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 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 citizens
of any color to register and to vote in a free election without interference
or fear of reprisal.
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. 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.
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
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 seven years shorter, and the prospects of earning only half as
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? One hundred years of delay have passed since President Lincoln
freed the slaves, yet their heirs, their grandsons, are not fully free.
They are not yet freed from the bonds of injustice. They are not yet
freed from social and economic oppression. And this nation, for all its
hopes and all its boasts, will not be fully free until all its citizens
We preach freedom around the world, and we mean it, and we cherish our freedom here at home, but are we to say to the world and, much more importantly, to each other that this is a land of the free except for the Negroes; that we have no second-class citizens except Negroes; that we have no class or caste system, no ghettos, no master race except with respect to Negroes?
Now the time has come for this nation to fulfill its promise. The events
in Birmingham and elsewhere have so increased the cries for equality
that no city or state or legislative body can prudently choose to ignore
them. The fires of frustration and discord are burning in every city,
North and South, where legal remedies are not at hand. Redress is sought
in the streets, in demonstrations, parades and protests which create tensions
and threaten violence and threaten lives.
We face, therefore, a moral crisis as a country and as a people. It
cannot be met by repressive police action. It cannot be left to increased
demonstrations in the streets. It cannot be quieted by token moves or
talk. It is a time to act in the Congress, in your state and local legislative
body and, above all, in all of our daily lives. 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
Next week I shall ask the Congress of the United States to act, to
make a commitment it has not fully made in this century to the proposition
that race has no place in American life or law. The federal judiciary
has upheld that proposition in a series of forthright cases. The executive
branch has adopted that proposition in the conduct of its affairs, including
the employment of federal personnel, the use of federal facilities, and
the sale of federally financed housing.
But there are other necessary measures which only the Congress can provide, and they must be provided at this session. The old code of equity law under which we live commands for every wrong a remedy, but in too many communities, in too many parts of the country, wrongs are inflicted on Negro citizens and there are no remedies at law. Unless the Congress acts, their only remedy is in the street. I am, therefore, asking the Congress to enact legislation giving all Americans the right to be served in facilities which are open to the public -- hotels, restaurants, theaters, retail stores, and similar establishments. This seems to me to be an elementary right. Its denial is an arbitrary indignity that no American in 1963 should have to endure, but many do.
I have recently met with scores of business leaders urging them to take voluntary action to end this discrimination and I have been encouraged by their response, and in the last two weeks over 75 cities have seen progress made in desegregating these kinds of facilities. But many are unwilling to act alone, and for this reason, nationwide legislation is needed if we are to move this problem from the streets to the courts.
I am also asking Congress to authorize the federal government to participate
more fully in lawsuits designed to end segregation in public education.
We have succeeded in persuading many districts to desegregate voluntarily.
Dozens have admitted Negroes without violence. Today a Negro is attending
a state-supported institution in every one of our 50 states, but the pace
is very slow. Too many Negro children entering segregated grade schools
at the time of the Supreme Court's decision nine years ago will enter
segregated high schools this fall, having suffered a loss which can never
be restored. The lack of an adequate education denies the Negro a chance
to get a decent job. The orderly implementation of the Supreme Court
decision, therefore, cannot be left solely to those who may not have the
economic resources to carry the legal action or who may be subject to
Other features will be also requested, including greater protection for the right to vote. But legislation, I repeat, cannot solve this problem alone. It must be solved in the homes of every American in every community across our country.
In this respect, I want to pay tribute to those citizens North and
South who have been working in their communities to make life better
for all. They are acting not out of a sense of legal duty but out of a
sense of human decency. Like our soldiers and sailors in all parts of
the world they are meeting freedom's challenge on the firing line, and
I salute them for their honor and their courage. My fellow Americans,
this is a problem which faces us all -- in every city of the North as
well as the South. Today there are Negroes unemployed, two or three times
as many compared to whites, inadequate in education, moving into the large
cities, unable to find work, young people particularly out of work without
hope, denied equal rights, denied the opportunity to eat at a restaurant
or lunch counter or go to a movie theater, denied the right to a decent
education, denied almost today the right to attend a state university
even though qualified. 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 States.
This is one country. It has become one country because all of us and
all the people who came here had an equal chance to develop their talents.
We cannot say to 10 percent of the population that you can't have that
right; that your children cannot have the chance to develop whatever talents
they have; that the only way that they are going to get their rights is
to go into the streets and demonstrate. I think we owe them and we owe
ourselves a better country than that. Therefore, I am asking for your
help in making it easier for us to move ahead and to provide the kind
of equality of treatment which we would want ourselves; to give a chance
for every child to be educated to the limit of his talents. As I have
said before, not every child has an equal talent or an equal ability or
an equal motivation, but they should have the equal right to develop their
talent and their ability and their motivation, to make something of themselves.
We have a right to expect that the Negro community will be responsible,
will uphold the law, but they have a right to expect that the law will
be fair, that the Constitution will be color blind, as Justice Harlan
said at the turn of the century.
This is what we are talking about and this is a matter which concerns this country and what it stands for, and in meeting it I ask the support of all our citizens.
Thank you very much.