JFK, Civil Rights Address, June 11, 1963
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.
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 Viet-Nam 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 be possible, in short, for every American to enjoy the
privileges of being American without regard to his race or
his color. But this is not the case.
The Negro baby born in America today, regardless of the
section of the Nation in which he is born, has about one-half
as much chance of completing a high school as a white baby
born in the same place on the same day, one-third as much
chance of completing college, one-third as much chance of
becoming a professional man, twice as much chance of
becoming unemployed, about one-seventh as much chance
of earning $10,000 a year, a life expectancy which is 7 years
shorter, and the prospects of earning only half as much.
This is not a sectional issue. Difficulties over segregation and
discrimination exist in every city, in every State of the Union,
producing in many cities a rising tide of discontent that
threatens the public safety. Nor is this a partisan issue. In a
time of domestic crisis men of good will and generosity should
be able to unite regardless of party or politics. This is not even
a legal or legislative issue alone. It is better to settle these
matters in the courts than on the streets, and new laws are
needed at every level, but law alone cannot make men see right.
We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is as old as
the scriptures and is as clear as the American Constitution.
The heart of the question is whether all Americans are to be
afforded equal rights and equal opportunities, whether we are
going to treat our fellow Americans as we want to be treated. If
an American, because his skin is dark, cannot eat lunch in a
restaurant open to the public, if he cannot send his children to
the best public school available, if he cannot vote for the public
officials who represent him, if, in short, he cannot enjoy the full
and free life which all of us want, then who among us would be
content to have the color of his skin changed and stand in his
place? Who among us would then be content with the counsels
of patience and delay?
It is not enough to pin the blame on others, to say this is a
problem of one section of the country or another, or deplore
the fact that we face. A great change is at hand, and our task,
our obligation, is to make that revolution, that change, peaceful
and constructive for all. Those who do nothing are inviting
shame as well as violence. Those who act boldly are recognizing
right as well as reality.
My fellow Americans, this is a problem which faces us all--in
every city of the North as well as the South. It seems to me that
these are matters which concern us all, not merely Presidents
or Congressmen or Governors, but every citizen of the United
Kennedy, John Fitzgerald. "Civil Rights Address." 11 June 1963. AmericanRhetoric.com. Web. 10 May 2016.
The phrase “it ought” (line 17 and 19) emphasizes