JFK to nation: 'This nation will not be fully free, until all its citizens are free'
June 11th, 2013
06:31 PM ET

JFK to nation: 'This nation will not be fully free, until all its citizens are free'

By Alicia W. Stewart, CNN

(CNN) - Fifty years ago, Alabama Gov. George Wallace defiantly stood in front of the University of Alabama's Foster Auditorium to prevent black students from enrolling.

The then newly elected governor had famously declared "segregation now, segregation tomorrow,  segregation forever" in his inauguration speech.  His "stand in the schoolhouse door" brought him national attention.

It took  the National Guard, federal marshals and an attorney general to persuade the governor to allow Vivian Malone Jones and James Hood to enter.

It was not the first time Americans saw the drama of the civil rights movement unfold before their eyes. Earlier that spring, images of police attacking peaceful civil rights demonstrators with dogs and fire hoses in Birmingham, Alabama, flashed across the evening news.  The previous year, riots were quelled with federal troops after the admission of James Meredith, the first black student at the University of Mississippi.

Wallace later rescinded his views, but the incidents of the time prompted President John F. Kennedy to address the nation in a historic televised address about civil rights.

“Now the time has come for this nation to fulfill its promise,” President Kennedy said in that address. ‘The events in Birmingham and elsewhere have so increased the cries for equality that no city or state or legislative body can prudently choose to ignore them.”

Read and see what he told the nation that evening:


Read the full transcript of his speech below:

Good evening my fellow citizens:

This afternoon, following a series of threats and defiant statements, the presence of Alabama National Guardsmen was required on the University of Alabama to carry out the final and unequivocal order of the United States District Court of the Northern District of Alabama. That order called for the admission of two clearly qualified young Alabama residents who happened to have been born Negro.

That they were admitted peacefully on the campus is due in good measure to the conduct of the students of the University of Alabama, who met their responsibilities in a constructive way.

I hope that every American, regardless of where he lives, will stop and examine his conscience about this and other related incidents. This nation was founded by men of many nations and backgrounds. It was founded on the principle that all men are created equal, and that the rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.

Today we are committed to a worldwide struggle to promote and protect the rights of all who wish to be free. And when Americans are sent to Vietnam or West Berlin, we do not ask for whites only. It ought to be possible, therefore, for American students of any color to attend any public institution they select without having to be backed up by troops.

It ought to be possible for American consumers of any color to receive equal service in places of public accommodation, such as hotels and restaurants and theaters and retail stores, without being forced to resort to demonstrations in the street, and it ought to be possible for American citizens of any color to register to vote in a free election without interference or fear of reprisal.

It ought to be possible, in short, for every American to enjoy the privileges of being American without regard to his race or his color. In short, every American ought to have the right to be treated as he would wish to be treated, as one would wish his children to be treated. But this is not the case.

The Negro baby born in America today, regardless of the section of the nation in which he is born, has about one-half as much chance of completing a high school as a white baby born in the same place on the same day, one-third as much chance of completing college, one-third as much chance of becoming a professional man, twice as much chance of becoming unemployed, about one-seventh as much chance of earning $10,000 a year, a life expectancy which is seven years shorter, and the prospects of earning only half as much.

This is not a sectional issue. Difficulties over segregation and discrimination exist in every city, in every state of the union, producing in many cities a rising tide of discontent that threatens the public safety. Nor is this a partisan issue. In a time of domestic crisis men of good will and generosity should be able to unite regardless of party or politics. This is not even a legal or legislative issue alone. It is better to settle these matters in the courts than on the streets, and new laws are needed at every level, but law alone cannot make men see right.

We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is as old as the scriptures and is as clear as the American Constitution.

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. If an American, because his skin is dark, cannot eat lunch in a restaurant open to the public, if he cannot send his children to the best public school available, if he cannot vote for the public officials who will represent him, if, in short, he cannot enjoy the full and free life which all of us want, then who among us would be content to have the color of his skin changed and stand in his place? Who among us would then be content with the counsels of patience and delay?

One hundred years of delay have passed since President Lincoln freed the slaves, yet their heirs, their grandsons, are not fully free. They are not yet freed from the bonds of injustice. They are not yet freed from social and economic oppression. And this nation, for all its hopes and all its boasts, will not be fully free until all its citizens are free.

We preach freedom around the world, and we mean it, and we cherish our freedom here at home, but are we to say to the world, and much more importantly, to each other that this is the land of the free except for the Negroes; that we have no second-class citizens except Negroes; that we have no class or caste system, no ghettos, no master race except with respect to Negroes?

Now the time has come for this nation to fulfill its promise. The events in Birmingham and elsewhere have so increased the cries for equality that no city or state or legislative body can prudently choose to ignore them.

The fires of frustration and discord are burning in every city, North and South, where legal remedies are not at hand. 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. It is time to act in the Congress, in your state and local legislative body and, above all, in all of our daily lives.

It is not enough to pin the blame on others, to say this is a problem of one section of the country or another, or deplore the fact that we face. A great change is at hand, and our task, our obligation, is to make that revolution, that change, peaceful and constructive for all.

