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Delighted to be here. I'm delighted that such a large group of students from the University of California Berkeley would come out tonight. Today that's the kind of a day it's been for me. I'm a tempered a little bit by what I wrote heard that Winston Churchill once wrote that when the master of ceremonies introduced him and he said you've never seen such a large crowd they've all come out to see you and he said well I do think it's very nice but if I was being hung by a crowd to be twice as large. We were we're having a very interesting trip across your state and I think that there are important things that have transpired I see by the morning papers that Ronald Reagan has decided to associate himself with the Free Speech Movement here at Berkeley. I really wanted to take this opportunity before I begin my formal speech to
to express my appreciation to Mr. Reagan for permitting me to come today. It makes me feel very confident that if he's elected that he will give me a visa and let me come back again. I my one regret is that he couldn't have come with us today because and I'm sure he feels the same way I do. We've been flying across this state and the fact it's been a good deal of flying around lately by political figures Lyndon Johnson's on his way to Manila flying and I'm flying across California. You would Humphrey's been flying up the East Coast and I received a rather disturbing telegram from my brother saying that the fact is
nobody in Washington I'd seize control. Actually I feel very long California and really I suppose I suppose coming from New York for the benefit of your education did you know that the first settler in California came from New York and then we sent you the motion picture industry and then the Dodgers and the Giants and you were kind enough to send Richard Nixon. So but I am very pleased and highly honored. In all seriousness to come to the one of the great
educational institutions not only of the United States but of the world. And I'm pleased to see. The bishop OP to whom the city was named said and I quote him ferment of the worst kind succeed to perform perfect in action. He also advised us that our youth we can have but today we may always find time to grow old and even if all of you do not heed the first maxim You seem to be busily following the second. Or at least that's what my advisors tell me. Recently read Playboy. After all YOU were the first college to become a major political issue since George the Third attacked Harvard for being a center of rebellion and subversion. And at that time he was right.
As for me I'm glad to be in Berkeley for I am sympathetic with and I welcome the passionate concern with the condition and future of the American nation which can be found on this campus. That future does not belong to those who are content with today apathetic toward common problems and their fellow man alike timid and fearful in the face of new ideas and bold projects. Rather it will belong to those who can blend passion. Reason and courage and a personal commitment to the ideals and the great enterprises of American society it will belong to those who see that wisdom can only emerge from the clash of contending views from the passionate expression of deep and hostile beliefs. If I don't set a life without criticism
it's not worth living. This is the seminal spirit of American democracy. It is this spirit which can be found among many of you and it is this which is the hope of this nation. It is not enough to allow dissent. We must demand it for there is much to dissent from. We dissent from the fact that millions are trapped in poverty while the nation grows rich. We descend. We descend from the conditions and hatreds which deny a full life to our fellow citizens because of the color of his skin. We descend from the monstrous absurdity of a world where nations stand poised to destroy one another and men must kill their fellow man. And we just stand on the side of most of mankind living in poverty stricken
by disease threatened by hunger and doom to an early death after a life of unremitting labor. We descend from cities which belong to our senses and turn the ordinary acts of daily life into a painful struggle. We just send from the willful destruction of natural pleasure and natural beauty. And we descend from all those structures of technology and society itself which stripped from the individual the dignity and the worth of sharing in the common task of his community and of his country. These are among the objects of our descent. Yet we must as thinking men distinguish between the right of dissent and the way to choose and exercise that right. It is not enough to justify or explain any action by the fact that they are legal are constitutionally
protected. The constitution after all protects wisdom and ignorance. Compassion and selfishness alike. But that dissent which consists simply of sporadic and dramatic acts sustained by neither continuing labor all by reason that dissent which seeks to demolish while lacking both the desire and the direction for rebuilding that dissent which contemptuously or out of laziness cost aside the practical weapons and instruments of change and progress. That kind of dissent is merely self-indulgence. It is satisfying perhaps to those who make it. But it will not solve the problems of our society. It will not assist those seriously engaged in the difficult and frustrating work of this nation. And when it is all over it will not have brightened or
enriched the life of a single part of humanity in a single part of the globe. All of us have the right to dissipate our energies and our talents in any way that we wish. But those who are serious about the future have the obligation to direct their energies and their talents toward concrete objectives consistent with the ideals that they profess. From those of you who take this course will come the fresh ideas and the leadership which are the compelling needs of America of the future. No area of national life needs this leadership more than the challenge that you have gathered to consider the revolution within our gates. The struggle of Negro Americans for full equality and for full freedom. That revolution has now entered a new stage one that is that once more hopeful and more difficult more important and far more painful is the effort to enforce newly won rights and give them content.
