President John F. Kennedy’s Civil Rights Address
I’m old enough that I actually remember watching this live on TV.
At the time, I knew even at the tender age of 11 (to be age 12 before the month was out, and my entire world view was shattered mere months later) this was a strange and horrifying speech.
In 1963, I lived in an American Dream neighborhood: we were a public housing project of mixed races and many different immigrants. It was so mixed that we kiddos got a book from the library “Teach Yourself Swahili” or something like that, just so we all could have a secret language that none of our parents would understand. And what we kiddos absolutely knew for a fact at the time was we were Americans and we could grow up to be anything we dreamed, even President.
JFK’s speech electrified me because at that time, I had no idea there were parts of America where “We The People” were indeed not equal.
And that, in fact, according to some Americans we were indeed not created equal and the American Dream was a real battle for a lot (actually MOST) of us.
And, sadly, all these decades later, the fight is still very real.
JFK, Civil Rights Address, June 11, 1963
Good evening, my fellow citizens: This afternoon, following a series of threats and defiant statements, the presence of Alabama National Guardsmen was required on the University of Alabama to carry out the final and unequivocal order of the United States District Court of the Northern District of Alabama. That order called for the admission of two clearly qualified young Alabama residents who happened to have been born Negro. That they were admitted peacefully on the campus is due in good measure to the conduct of the students
of the University of Alabama, who met their responsibilities in a constructive way.
I hope that every American, regardless of where he lives, will stop and examine his conscience about this and other related incidents. This Nation was founded by men of many nations and backgrounds. It was founded on the principle that all men are created equal, and that the rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.
Today, we are committed to a worldwide struggle to promote and protect the rights of all who wish to be free. And when Americans are sent to Vietnam or West Berlin, we do not ask for whites only. It ought to be possible, therefore, for American students of any color to attend any public institution they select without having to be backed up by troops. It ought to to be possible for American consumers of any color to receive equal service in places of public accommodation, such as hotels and restaurants and theaters and retail stores, without being forced to resort to demonstrations in the street, and it ought to be possible for American citizens of any color to register and to vote in a free election without interference or fear of reprisal. It ought to to be possible, in short, for every American to enjoy the privileges of being American without regard to his race or his color. In short, every American ought to have the right to be treated as he would wish to be treated, as one would wish his children to be treated. But this is not the case.
Americans should weep today for the values we as a country and a community have lost.