Those who do nothing are inviting shame as well as violence. Those who act boldly are recognizing right as well as reality.

Next week I shall ask the Congress of the United States to act, to make a commitment it has not fully made in this century to the proposition that race has no place in American life or law. The federal judiciary has upheld that proposition in the conduct of its affairs, including the employment of federal personnel, the use of federal facilities, and the sale of federally financed housing.

But there are other necessary measures which only the Congress can provide, and they must be provided at this session. The old code of equity law under which we live commands for every wrong a remedy, but in too many communities, in too many parts of the country, wrongs are inflicted on Negro citizens and there are no remedies at law. Unless the Congress acts, their only remedy is in the street.

I am, therefore, asking the Congress to enact legislation giving all Americans the right to be served in facilities which are open to the public–hotels, restaurants, theaters, retail stores, and similar establishments.

This seems to me to be an elementary right. Its denial is an arbitrary indignity that no American in 1963 should have to endure, but many do.

I have recently met with scores of business leaders urging them to take voluntary action to end this discrimination and I have been encouraged by their response, and in the last two weeks over 75 cities have seen progress made in desegregating these kinds of facilities. But many are unwilling to act alone, and for this reason, nationwide legislation is needed if we are to move this problem from the streets to the courts.

I am also asking the Congress to authorize the federal government to participate more fully in lawsuits designed to end segregation in public education. We have succeeded in persuading many districts to desegregate voluntarily. Dozens have admitted Negroes without violence. Today a Negro is attending a state-supported institution in every one of our 50 states, but the pace is very slow.

Too many Negro children entering segregated grade schools at the time of the Supreme Court's decision nine years ago will enter segregated high schools this fall, having suffered a loss which can never be restored. The lack of an adequate education denies the Negro a chance to get a decent job.

The orderly implementation of the Supreme Court decision, therefore, cannot be left solely to those who may not have the economic resources to carry the legal action or who may be subject to harassment.

Other features will also be requested, including greater protection for the right to vote. But legislation, I repeat, cannot solve this problem alone. It must be solved in the homes of every American in every community across our country.

In this respect I want to pay tribute to those citizens North and South who have been working in their communities to make life better for all. They are acting not out of a sense of legal duty but out of a sense of human decency.

Like our soldiers and sailors in all parts of the world they are meeting freedom's challenge on the firing line, and I salute them for their honor and their courage.

My fellow Americans, this is a problem which faces us all–in every city of the North as well as the South. Today there are Negroes unemployed, two or three times as many compared to whites, inadequate in education, moving into the large cities, unable to find work, young people particularly out of work without hope, denied equal rights, denied the opportunity to eat at a restaurant or lunch counter or go to a movie theater, denied the right to a decent education, denied almost today the right to attend a state university even though qualified. It seems to me that these are matters which concern us all, not merely presidents or congressmen or governors, but every citizen of the United States.

This is one country. It has become one country because all of us and all the people who came here had an equal chance to develop their talents.

We cannot say to 10% of the population that you can't have that right; that your children cannot have the chance to develop whatever talents they have; that the only way that they are going to get their rights is to go into the streets and demonstrate. I think we owe them and we owe ourselves a better country than that.

Therefore, I am asking for your help in making it easier for us to move ahead and to provide the kind of equality of treatment which we would want ourselves; to give a chance for every child to be educated to the limit of his talents.

As I have said before, not every child has an equal talent or an equal ability or an equal motivation, but they should have an equal right to develop their talent and their ability and their motivation, to make something of themselves.

We have a right to expect that the Negro community will be responsible, will uphold the law, but they have a right to expect that the law will be fair, that the Constitution will be color-blind, as Justice Harlan said at the turn of the century.

This is what we are talking about and this is a matter which concerns this country and what it stands for, and in meeting it I ask the support of all our citizens.

Thank you very much.

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Filed under: History • Race • Who we are
January 1st, 2013
05:30 PM ET

150 years later, myths persist about the Emancipation Proclamation

by Alicia W. Stewart, CNN

(CNN) - When Hannah Johnson wrote President Lincoln in the summer of 1863, she expressed the concerns of any mother with a son fighting a war.

But she had a special request: “I am a colored woman and my son was strong and able as any to fight for his country and the colored people have as much to fight for as any…. Will you see that the colored men fighting now, are fairly treated. You ought to do this, and do it at once.”

On January 1, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation became the first authorization by an American president to enroll Johnson's son, and other black men, as legal soldiers for the United States military.

Emancipation and the enlistment of black soldiers were not President Lincoln’s initial impulse. He wanted to make a gradual change, as he wrote in this letter explaining his shift to an advisor:

When, in March, and May, and July 1862 I made earnest, and successive appeals to the border states to favor compensated emancipation, I believed the indispensable necessity for military emancipation, and arming the blacks would come, unless averted by that measure. They declined the proposition; and I was, in my best judgment, driven to the alternative of either surrendering the Union, and with it, the Constitution, or of laying strong hand upon the colored element. I chose the latter.

