John F. Kennedy photo

Radio and Television Remarks Following Renewal of Racial Strife in Birmingham

May 12, 1963

[Broadcast from the President's office at the White House at 9 p.m.]

I am deeply concerned about the events which occurred in Birmingham, Ala., last night. The home of Rev. A. D. King was bombed and badly damaged. Shortly thereafter the A. G. Gaston Motel was also bombed. These occurrences led to rioting, personal injuries, property damage, and various reports of violence and brutality.

This Government will do whatever must be done to preserve order, to protect the lives of its citizens, and to uphold the law of the land.

I am certain that the vast majority of the citizens of Birmingham, both white and Negro, particularly those who labored so hard to achieve the peaceful, constructive settlement of last week can feel nothing but dismay at the efforts of those who would replace conciliation and good will with violence and hate.

The Birmingham agreement was and is a fair and just accord. It recognized the fundamental right of all citizens to be accorded equal treatment and opportunity. It was a tribute to the process of peaceful negotiation and to the good faith of both parties.

The Federal Government will not permit it to be sabotaged by a few extremists on either side who think they can defy both the law and the wishes of responsible citizens by inciting or inviting violence.

I call upon all the citizens of Birmingham, both Negro and white, to live up to the standards their responsible leaders set last week in reaching the agreement, to realize that violence only breeds more violence, and that good will and good faith are most important now to restore the atmosphere in which last week's agreement can be carried out. There must be no repetition of last night's incidents by any group.

To make certain that this Government is prepared to carry out its statutory and constitutional obligations, I have ordered the following three initial steps:

First, I am sending Assistant Attorney General Burke Marshall back to Birmingham this evening to consult with local citizens. He will join Assistant Deputy Attorney General Joseph F. Dolan and other Justice Department officials who were sent to Birmingham this morning.

Two, I have instructed Secretary of Detense McNamara to alert units of the Armed Forces trained in riot control and to dispatch selected units to military bases in the vicinity of Birmingham.

Finally, I have directed that the necessary preliminary steps to calling the Alabama National Guard into Federal Service be taken now so that units of the Guard will be promptly available should their services be required.

It is my hope, however, that the citizens of Birmingham themselves will maintain standards of responsible conduct that will make outside intervention unnecessary and permit the city, the State, and the country to move ahead in protecting the lives and the interests of its citizens and the welfare of our country.

Thank you.

John F. Kennedy, Radio and Television Remarks Following Renewal of Racial Strife in Birmingham Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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