My longtime friend, Whitney Young, ladies and gentlemen:
It is more than 100 years since Abraham Lincoln charged the living to dedicate themselves to the unfinished work of the dead at Gettysburg.
Even Lincoln, with his deep sense of man's imperfections, could not know that a century later we would still be striving to abolish racial injustice.
No task is more deeply rooted in the complexities of American life. Poverty and tradition, fear and ignorance, the structure of our society and the workings of our economy, all converge on this enormous wrong which has troubled the American conscience from the beginning. Its just solution is essential, not only to give the full blessings of freedom to Negroes, but to liberate all of us.
There are those who say: It has taken us a century to move this far. It will take another hundred years to finish the job.
Well, I am here to say to you tonight that I do not agree.
Great social change tends to come rapidly in periods of intense activity and progress before the impulse slows. I believe we are in the midst of such a period of change.
So, it is our task to carry forward nothing less than the full assimilation of more than 20 million Negroes into American life. This is not to be an assimilation of bland conformity. Our object is not to make all people alike. It is, as it has always been, to allow ready access to every blessing of liberty, while permitting each to keep his sense of identity with a culture and tradition. In this way we enlarge our freedom and we enrich our Nation.
We have just passed a milestone in this task.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 extends the protection of the law to many of the demands of justice.
This act, of course, is not the whole answer. But tonight I ask each of you to think for a moment what an enormous setback the failure to pass it would have been.
When I picked up after our beloved leader had been taken from us, I did not know and few in my vicinity knew that we would ever get as far as we have.
Now, your Government must and will move rapidly to carry out this legislation. I have come here tonight to tell you and I expect you to tell those that you counsel with and those you lead that we intend to give new vigor to our many activities in the field of equal opportunity.
The Congress, in title VI of the Civil Rights Act, established the principle that race or color can be no criteria for participation in Federal programs.
Last week I approved the first set of regulations to implement that principle. Those regulations are designed to provide a just and prompt and reasoned resolution of all disputes. Our first objective will always be to assure nondiscriminatory operation rather than to put an end to programs which are vital to the welfare of all Americans.
The widespread voluntary support, in all parts of the country, of the public accommodation title is proof of the educational value of law, and the great reservoir of good will among Americans. I believe this title, too, will find wide acceptance. It is simple justice that all should share in programs that are financed by all and that are directed by the Government of all the people.
Within your Government there are many programs dedicated to the goal of equal opportunity. They range from the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, the Civil Rights Commission and the President's Committee on Equal Opportunity in Housing to the Community Relations Service, the President's Committee on Equal Opportunity in Employment, and the soon to be created Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Each of these groups has a distinct and a very important mission. Those now in existence have done a difficult task in an impressive way.
But really they all aim toward the same general objective. And really they must pursue that objective through cooperation among themselves and with private groups such as the distinguished members of this organization who have helped us so much for so long. With so many groups in a single field, there is always the danger of duplication, overlap, or unnecessary delay. As long as I am your President, I want the Government of all of the people to speak with a single voice on this single question.
Therefore, I am delighted to tell you tonight that I have asked Vice President-elect Hubert Humphrey, and he has agreed, to assume the responsibility for working with all of these groups, assisting in coordination of their efforts, and helping them to build toward an energetic pursuit of equal opportunity for all people in this Nation.
These are some of the steps that we are taking, and there are going to be a good many more. For, as the problem of civil rights has grown in urgency, it has also grown in complexity. We must open the doors of opportunity. We must equip our people to walk through those doors. Thus, programs to eliminate poverty, to improve education, to provide housing by enlarging the opportunities of all Americans assure new opportunities for Negro Americans.
There are those who predict that the struggle for full equality in America will be marked by violence and hate; that it will tear at the fabric of our society.
Well, for myself, I cannot claim to see so clearly into that future. I just do not agree.
I know that racial feelings flow from many deep and resistant sources in our history, in the pattern of our lives, and in the nature of man.
But I believe there are other forces that are stronger because they are armed with truth which will bring us toward our goal in peace.
These are our commitments to morality and to justice which are written in our laws and, more importantly, nourished in the hearts of our people.
These commitments carried forward by men of good will in every part of this land will lead this Nation toward the great and necessary fulfillment of American freedom.
In this way our peoples will once again prove equal to the ideals and the values on which this our beloved Nation rests.
This has been a long and somewhat exacting week. We have met and heard the problems of the Prime Minister of Malawi.
We have met and visited at some length with the Prime Minister of Great Britain, the United Kingdom.
We have met and discussed the problems of free men in southeast Asia.
We have reviewed the lot of the people on the continent of Africa, and particularly the Congo.
But in each and every one of these studies, we have tried to put the interest of the individual and the dignity of the person first and foremost in our minds.
In a doubtful period in 1957, 85 years since the Congress acted on the subject of civil rights and protecting the constitutional rights of all of our people, I sat down with the leaders of the Urban League, and with their guidance and with their help and with their support, for the first time in 85 years, we passed the first Civil Rights Act through the Congress of the United States.
That was a small step forward. We were just learning to walk, but by 1960 it was possible for us to implement that statute and to contribute some constructive improvements.
Then, a new administration came to power in 1961 and at the end of 4 years we had passed the most comprehensive legislation-and signed it--ever to be put on our statute books in this field.
Now, the lights are still on in the White House tonight--preparing programs that will keep our country up with the times, and it will keep our feet on the ground.
We have a Great Society. We do not have to begin one; we just have to keep it, retain it, improve it, and develop it.
We know that the education of our citizens, the employment of our people, the health of their bodies, the freedom they enjoy, the security that is theirs are all uppermost in the minds of those charged with the responsibility of leadership.
I would not be human if I did not say that under your leadership and the leadership of other conscious, concerned people in this country, you have placed upon me a terrifying responsibility and an obligation that it will be my determination to deserve every waking moment of my term of office.
Your faith in the future of your land and the future of the leadership that has been chosen has already been expressed, but I wanted at the end of a long day to come here and tell you of my faith in you.
There are many things I want for my people and a few things I want for my little girls. I am going to do what I can in the time allotted me to help bring those about.
One of the Presidents that I admire most signed the Emancipation Proclamation 100 years ago. But emancipation was a proclamation and was not a fact. It shall be my purpose and it is my duty to make it a fact.
Until every qualified person regardless of the house where he worships or the State where he resides or the way he spells his name or the color of his skin--until he has the right unquestioned and unrestrained to go in and cast his ballot in every precinct in this country, I am not going to be satisfied.
The finest compliment that I can pay to the Negroes of America is to say that if their constitutional rights are protected as mine are protected, if they have the privilege of voting as I am privileged to vote, then all these other problems will take care of themselves.
Now, I want to say one word before I leave. I must be careful not to be commercial. But you people have been trusting me for a long, long time. A good many of you have been among my closest friends since I came here in 1937. There is just one thing I want to say to you.
I want to thank each and every one of you who has spent an hour or a dollar with the Urban League, because it is through efforts that you have made and others like you that the shackles of bondage have been removed from your fellow man. There are men who are dying tonight in Viet-Nam to preserve the freedom of us all, and the least that you can do, until you are called upon to give your life, is to give your support, give your talent, and give your heart to organizations like this and to leadership of men like Whitney Young.