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Remarks Upon Receiving Civil Rights Commission Report "Freedom to the Free"

February 12, 1963

Today is the birthday of Abraham Lincoln--and 1963 is the centennial year of the Emancipation Proclamation.

A year ago, in anticipation of this anniversary, I asked the Civil Rights Commission to prepare a report setting forth the civil rights record in America over the last hundred years.

I should like now to express my deep appreciation to the Commissioners, the Commission staff and the able scholars who assisted them in producing this document. I know it will be useful long after this centennial year is behind us.

I am certain that it was no easy task to compress into a single volume the American Negro's century-long struggle to win the full promise of our Constitution and Bill of Rights.

He has not, of course, been alone in this struggle. Men and women of every racial and religious origin have helped. But I am sure that this report will remind us that it is the Negroes themselves, by their courage and steadfastness, who have done most to throw off their legal, economic, and social bonds which, in holding back part of our Nation, have compromised the conscience and haltered the power of all the Nation. In freeing themselves, the Negroes have enlarged the freedoms of all Americans.

There can hardly have been a year during the past century when something did not happen which might have seemed ample cause for cynicism, apathy, or despair. But this report will show, I think, that American Negroes have never succumbed to defeatism but have worked bravely and unceasingly to secure the rights to which as American citizens they are entitled.

Just as 1863 did not mark the beginning of the struggle to abolish slavery on this continent, so we cannot congratulate ourselves that, in 1963, full equality has been attained for all our citizens. Too many of the bonds of restriction still exist. The distance still to be traveled one hundred years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation is at once a reproach and a challenge. It must be our purpose to continue steady progress until the promise of equal rights for all has been fulfilled.

This report tells a great American story-it is the record of the deeds by which Negroes and their fellow Americans have given life and meaning to the words of Abraham Lincoln and the Founding Fathers before him. I hope, gentlemen, that this document will be read by Americans of all ages--and by those in other lands--who want to know what this country was, what it is, and what the ideals have been which have defined our faith and shaped our history.

It is appropriate that this report should have been prepared by the United States Commission on Civil Rights--and that it should now be released on the birthday of Abraham Lincoln. For your Commission is making a vital contribution to the completion of the task which Abraham Lincoln began a century ago.

Note: The President spoke at 5 p.m. in his office at the White House at a presentation ceremony attended by the members and staff representatives of the Civil Rights Commission. Later on the same day a buffet dinner and reception, commemorating the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, was held in the State Dining Room and the East Room for approximately 800 Government officials and civil rights leaders.

The 246-page report was published by the Government Printing Office.

John F. Kennedy, Remarks Upon Receiving Civil Rights Commission Report "Freedom to the Free" Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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