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Robert F. Kennedy Speech at the University of Mississippi (18 March 1966)

Robert F. Kennedy at Ole Miss 1966- A side label

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Creator:Kennedy, Robert F., 1925-1968
Creator:Ellington, Ed
Title:Robert F. Kennedy Speech at the University of Mississippi (18 March 1966) | Robert F. Kennedy at Ole Miss 1966- A side label
Date:1966 Mar. 18

Transcript of Robert F. Kennedy Speech at the University of Mississippi on 18 March 1966 ED ELLINGTON (chair of the Speakers Bureau at the University of Mississippi): In 1964 during the heat of the presidential campaign, Governor George Wallace was extended an invitation to speak at Yale University. Protests arose that he was opposed to the way of life in that part of the country; that he was personally unpopular with the segment of the population and that his appearance would result in controversy. The invitation was withdrawn. I personally feel the members of the Speaker's Bureau and the School of Law feel and, I believe, the citizens of this state feel that this is not in keeping with the higher ideals of which a university should try. That it was in direct opposition to the principles upon which this country was founded. Today the world may witness that by our actions and not merely by words, we support those principles. After today, never let it again be uttered that this is a closed society. Without further comment, I give to you a man of proven ability, a former Attorney General of the United States and now a United States Senator, the Honorable Robert F. Kennedy. ROBERT F. KENNEDY: Dean Moore, Chancellor Williams, Ed Ellington and Sam Wilkins, I want to say how grateful I am, how grateful my wife and I are to be with you here today. I have heard a great deal about the University of Mississippi, so I was anxious to come. I was very grateful to your warm reception to us. I know that there was some controversy about my coming and somebody down here suggested like it was putting a fox in the chicken house and elsewhere some of my friends said it was like putting a chicken in a fox house. But I am very grateful to you and I am very grateful for being here. Lord Bismarck once remarked about the students of Germany and looking out at them and said a third of the students die from overwork, a third of them die of dissipation and too much drink and a third of them go onto be the rulers of Germany. And looking out at the student body I can see what third came here today. You never know what I have in mind. But I am very grateful to you. I know we hold many differences of opinion and differences of view. I have great respect that we hold those differences and that you still invited me to be here today. I am grateful to the Speaker Bureau and you who have supported that invitation. The American tradition of giving free voice with conflicting opinions and beliefs has really distinguishes our society from others and that tradition I think we fulfill today. So I am glad and proud to be in Mississippi. I come here not to discuss old issues, but new problems. Not to revive old disputes, but to share new responsibilities. Not to the heart of the south, but to the southern part of the United States of America. Little more than thirty years ago the south was blanketed in depression. Since that time the average income in the south has tripled; rising much faster than the American average. Disease and hunger and ignorance and malaria and illiteracy have been diminished or almost completely defeated. Many sections of the south, including much of Mississippi have not fully shared in this rapid progress. But we are moving closer towards the prophecy of Henry Grady of Georgia when he told a New York audience in 1986, there is a south of union and freedom he said. That said thank God is living and breathing and growing every hour. There are still many problems that confront this country and that confront this state. But that which is southern about them is far less important than that which is American. Racial injustice and poverty, ignorance and concern for world peace are to be found on the streets of New York and Chicago and Los Angeles as well as in the towns and farmlands of Mississippi. You face no problem that the nation does not face. You share no hope that is not shared by the young people across this country. You bear no burden that they do not also bear. This is the reality of the new south. This is the meaning of the modern southern revolution and you are its heir. Your generation south and north, white and black is the first with the chance not only to remedy the mistakes, which all of us have made in the past, but to transcend them. But this generation of Mississippians cannot only serve your state, it can and it must take up the troubling burdens of a great nation, with global responsibility. Your generation, this generation cannot afford to waste its' substance and its hope in the struggles of the past because beyond these walls is a world to be helped and improved and made safe for the welfare of mankind. And what a world it is; a world of change, unparalleled, immense, busying change. Every problem that we solve only reveals a dozen more; each more complex than the last. Every hill that we climb shows only a higher rise beyond. Here in America in the next forty years, we will have to build as many homes and stores and churches and schools that we have built in our entire history. We will have to teach more than 12 million illiterates to read and write and help themselves. We must help find jobs and new opportunities for hundreds of thousands of farmers displaced by new technology and for workers displaced by automation. We must create a society in which Negroes will be as free as other Americans. Free to vote and to learn and to earn their way and to share in the decisions of government, which in turn shapes their lives. We know to accomplish this end will mean great tension and difficulty and strife for all of us in the north and the south. But we know that we must make progress, not because it is economically advantageous, not because the law says that we should do so, but because of the fundamental reasons that it is the right thing to do. Change is crowding our people into cities scarred by slums, encircled by suburbs, which sprawl recklessly along the countryside, where movement is difficult and where beauty is rare and life itself more impersonal and security imperiled by the lawless. Modern change is assaulting the deepest values of our civilization; those worlds within a world where each used to find meaning and importance, family and neighborhood, community and the dignity of work. Family ties grow weaker as the span between generations widen. The community a haven where each could once find warmth and significance begins to dissolve as the streets of our cities rush in upon each other. Work becomes mechanical and routine eroding the self-respect, which individual effort once provided. And especially here in the south, rapidly shifting relations between the races destroys all certainties and demands new attitudes and new values. If