It is to give every negro the same opportunity as every white man to educate his children provide for his family live in a decent home and win human acceptance as well as economic achievement in the society of his fellows. And it is to do all this in the face of the ominous growth of renewed hostility between the races. This will not be achieved by a law or a law suit by a single program or in a single year. It means overcoming the scarred heritage of centuries of oppression. Poor education and the many obstacles of fruitful employment. It means it means dissolving the ghettos the physical ghettos of our big cities as well as those ghettos of the mind which separate white from black with hatred and ignorance and fear and mistrust. It means a revolution which has spread from the Deep South to the cities of the North
to every place in fact where black Americans seek to lead. The Gulf dividing them from the city of promise some among us say the negro has made great progress which is true and that he should be satisfied and be patient. Which is neither true nor realistic. In the past 20 years we have witnessed a revolution of rising expectations on almost every continent of the globe. That revolution has spread to the negro nation. Confined within our own men without hope to despair and oppression. They do not make revolutions. It is when expectation replaces submission. When despair is touched with the awareness of possibility it is then that the forces of human desire and the passions for justice are loosed. But the American Negro. That time has come and we are
facing it. Courts and Congress presidents in the name of this country have said and I've said repeatedly that the color of a man's skin shall no longer be a bar to the right to vote or learn or work or to enter a public place. We have held out the promise that color shall no longer stand in the way of achievement a personal fulfillment or keep a man from sharing in the affairs of his country. We have unveiled the prospect of full participation in American society television and radio and newspapers bring to every negro home the knowledge of how rewarding such participation can be with so bountiful a promise. How much greater must be the frustration and the fury of the negro especially the young negro who desperately wanting to believe and half believing finds himself confined to the slums unable to get an education or find a job. Confronted by the open prejudice and the subtle
hostilities of the white world and seemingly powerless to change his condition or even to shape his own future. For him the progress of the past can count for little against the crushing awareness that his hopes for the future are beyond his reach for reasons which have little to do with either his justice or his worth as a man. Occasionally broken home and a sense of futility he wrapped in violence and extreme statements and extreme doctrines. If we deny a man his place in the larger community then he may turn inward to find the manhood and the identity rejecting those he feels have rejected him. They are far far more impressive than the violence of the few is the fact that the overwhelming majority of American Negroes retain their faith in the good will of this nation and the possibilities of peaceful progress. And if any man claims the negro should be content or satisfied
let him say let him say he would willingly change the color of his skin and go to live in the Negro section of any of our major cities. Then and only then can he make such a claim. Still however much the condition of the negro's calls for compassion. The violence of a few demand condemnation and action in the streets of many of our cities in recent months we have seen riots and looting and even occasional murder. Still far more disturbing than the violence of watts or Oakland or the statesman the statements of a very few Negro spokesman. Those who have called for hatred to fight prejudice racism to meet racism. Violence to destroy oppression. Here
is the seed of tragedy for black and white alike. To understand the causes is not to permit the result. No man has the right to wantonly menace the safety and well-being of his neighbors all citizens have the right to security in the streets of their community whether it be in Birmingham or Los Angeles. And it is the duty of all public officials to keep the public peace and to bring justice to those who violate it. Some may ask why negro should not turn to violence in the face of their terrible frustrations. But violence is after all self-defeating. It would destroy hopes and not fulfill them. For it strikes the very heart of the beating into law. Peaceful process. And political cooperation which are the true source of our best hopes. And more importantly it cripples reason and compassion alike brutalizing both who make
themselves instruments of destruction and those who are its victims. Surely the world has seen enough in the last 40 years of violence and of hatred. Surely we have seen enough. Of the attempt to justify present injustices by past slights are to punish the unjust by making the world more unjust. We know now that the color of an executioner role matters very very little and we know in our hearts even through times of passion and discontent that to add to the quantity of violence in this country is to burden our own lives and mortgage our children's souls and the best pall of the possibilities of this country's future. This is a challenge to the Negro community and especially to the political coverage of Negro leadership whose own position may be endangered by rising militancy. Yet the challenge to white America
is equally great. In recent months we have seen comment on what many a call the backlash. Opposition to violence and riots and irresponsible action is the justified feeling of most Americans white and black. But that backlash which masks hostility to the swift and complete fulfillment of equal opportunity and treatment which contains opposition to demands for justice and freedom which denies the need to destroy the slums to provide education to eliminate poverty that kind of backlash is wrong shameful immoral and self-defeating. And any leader any leader who seeks to exploit this feeling for the momentary advantage of office. Fails in his duty to the people of this country
to the people that he represents. It would be a national disaster to permit resentment or fear that the actions of a few to drive increase the numbers of white and black Americans into opposing camps of distrust and empty understandable law. It's sporadic turbulence and irresponsibility cannot be allowed to create new barriers of oppression revive old hatreds or cause us to falter for a single moment in our Dr Talwar the day when the truths we hold to be self-evident are as clear to black Americans as it is to white. Some say that in the last analysis after all we need not fear in justice. That if our great common purpose divides us into conflict and into contest then whites will win. In one sense
