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Excerpts from the Speech of Senator John F. Kennedy, Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles, CA - (Advance Release Text)

September 09, 1960

There is no issue which more clearly illustrates the difference between the Democratic and Republican Party than the issue of human rights - civil rights for all Americans regardless of color or creed.

For 8 long years a Republican Party which has been presented with opportunity after opportunity to advance the cause of civil rights has failed to take one constructive step toward guaranteeing equal opportunity to all Americans - and the history of the Republican Party in this country is a history of the same unconcern with the enforcement of human rights.

This record of failure and indifference is in sharp contrast to the history of the Democratic Party. For the story of the Democratic Party is the story of human rights, from Jefferson's Statute of Religious Freedom, to Wilson's New Freedom - from Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal to Harry Truman's Fair Deal. Every major step forward in the cause of human rights in this century has been the product of the leadership of the Democratic Party - and every expectation of future progress today rests with the Democratic Party.

For in this election we must look forward - not to the past - to future achievement, not past accomplishment. We are proud of the fact that the last two Democratic Congresses enacted the first civil rights legislation since the period following the Civil War. But we are even prouder of the fact that the Democratic Party - in its platform - has a program of future action which will insure equality of opportunity to all Americans.

And I am proud of our platform. I believe in our platform. And in 1961 I intend to see that its pledges are carried out.

But if we are to carry out these pledges - if we are to insure equal opportunity to all Americans - then all the vast and important powers of the Presidency must be enlisted in the task. For only a President willing to use all the resources of his high office can provide the leadership, the determination, and direction which are essential if we are to eliminate racial and religions discrimination from American society.

When our next President takes office in January he must be prepared to move forward on three broad fronts: as a legislative leader, as Chief Executive, and as a moral leader.

First, as a legislative leader the President must give us the legal weapons needed to enforce the constitutional rights of every American. He cannot wait for others to act. He himself must draft the programs - transmit them to the Congress - and fight for their enactment, taking his case to the people if the Congress is slow in acting.

And much legislation is needed. We must continue and strengthen the President's Civil Rights Commission. We must grant the Attorney General power to enforce all constitutional rights - not just the right to vote. We must wipe out discriminatory poll taxes and literacy tests, and pass effective antibombing and antilynching legislation. And we must continually strengthen the legal framework which will allow us to move toward economic, educational, and political equality.

Such legislation is already being prepared. I have asked Senator Clark, of Pennsylvania, and Congressman Celler, of New York, to prepare a bill embodying all of the pledges of the Democratic platform. And this bill will be among the first orders of business when a new Congress meets in January.

Secondly, as Chief Executive, the next President must be prepared to put an end to racial and religious discrimination in every field of Federal activity - by issuing the long-delayed Executive order putting an end to racial discrimination in federally assisted housing - by revitalizing the Vice President's Committee on Government Contracts so that those who receive contracts from the Federal Government will not be permitted to deny a job to a qualified worker because of his race or religion - and by making sure that no American is barred from the highest positions in Government because of the color of his skin.

Our Chief Executive must also make sure that the laws which Democratic Congresses have passed are enforced with vigor and determination - that the right to vote and other constitutional rights are not denied because of laxity or indifference in the office of the Attorney General.

Third, as a moral leader, the next President must play his role in interpreting the great moral issues which are involved in our crusade for human rights. He must exert the great moral and educational force of his office to help bring about equal access to public facilities from churches to lunch counters - and to support the right of every American to stand up for his rights - even if that means sitting down for them.

For only the President - the representative of all interests and all sections - can create the understanding and the tolerance which is necessary if we are to make an orderly transition to a completely free society. If the President does not himself wage the struggle for equal rights - if he stands above the battle - then the battle will inevitably be lost.

John F. Kennedy, Excerpts from the Speech of Senator John F. Kennedy, Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles, CA - (Advance Release Text) Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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