Washington, D.C. (JFK+50) Fifty-two years ago tonight, June 11, 1963, President John F. Kennedy spoke to the nation from the Oval Office on the issue of civil rights.
The speech, the first ever given by an American president exclusively on the issue, followed an attempt by Governor George C. Wallace to stop two African-American students from being admitted to the University of Alabama.
JFK called civil rights...
"a moral issue....as old as the Scriptures and as clear as the American Constitution."
President Kennedy began his address with these words...
"This afternoon...the presence of Alabama National Guardsmen was required on the University of Alabama to carry out the...order of the U.S. District Court. That order called for the admission of two clearly qualified Alabama residents who happened to have been born Negro.
That they were admitted peacefully...is due in good measure to the conduct of the students...who met their responsibilities in a constructive way.
I hope that every American...will...examine his conscience... This Nation was founded on the principle that all men are created equal, that the rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened."
The President continued...
"If an American, because his skin is dark, cannot eat lunch in a restaurant open to the public, if he cannot send his child to the best public school available, if he cannot vote for the public officials who represent him, who would be content to have the color of his skin changed and stand in his place."
JFK said that he would ask the Congress to pass legislation which would give ALL Americans the right to be served in public facilities. The President said...
"I am also asking Congress to authorize the Federal Government to participate more fully in lawsuits designed to end segregation in public education."
The President concluded his remarks with these words...
"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.
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."
The leader of the civil rights movement, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called it "the most sweeping and forthright speech ever presented by an American president."
"Address on Civil Rights (June 11, 1963)," Miller Center, www.millercenter.org/
Tuscaloosa, Alabama (JFK+50) George C. Wallace, the governor of Alabama, stood at the entrance of the University of Alabama here in Tuscaloosa fifty-two years ago today, June 11, 1963, to symbolically block the registration of two African-American students at the previously all-white institution.
President John F. Kennedy's representative, Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenback, asked the Governor to abide by the ruling of the courts and allow the students to be admitted.
When the Governor refused, Katzenback informed President Kennedy who then federalized the Alabama National Guard. When confronted by General Henry Graham, Governor Wallace stepped aside allowing Vivian Malone* and James Hood** to pass.
*Vivian Malone Jones (1942-2005) was the 1st African-American to graduate from the University of Alabama (1965). She was born in Mobile to parents who worked at Brookley AFB. VMJ earned her Masters at George Washington University and became Director of Environmental Justice at the EPA. VMJ was the 1st recipient of the Lurleen B. Wallace Award of Courage.
**James Alexander Hood (1942-2013) was born in Gadsden and earned his bachelors degree at Wayne State University in Detroit. He earned his masters at Michigan State University and his PhD at the University of Alabama. JAH worked at the Madison (WI) Area Technical College for 26 years.