Eulogy Delivered at Burial Services for Whitney M. Young, Jr., in Lexington, Kentucky
Mrs. Young, friends of Whitney Young:
It is customary on such an occasion for the one who has the honor to deliver the eulogy to say that we are gathered here to pay our last respects to the deceased.
I do not say that today. I say, rather, that today a grateful Nation will pay its respect to Whitney Young by continuing the work for which he dedicated his entire life.
When we consider that life, these are some of the things we find:
In an age when we see so many people who want to be for the right thing, we also find that it is very difficult to accomplish the right thing. It is really easy to be for what is right. What is more difficult is to accomplish what is right.
And Whitney Young's genius was: He knew how to accomplish what other people were merely for. He was a very complex man, and he understood the complexities of the society in which he lived and the goals which he sought to achieve. He was not a patient man, but he understood the uses of patience.
And he was not a moderate man in terms of his goals, but he knew the uses of moderation in achieving those goals.
All of us who have heard him speak recognize him as one of the most eloquent speakers of our time, and, yet, Whitney Young will be remembered as a doer, not a talker.
What monument do we build to him? He leaves his own monument, not one, but thousands, thousands of men and women in his own race who have a chance, an equal chance, that they otherwise might never have had except for what he did; and thousands of others not of his own race who have an understanding in their hearts which they would not have had except for what he taught.
What message does he leave for us? I recall the conversation I had with him right after the election of 1968 before the inauguration when we discussed the possibilities of his becoming a member of the Cabinet. He was honored by the suggestion, and, after consideration, he told me that he felt that he could do more for those things he believed in outside of Government than inside of Government.
And in that is a message for all of us. At a time when it is so often the custom whenever we have a problem to throw up our hands and say, "What is the Government going to do?", this man said, "What can I do?" And that is the challenge he gives to each of us.
Government has its responsibilities, but he says, "What can I do? What can I do in my life to make the American dream come true?" Because all of us must remember, we want the American dream to come true; but the American dream 'cannot come true until the American dream can be achieved by each one who is an American.
Dr. Lon Fuller, in lecturing at Yale in 1963, spoke of two kinds of morality. He spoke of the morality of duty and of the morality of aspiration. The morality of duty is one that requires every individual to do what the law calls upon him to do. The morality of aspiration does not require, but it inspires a man or a woman to go beyond that and to do what the better angels of his nature would call upon him to do.
And it is in that spirit that I speak of Whitney Young today. I remember the last meeting we had in the Cabinet Room, 3 days before Christmas. You remember, all of you who knew him, he always had a little button "Equal" in his lapel. He just didn't wear that in his lapel, he wore it in his heart.
What he says to us and what his message to us is, is this: Every man and woman in this country is equal before God, and every man and woman in this country now, we trust, is equal before the law.
But to have true equality, it is not just what the law requires, but what we individually can do, because that respect which can only come from the heart of one person to another, a respect for his dignity, for his individuality, for his immortality, that is something that must come from each of us.
And so today Whitney Young's message to America---the country that he loved with all of its faults, loved it because he realized that this was a country in which we had the power to change what was wrong and change it peacefully--Whitney Young's message is this: "What can I do? What can I do to make this a better country? What can I do through helping others, through recognizing their equality, their dignity, their individuality, to realize the American dream?"
His dream, if I may paraphrase, was one Nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice and opportunity for all. To fulfill his dream is the responsibility of each of us. It is the commitment that each of us makes in his heart on this day.
Note: The President spoke at 12:25 p.m. at Greenwood Cemetery. The eulogy was broadcast live on radio and television.
On March 24, 1971, the White House released the transcript of a news briefing by Secretary of Labor James D. Hodgson, Gov. Louie B. Nunn of Kentucky, and Whitney M. Young, St., on the establishment of the Whitney M. Young, Jr., Skill Center memorial in Shelbyville, Ky.
Richard Nixon, Eulogy Delivered at Burial Services for Whitney M. Young, Jr., in Lexington, Kentucky Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/241105