From NBC's Mike Kosnar
At a Department of Justice program this morning celebrating African American History Month, the nation's first black attorney general -- Eric Holder -- said the United States is a "nation of cowards" when it comes to racial issues.
Holder said average Americans "simply do not talk enough with each other about race."
Holder maintained that Justice Department employees have a special responsibility to advance racial understanding throughout the country.
"Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards. Though race-related issues continue to occupy a significant portion of our political discussion, and though there remain many unresolved racial issues in this nation, we, average Americans, simply do not talk enough with each other about race."
Holder continued, "It is an issue we have never been at ease with and given our nation's history this is in some ways understandable. And yet, if we are to make progress in this area we must feel comfortable enough with one another, and tolerant enough of each other, to have frank conversations about the racial matters that continue to divide us. But we must do more -- and we in this room bear a special responsibility. Through its work and through its example this Department of Justice, as long as I am here, must -- and will -- lead the nation to the 'new birth of freedom' so long ago promised by our greatest President. This is our duty and our solemn obligation."