John F. Kennedy photo

Remarks of Senator John F. Kennedy, Howard University, Washington, DC

October 07, 1960

Senator KENNEDY. Mr. Robinson, Congressman Bolling, Mrs. Lawson, Mr. Reeves, ladies, and gentlemen, I regret that the Republican member has not shown up as yet to debate with Congressman Bolling or Mr. Nixon. I would like to present their case for them. [Laughter.] But I would rather speak for our case. I would also rather address myself to the matter which is before you. I am confident that Congressman Bolling has done this effectivdy because I know no one in the Congress over a long period of time, even before his period in the Congress, who has shown greater responsibility and vigor in extending the benefits of our constitutional system to all Americans. Therefore, I am delighted and honored that he would represent us here tonight. [Applause.]

A political campaign is an important time because it gives the American people an opportunity to make a judgment as to which course of action they want to follow, which leadership, which viewpoint, which political philosophy, and it is also an important time for political parties, because it does give the political party an opportunity not merely to live off its past successes, but also consider where it is going in the future, what contribution it can make. That responsibility falls particularly heavily on a minority party, a party out of power, because it is its function under our system to present alternatives, to suggest better ways of accomplishing the goals which all America seeks, and I believe this responsibility falls particularly heavily in 1960, because we face many problems here and abroad which I believe transcend any since 1932, since the administration of Franklin Roosevelt, and in many ways transcends any that we have faced since the administration of Lincoln 100 years ago.

The great question, of course, is can we make freedom work here and around the world. Can we sustain it? Can we demonstrate over a long period of time that our system represents the best means of organizing human society? The hard, tough question for the next decade, and indeed for the rest of the century, is whether we in this country with our freedom of choice, our breadth of opportunity, our range of alternatives, can we mobilize sufficient strength, can we set a sufficient example, can we extend the hand of friendship with sufficient warmth that we can mobilize and not only endure but prevail over a Communist system?

In order to maintain our freedom, to meet our commitments, to the Constitution, to the great moral principles enunciated by this country's leaders, we have to, as I say tonight, set a high example, and I believe it is the function of our party, the Democratic Party, in the early days of the l960's to move this country closer toward that example.

I said last week on television and gave some statistics which I don't think most Americans know or believe strongly enough; the prospects, percentagewise, of a Negro child getting through high school, of that child getting to college, of that child becoming a professional man, of that child when it is born owning its house, of that child being unemployed or the average income that that child will have, or the prospect of whether that child goes to work for the Government, what his rating will be, whether he will be a district judge, and now we have only 1 that is a Negro out of some 200, the chances of that child getting through high school are about a third. The same percent getting through college is one-quarter of a white baby being born in the house next door, the chance of owning his house is far less of a percentage, and the chances of being unemployed are far greater.

I think we cannot afford in 1960 to waste any talent which we have. It is a matter of our natonal survival as well as a matter of national principle, and I believe that the President of the United States must take the leadership in setting the moral tone, the unfinished business, in setting the sights of Americans to the goal realizing the talents in an equal way of every American. Every American's talents are not equal. Every American will not finish school or college or own a house, but that should be on the basis of his contribution to society, his energy, his vitality, his intelligence, his motivations, not based on the color of his skin. That is the goal of the society which I think we should work toward in the 1960's. [Applause.]

Let me say I think the President of the United States has a great opportunity. This is a place preeminently for moral leadership as Franklin Roosevelt said, and I believe if the President of the United States indicates his strong support of the extension of equal constitutional rights to all Americans wherever they may live, if he stands strongly behind the principle of equality of opportunity of education and employment, I believe this country will then recognize the moral imperative behind the laws which the Congress has passed, or which the Constitution promotes.

Secondly, I believe the Congress has a responsibility. Title 3, I believe, would be important as it would give the Attorney General the right as you know to carry out suits as he now has in the case of voting, but which I believe he has not carried out with vigor. I believe in equality in opportunity of employment which is extremely important and then I believe we have to improve our educational standards for all children, regardless of their color, all children, white and Negro. We are producing about half as many scientists and engineers as the Soviet Union. We have to improve our educational system as a whole, and we have to improve our economics as a whole.

