John F. Kennedy photo

Speech by Senator John F. Kennedy, National Council of Women, Inc., Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, New York, NY

October 12, 1960

Four hundred and sixty-eight years ago today a Genoese mariner watched the sun rise over a small Caribbean island, and happily informed his crew that they had finally discovered the westward route to India.

But Columbus had not reached India - he had reached America. He had not rediscovered an old land - he had discovered a new hemisphere. He had not reopened old ties of commerce and friendship - he had begun to forego the links between Europe and a new world.

But if Columbus discovered one continent - his journey - in large measure - resulted in the loss of another. For almost a century the course of the European empire had moved southward - along the coast of Africa, and around the Cape of Good Hope to the east. With the discovery of America, the kings, the generals, and the traders turned westward, leaving Africa to become the neglected and undeveloped province of a few European nations.

Today, more than four centuries later, the work of Columbus is being reversed. The nations of the West once more look toward Africa. And Africa itself is struggling for the freedom and the economic progress which centuries of neglect have denied it.

But if the voyages of Columbus led to history's retreat from Africa they also were the first step toward the emergence of modern Africa.

For it was in the new world of Columbus that man began his first rebellion against control by ancient empires. In 1776, the year of the American Revolution, Tom Paine wrote that "A flame has arisen not to be extinguished."

Today that same flame of freedom burns brightly across the once "dark continent," creating new nations - driving old powers from the scene - and kindling in the African people the desire to shape their own destinies as free men. In 1953, three nations of Africa south of the Sahara were independent; today there are 19 free nations. And freedom soon will cover the whole continent.

Each of these newly emerging African nations has, in varying degree, the same basic problems, the same needs, and the same dangers. And in each of them wait the same tireless and implacable agents of communism - watching for the opportunity to transform hunger, or poverty, or ignorance into revolt and Communist domination.

The new nations of Africa are determined to emerge from the poverty and hunger which now blanket much of that vast continent.

They are determined to build a modern and growing economy with a constantly rising standard of living. They are determined to educate their people - maintain their independence - and receive the respect of all the world.

There can be no question about this determination. The only real question is whether these new nations will look West or East - to Moscow or Washington - for sympathy, help, and guidance in their great effort to recapitulate, in a few decades, the entire history of modern Europe and America.

I believe that if we meet our responsibilities - if we extend the hand of friendship - if we live up to the ideals of our own revolution - then the course of the African revolution in the next decade will be toward democracy and freedom, rather than toward communism and slavery.

For it was the American Revolution - not the Russian - which began man's struggle for national independence and individual liberty. When the African national congress in Northern Rhodesia called for reform and justice, it threatened a "Boston Tea Party," not a Bolshevik bomb plot. African leader Tom Mboya invokes the "American Dream" - not the Communist manifesto. And in the most remote bushlands of central Africa there are children named Thomas Jefferson and George Washington - but there are none named Lenin or Stalin or Trotsky.

And our ties with Africa are not merely the ties of history and spirit. For our goals for today's Africa are the goals of the Africans themselves.

We want an Africa where the abysmally low standard of living is constantly rising - where industry and business are growing - where malnutrition and ignorance are disappearing.

And this is what Africa wants.

We want an Africa which is made up of a community of stable and independent governments - where the human rights of Negroes and white men alike are valued and protected - where men are given the opportunity to choose their own national course, free from the dictates or coercion of any other country

We want an Africa which is not a pawn in the cold war - or a battleground between East and West.

And this too is what the African people want.

And none of these goals is a goal of the Communists - who wish only to perpetuate the want and chaos on which Communist domination can be built.

Under such circumstances we would suppose that there was no place for communism in Africa - and that the new nations of Africa would increasingly look to the West and to America, for help.

But the harsh facts of the matter are that the cause of freedom has been steadily losing ground in Africa - and communism has been gaining. The newly independent country of Guinea has moved toward the Soviet bloc - importing Soviet technicians, borrowing Soviet money, and signing trade agreements with Eastern Europe. The newly independent country of Ghana has moved away from the West - and its troops were sent to the Congo in Soviet, not American, jet planes. In the strife torn, newly independent country of the Congo, one of the most powerful factions - that of Premier Lumumba - is pro-Russian and anti-American and as chairman of the Senate Committee on Africa I have watched with alarm the growing Soviet influence - and growing uneasiness about American intentions and motives throughout all of Africa.

This is a defeat for the cause of freedom - a defeat which is the product of 8 years of neglect and failure. We have lost ground in Africa because we have neglected and ignored the needs and the aspirations of the African people - because we failed to foresee the emergence of Africa - and ally ourselves with the cause of independence and because we failed to help the Africans develop the stable economy and the educated population on which their growth and freedom depends. And today we are still making the same mistakes and experiencing the same failures.

Although Africa's single greatest need is for educated men - men to man the factories, staff the movemment, and form the core of the educated electorate on which the success of democracy depends, we have done almost nothing to help educate the African people. There are only a handful of college graduates in the entire continent, and less than 1 percent of all Africans who enter primary grades ever finish high schools. Yet today we are aiding less than 200 African students to study in this country - we are supplying virtually no books or teachers to Africa - and less than 5 percent of all our foreign technical assistance goes to Africa south of the Sahara.

