma to commemorate Bloody Sunday," he said.
"This nation fought a civil war, endured slavery by another name, dealt with legalized segregation. A civil rights movement in the mid- and early-(19)60s transformed this nation. And the notion that we would somehow go back and put in place things that make it difficult-more difficult for our fellow citizens to vote is simply inconsistent with all that's good about this country, and something that I was bound and determined to fight," Holder said.
Seen as one of Obama's closest collaborators, attorney general has been a target for Republicans, especially over the Justice Department's "Fast and Furious" initiative, a botched attempt to battle gun-smuggling to Mexico that actually facilitated the flow of weapons across the border.
"I think that 50 years from now, 50 years from now and maybe even sooner than that, people are going to look back at the work that you all did and say that this was another golden age," Holder told the Justice Department workforce.