If we attempt to patch up those areas in our national life where equality of opportunity is not provided, if we give force and vigor to the concept of that equality, if we sustain it with laws, if we sustain it by executive action, if we sustain it by moral force and if we lift the economy of the whole and all Americans, then I believe we will be meeting our responsibility to the 1960's.

Also we have a clear reminder that we who are white are a minority in this global world, and all those over the world who are colored are now reaching greater and greater power, the whole course of history for the past 150 years has been toward freedom.

I have had a basic disagreement not only with the administration's policy in the past 8 years, but also on the question of colonialism versus freedom. I spoke of this matter when it involved Indochina and the Democrats and Algeria and the Republicans. I spoke as it involves all of Africa, Latin America and Asia. We have the desires of these people to be free. If there is any experience that should give us courage, it is not that one-quarter of the nations of Africa are neutral. We were neutral for 125 years in our own history. The fact is they are free and independent. They have now won their freedom and they do not choose to lose it, provided they are given an opportunity to develop their resources under a system of freedom. Man's desire to be free is the strongest force not only in this country but around the world. We should associate ourselves with it.

I said tonight when we offered 300 scholarships to the Congo, we offered only 200 to Africa. You cannot educate a man in the Congo overnight. Education is a long process that takes years and experience and we should have been looking at Latin America and Asia years and years ago and not moving into these areas where you think you can pour in money and educate them for leadership overnight. [Applause.]

Finally, let me say that I believe that the contribution that the Democratic Party can best make is not merely in the contest between Mr. Nixon and myself. The question is, What is the viewpoint of those who sustain us? I believe the viewpoint of those who sustain us, of the central channel of the party which I represent was carried out at the convention and was carried out on the platform. I believe it is carried out on the record of the Congress. That record is not perfect, and there are shortcomings in any two-party system, but I believe the central movement forward of the Democratic Party in this century has been full. It has been willing to meet new problems in new ways. It has been willing to break new ground. It has been willing to mobilize the best talent we have got and I think it can do it in the sixties, and can do it better than it did it before because the needs are greater.

Let me say your needs are great. There is no need for providing the right to vote in some States where Negroes are denied the vote unless they vote to the fullest. [Applause.] Unless in those communities where they are given their rights to participate in the political process they do it as free individuals, not part of some great organization or other, but speaking as individuals giving their considered judgment on what is best for their country and what is best for themselves and what is best for the cause of freedom. So it is, I believe, that you have a chance to make a singular contribution to the life of this country.

Every educated man or woman who is a Negro has not only the opportunity to advance their own private interests - and I think this is true of every American - but they have the obligation to advance the common cause, advance the interests of their own people because in doing that I think they advance the interests of their country. [Applause.]

I hope it will be possible for more and more of them to serve the United States outside our boundaries, in the Foreign Service, in the information services, as doctors and nurses, not just in Africa, but in Europe, Asia, Africa, freely in areas and indicating our great contribution, our strong belief that we want to use all the talent that we can get. Actually a far greater responsibility rests upon the Negro leadership than it does upon the leadership of almost any other group, and I believe that by meetings such as this you are meeting that responsibility.

We emphasize always the public interest, to emphasize the necessity for it in a responsible, steady way, and I believe in the 1960's we can move in this area. We can provide a better life for our people, that we can provide better, stronger human rights for all American and I want to make it clear win or lose in this election, the is and I regard it as a close, hard fought election, the issues will probably be down to the end, but my own judgment is win or lose, I can assure you that the Democratic Party in the future, as it has in its great moments in the past, particularly when it has had a President to speak for it - I believe the Democratic Party can in the future be identified with the cause of a better life for all Americans of all sections of the United States regardless of any circumstances of their race or religion and that they will hold any office to which they aspire based on their competence and ability and strong feeling for this country. [Applause.]

John F. Kennedy, Remarks of Senator John F. Kennedy, Howard University, Washington, DC Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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