JFK+50: Volume 6, No. 1977JFK ADDRESSED CIVIL RIGHTS 53 YEARS AGO TONIGHT
Washington, D.C. (JFK+50) John F. Kennedy was criticized for not taking the decisive action on civil rights that many in the movement had expected. Although as a presidential candidate, Senator Kennedy talked about what needed to be done for civil rights, it didn't translate into action during the first two years of his presidency.
All that changed, however, on this evening fifty-three years ago, June 11, 1963, when President John F. Kennedy delivered a speech from the Oval Office which was the first ever given by a POTUS exclusively on the issue of civil rights.
The address came in the aftermath of an attempt by Alabama Governor George C. Wallace to stop two African-American students from being admitted to the state university at Tuscaloosa.
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."
"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 leader of the civil rights movement, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called President Kennedy's address "the most sweeping and forthright speech ever presented by an American president."
"Address on Civil Rights (June 11, 1963)," Miller Center, www.millercenter.org/
JFK Speaks on Civil Rights