It was this sort of failure which caused the chaos in the Congo - a country of 8 million people with less than a dozen colleges, which did not have the education to run a nation, and which as a result has been unable to maintain a stable independence.

Although Africa is the poorest and least productive area on earth, we have done little to provide the development capital which is essential to a growing economy. Through the end of 1957 we had granted Africa less than two-tenths of 1 percent of all our foreign assistance. And in 1959 Africa received only 2 percent of all the money spent by the Development Loan Fund, a fund specifically created to help underdeveloped countries.

Although by 1952 it was obvious that the new African nations would be a growing force on the world scene, we ignored these nations until events forced them upon us. Our State Department did not even establish a Bureau of African Affairs until 1957 - and that same year we sent more Foreign Service officers to West Germany than all of Africa. Even today, barely 5 percent of our Foreign Service personnel is stationed in Africa - and five newly independent countries have no representation at all.

When Guinea became independent it took us 2 months to recognize the new Government, and 8 months to send an Ambassador. However, Russia's Ambassador was there on Independence Day with offers of trade and aid - and today Guinea has moved toward the Communist bloc because of our neglect.

These failures, and many more like them, this record of neglect and indifference, of failure and retreat, has created a steady decline of American prestige in Africa - and a steady growth of Soviet influence.

If we are to create an atmosphere in Africa where freedom can flourish, where long enduring people hope for a better life for themselves and their children, where men are winning the fight against ignorance and hunger and disease, then we must embark on a bold and imaginative new program for the development of Africa.

First, to meet the need for education we must greatly increase the number for African students - future African leaders - brought to this country for university training. But training new leaders is not enough. We must help the African nations mount a large-scale attack on mass ignorance and illiteracy through the establishment of a multination African educational development fund. This fund, in which the African nations would be full partners, will plan for the long-range educational needs of Africa, helping to build the schools and universities with which the African nations can educate their own people.

At the same time we will send an increasing stream of experts and educators - engineers and technicians - to train Africa in the tools of modern production and science, and in the skills and knowledge essential to the conduct of government.

Second, we must use our surpluses and our technology to meet the critical African need for food. Three-quarters of the African people struggle to survive on subsistence farms, and malnutrition is Africa's greatest health problem. Our agricultural experts must train African farmers to use modern methods to increase food production - freeing labor and capital for industry, and putting an end to hunger. And while productivity is being increased we will use our surplus food to combat the threat of immediate famine - to provide security against starvation.

Third, we must provide the development capital which alone can transform limited resources into a higher standard of living for the African people. We should establish a multilateral development loan fund, directed by both Western and African nations, which would make the long-term capital loans essential to develop the roads, the power, the water, the hospitals, and all the other public needs which are vital to an industrial economy.

At the same time we must stimulate private investment in Africa, through expanded consular services - and a program to educate industry to Africa's enormous economic potential.

Fourth, we must make the United Nations the central instrument of our effort in Africa. To the African nations, the U.N. is the central hope of world peace. By centering many of our activities in the United Nations we demonstrate that our principal desire is to build a strong and free Africa - rather than to use the African nations as pawns in the cold war.

Thus we must cooperate fully in U.N. economic aid and technical assistance programs - and send capable and dedicated Americans to staff our own U.N. mission and to work in the Secretariat. And we must strive tirelessly to overcome the Soviet opposition which now stifles many of the U.N. activities in Africa.

Fifth, we must ally ourselves with the rising tide of nationalism in Africa. The desire to be free of foreign rule - the desire for self-determination - is the most powerful force in the modern world. It has destroyed old empires - created scores of new nations - and redrawn the maps of Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. America must be on the side of man's right to govern himself, because these are our historic principles - because the ultimate triumph of nationalism is inevitable - and because nationalism is the one force with the strength and endurance to threaten the integrity of the Communist empire itself.

Sixth, we must wipe out all traces of discrimination and prejudice against Negroes at home, if we are to win the respect and friendship of the Negro peoples of Africa. Every instance of racial intolerance, every act of hatred or bigotry, which takes place in America, finds its way to the front pages of African newspapers, and into the Communist propaganda mill. The New York Times has reported that there are more than 600 African and Asian students who cannot find decent housing - here in New York - because of their color. And African diplomats have similar difficulties finding homes in Washington. What picture of America will these leaders and future leaders bring back to their own land? We cannot be the champion of democracy abroad unless we practice it at home.

If we carry out this program for Africa with vigor and imagination, then I believe that we can begin to reverse the disastrous errors and neglect of the past 8 years - we can begin to rebuild the cause of freedom in Africa - and we can begin to restore our historic bonds with the people of Africa.

In a recent film, "The Defiant Ones" two men - a white man and a Negro - chained together, fall into a deep pit. The only way out is for one to stand on the shoulders of the other. But, since they were chained, after the first had climbed over the top of the pit, he had to pull the other out after him, if either one was to be free.

Today, Africa and America, black men and white men, new nations and old, are bound together. Our challenges rush to meet us. If we are to achieve our goals - if we are to fulfill man's eternal quest for peace and freedom - we must do it together. And together we can and will succeed.

John F. Kennedy, Speech by Senator John F. Kennedy, National Council of Women, Inc., Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, New York, NY Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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