that is true. We are far more numerous and we are far more powerful. But it would be a pyrrhic victory. The cost would be decades of agony and of civil strife. The sacrifice of our deal of liberty and ultimately the loss of our soul as a nation we can understand the apprehension of those white Americans who feel threatened in their persons and in their property. Yet we are only being asked to commit others what we demand for ourselves an equal chance to share in the American life. The whole experience of our nation shows that as each minority emerged and that the which came before that others fear the damage to their own way of life and that each time in our history they have been wrong. The achievements of each group as enlarge the prospects of all. And President Kennedy words
the rising tide lifts all boats and that will be our experience with the negro as well. Moreover we must all understand and we must all accept that this problem will not go away. That 20 with million Negro Americans are in fact a reality in the United States of America. The slums of the ghettos the unemployment and the denial of education are all realities. Prejudice discrimination and segregation. They are realities as our frustrated expectations and disappointed hopes. Most importantly the awareness of injustice and the passion to end it are inescapable realities. No force in the world can wish these facts out of existence. No force in the world can abolish them. Thus ladies and gentlemen we have truly only one choice. We can face our difficulties and strive to
overcome them or we can turn away bringing repression steadily increasing human pain and civil strife. And leaving a problem a far more terrifying and grievous dimensions. Leave that problem to our children. Anyone who promises another cost who pledges a different solution a solution without cost or effort or difficulty is deluding both himself and the people to whom he speaks. Like other minority groups negroes will bear the major burden of their own progress. They will have to make their own way as so many of them are doing. But we must remember that other minorities including my own also made progress through increasing their political and economic power as well as by individual strength and effort. Nor was that progress completely without violence without fear and without hatred. Moreover early immigrants often began their climb by moving to the unsettled West
a door now closed for finding unskilled labor a door which is narrowly which is swiftly narrowing today to find a job requires increasing complex skills to die to those without an education. Nor did other minorities suffer under the special handicaps of those with negro heritage centuries of slavery and a century of oppression. An intricate web of legal disabilities and the crushing forces of racial feeling from whose poison. Few whites have fully liberated themselves even now. That's the changed circumstances of modern life and the peculiar nature of the negro experience. Make a large scale government action necessary. If we are to crush the remaining barriers to equal opportunity and to lead to an accelerating national effort to give negroes a fair chance to share equally in the abundance and the dignity of American life we must continue to
enforce the command of the Constitution against racial discrimination and the many laws passed to carry out that command. We can never move too fast. By giving man liberty that they were guaranteed a century ago. We must also expand our programs for education. The rebuilding of our cities. Manpower training and all the rest. Calling upon the help of the private enterprise system and local government as well as the nation. Recently we solemnly and dramatically declared an all out war on poverty. Yet in a country which will produce more than 700 billion dollars of wealth this year where 60 billion dollars will be spent on defense and where individuals spend 3 billion dollars annually on dogs. We are. We are devoting less than 2 billion dollars to eliminate to help to eliminate poverty in the United States.
A War on Poverty is one war where success demands escalation. Even if we do all this and much more if we act on an unprecedented scale progress will still be slow. It is true as Jefferson wrote that the generation which commences the revolution really completes it. We know this revolution cannot be completed with a single blow. So this is the crossroads at which American life now stands in the world and at home. You you have the opportunity and the
responsibility to help make the choices which will determine the greatness of this nation. You are a generation which is coming of age and one of the rarest moments in history a time when all around us. The old order of things is crumbling and a new world society is painting painfully struggling to take its place. If you shrink from this struggle and these many difficulties you will be trade the trust with your own position forces upon you. You live in the most privileged nation on the face of the earth. You are the most privileged citizens of that privileged nation. For you have been given the opportunity to study and to learn to take your place among the tiny minority of the world's educated men and women by coming to the school. You have been lifted into a tiny sunlit island while all around you lies dark ocean of human misery injustice violence and fear. You can use your enormous privilege and
opportunity to seek purely private privilege and private gain. But history will judge you as the years pass you will ultimately judge yourselves on the extent to which you have used your gifts. In your hands not with presidents or leaders. Is the future of your world and the best fulfilment of the qualities of your own spirit. Thank you very much.
Senator Robert Kennedy in Berkeley
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Senator Robert Kennedy in Berkeley, delivering a political speech at the Greek Theater on the University of California Berkeley campus. Recorded October 23, 1966.
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African Americans--Civil rights--History
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Chicago: “Senator Robert Kennedy in Berkeley,” Pacifica Radio Archives, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 20, 2024,
MLA: “Senator Robert Kennedy in Berkeley.” Pacifica Radio Archives, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. June 20, 2024. <>.
APA: Senator Robert Kennedy in Berkeley. Boston, MA: Pacifica Radio Archives, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from