our nation is changing, the world around us moves even faster. Since I graduated from high school, the United States has fought in two wars and is now involved in a third. Nuclear weapons have been invented and tested and they have now spread to five nations. The great colonial empires of Europe have been dissolved and more than seventy new nations have now been created. We begin to learn how to deal with one great hostile power the Soviet Union and then beyond its borders, the empire of China begins to grow in significance and in danger. And in every continent from Jaipur to Johannesburg from Point Barrow to Cape Horn, men claim their right in the bounty of modern knowledge can bring. And they claim also that justice, which we -- they have heard, proclaimed in that document, which listed the inalienable rights of man. I have seen scrawled on the sidewalks of Indonesia and on the walls of Africa and Latin America not workers of the world unite, but that all men are created equal and give me liberty or give me death. They draw their hope for change and for a better life from the example of the United States. They look to us for hope and for help. And the real question before you, before all young Americans, is whether we will help bring about that future or whether we will not help and stand by. In such a challenging world, in such a fantastic and dangerous world, we will not find answers in old dogmas by repeating out worn slogans or fighting on ancient battlegrounds against fading enemies, long after the real struggle has moved on. We are ourselves much change in order to master change. We must rethink our old ideas and beliefs before they capture and before they destroy us. For those answers, America must look to its young people; the children of this time of change and we look especially to that privileged minority of educated men and women who are the students of this country. For the answers we seek must be found in the light of reason by fact and logic and careful thought, unsustained by violent prejudices or by myth. And those are the answers, which your education has equipped you, more than any other group in this country -- has equipped you to find the universities that may feel that they place those who hate ignorance and they strive to know for those who perceive truth may strive to make others see. To you have been given the chance to know, to precede truth. To see the complex reality of this world, to understand that there are no simple solutions or easy roads to progress. And to you has been given the responsibility to make others see. Plato said that if we are to have any hope for the future that those who have lanterns will pass them onto others. You must use your lamps, the lamps of your learning, to show our people the past the forest of stereotypes and slogans into the clear light of reality and a fact and of truth. And answers founded on clear and dispassionate thoughts must be matched at the same time by actions rooted in conviction and a passionate desire to reshape the world. It is not enough to understand or to see clearly the future will be shaped in the arena of human activity by those willing to commit their mind and their bodies to the task. There are many paths to such action, to service and to sacrifice, open to you as young people. You can as many of you will serve your country in the lines of battle, in defense of American interests around the world. You are needed in programs to help release the poor and the helpless from the bonds of material misery and of prejudice. Educated men and women are needed here in local programs of education and of health. You are needed in the Vista Volunteers in state and national efforts to wipe out poverty. You are needed in the Peace Corp working with those in less fortunate countries build a little richer life. There is not a person in this room who does not possess a skill, which can help transform the life in people in villages in distant continents. You will go as ambassadors to the 20th Century to a past struggling toll with the possibilities of the modern world and in so doing you serve not only man, but the cause of national growth and of national independence, which is the foundation of a peaceful world order. You are needed, you here in this room, you are needed in public service in Mississippi and in Washington, in private foundations and in the classroom and in teachings and in buildings. No matter where you go or what you do, there will be an opportunity to serve; to commit yourself to a great public enterprise of American life. Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, as life is action and passion, it is required of a man that he should share the passion and action of his time at peril of being judged not to have lived. It is more comfortable to sit content in the easy approval of friends and of neighbors, than to risk the friction and the controversy that comes with public affairs. It is easier to fall in step with the slogans of others than to march to the beat of the internal drummer to make it stand on judgments of your own. And it is far easier to step and to stand on the path then to fight for the answers of the future. But Degerte told us that Faust lost the liberty of his soul when he said to the passing moment, stand thou art so bare and there would be not surer way for us to lose our liberty and the true meaning of our heritage than to make the same mistake. And each of us will ultimately be judged and will ultimately judge himself on the extent to which he personally contributed to the life of this nation and to world society the kind that we are trying to build. Jefferson Davis once came to Boston and he addressed his audience in Faneuil Hall as countrymen, brethren, and democrats. Rivers of blood and years of darkness divide that day from this. But those words echo down to this hall, bringing the lesson that only as countrymen and as brothers can we hope to master and subdue to the service of mankind the enormous forces which rage across the world in which all of us live. And only in this way can we pursue our personal talents to the limit of their possibility. Not as northerners or southerners or black or white, but as men and women in the service of the American dream. I thank you.

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Local identification number: rfk_cassette_1

Types:Sound recordings | Sound
Subjects:Kennedy, Robert F., 1925-1968 | Davis, Jefferson, 1808-1889 | University of Mississippi | Civil rights--Mississippi--Oxford | Education--United States | Labor--United States | International relations--United States | Youth--Mississippi | Volunteers--Mississippi | United States, Mississippi, Lafayette County, Oxford, 34.3664951, -89.5192484 | United States, Mississippi, 32.354668, -89.398528 | Southern States, 33.346678, -84.119434
Collection:Robert F. Kennedy Speech
Institution:John Davis Williams Library (University of Mississippi)
Contributors:John Davis Williams Library. Department of Archives and Special Collections
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Robert F. Kennedy Speech

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