Today’s riots mark one more turning point for the civil rights of all Americans. On June 11, 1963, President John F. Kennedy addressed the nation on the most pressing domestic issue of that day and today: the struggle to affirm civil rights for all Americans. Lamenting that 100 years had passed since the abolishment of slavery, and 2000 years since the new covenant was established by the Holy Trinity, Kennedy described racism as a moral issue that required legislation to correct: “The heart of the question is whether all Americans are to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities, whether we are going to treat our fellow Americans as we want to be treated”.
Poignant to what is happening in our nation today, Kennedy recognized that, “redress is sought in the streets, in demonstrations, parades, and protests which create tensions and threaten violence and threaten lives. We face, therefore, a moral crisis as a country and as a people. It cannot be met by repressive police action. It cannot be left to increased demonstrations in the streets. It cannot be quieted by token moves or talk.  A great change is at hand, and our task, our obligation, is to make that revolution, that change, peaceful and constructive for all.”
President Donald Trump tweeted today that, “my Admin has done more for the Black Community than any President since Abraham Lincoln.” We can debate whether Trump accurately states the record, but more importantly; what great change in leadership can we expect from him going forward to make that revolution, that change, peaceful and constructive for all?
As Kennedy made clear to the nation in 1963, we have a right to expect that the minority community will be responsible, will uphold the law, “but they have a right to expect that the law will be fair, and color blind.” Trump believes he has surpassed Kennedy’s accomplishments for the civil rights of Americans and compares his own work to Lincoln’s emancipation of the slaves. With that level of confidence, I’m hopeful that he will invoke well-considered leadership that avoids divisiveness and promotes healing among all races. In the words of Lincoln:
It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us-that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion-that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain-that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom-and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
11/19/1863 Gettysburg Address
For the full text of John Kennedy’s speech on civil rights, along with an audio recording, visit the Web site of the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum at http://www.jfklibrary.org