JOHN F. KENNEDY
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
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
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
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 American
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 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
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
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 ghettoes, 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 as reality.
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
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 2 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 9 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 harassment.
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 can't 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.