By the end of the Civil War, black soldiers made up 10% of Union troops, and 19,000 served in the Navy.

“Republicans understood that they needed blacks to be agents of change for the process,” said James Oakes, author of "Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery". “The North couldn’t win the war without black soldiers.”

Those soldiers, and the proclamation, became an enduring symbol of freedom.

But on the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, a historical document that symbolizes the beginnings of freedom for individuals once deemed property, historians say myths persist about what the policy did, and did not, do.

“Slavery didn’t die on January 1, 1863, but it was the death knell that slavery would die if the Union won the Civil War,” said Eric Foner, author of "The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery".

Here are three myths that persist about the Emancipation Proclamation. FULL POST

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Obama on immigration: 'We need to seize the moment'
In his first news conference in his second term, President Obama addressed immigration.
November 14th, 2012
07:37 PM ET

Obama on immigration: 'We need to seize the moment'

By Alicia W.  Stewart, CNN

(CNN) - In his first major news conference since March, President Barack Obama expressed confidence in passing immigration reform in his second term.

"You're starting to see a sense of empowerment and civic participation (among Latinos) that I think is going to be powerful and good for the country," he said. "And it is why I'm very confident that we can get immigration reform done."

In response to a question from Telemundo reporter Lori Montenegro, the president spoke about increased Latino voter turnout, the DREAM Act and border security.

Read his full answer in the excerpt below. You can also read the full transcript of the news conference here. FULL POST

October 25th, 2012
04:00 AM ET

Filmmaker Ava DuVernay uses a lens of legacy

Editor's note: This interview is part of In America's occasional series "How I Got Here," which looks at the life journeys of notable Americans.

By Alicia W. Stewart, CNN

(CNN) - Ava DuVernay this year became the first African-American woman to win a best directing award at the Sundance Film Festival. She won for "Middle of Nowhere," a drama about a young black woman named Ruby who puts her life on hold while her husband is in prison. The movie opened in theaters this month.

The former aspiring broadcast journalist-turned-publicist overcame fear and ridicule to become an independent filmmaker. Here's the story of how she got there:

CNN: What does it mean to be a black woman filmmaker in 2012?

Ava DuVernay: The films that I make are, you know, directly related to my gaze, which is specifically through the eyes of a black woman. So the framing of the shots in my films, the choices of music, the cadence and rhythm of the editing, all of that I’m very aware is coming through who I am, and I’m a sister.

In saying I’m a black woman; I include all the legacy of my family and all the people that I love.

CNN: You went from being a publicist in the entertainment industry to an acclaimed filmmaker. What drives you?

DuVernay: I think the only thing that drove me is just this idea of forward movement, like never to stay still. I think there’s something very powerful and something amazing to be said (for) momentum. That one thing leads to another.

I think when we sit too long in one place, we get stagnant, and if we just keep moving, even if we don’t know where we’re going, we’ll get somewhere.

CNN: Did you always want to be a filmmaker?

DuVernay: When I was young, I wanted to be a broadcast journalist. I wanted to be like Connie Chung.

Maybe in some ways, we kind of are truth-telling, trying to tell stories and news in a different way through the films, but after UCLA, I got an internship at CBS News with Dan Rather and Connie Chung. It was a huge, huge deal. I was on the O.J. Simpson unit. And I was so proud. I had my first little suit, showed up and they said: “OK, this is your assignment.” (They) handed me a package and inside the package was the address of one of the jurors. And they wanted me to sit outside that person’s house and look through the trash.

And I was like: You know, no. I’m not going to do this. So I didn’t. I started looking for another side of the news and fell into publicity. It allowed me to be close to journalists and work with the media but also connect journalists to artists and to films.


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Filed under: Black in America • How we look • Pop culture • Who we are • Women
October 10th, 2012
05:43 PM ET

5 things to know about affirmative action

By Alicia W. Stewart, CNN

(CNN) - In 1961, President John F. Kennedy signed Executive Order 10925, ordering that federally funded projects "take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin."

Five decades later, a young white woman and a Texas school's admissions policy stand central to a monumental Supreme Court case. The justices began hearing oral arguments Wednesday over the constitutionality of racial preferences in consideration of the students it accepts.

It could change how schools determine whom they let in and whom they keep out.

Justices to re-examine use of race in college admissions

Affirmative action began as a simple idea to expand equality and has morphed into a charged and divisive topic.

What is affirmative action, and how is it different from when it began?

Here are five things to know. What would you add? Let us know in the comments below.


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Filed under: Education • How we live • Race
September 19th, 2012
01:18 PM ET

Romney's 'helpful to be Latino' comment met with sarcasm, humor

By Alicia W. Stewart, CNN

(CNN) - Just as Mitt Romney's campaign ramped up outreach to Latino voters at the start of Hispanic Heritage Month, his "off the cuff comments" that it “would be helpful to be Latino" to win the presidency were met with sarcasm and humor.

"Pobre guey! What Mitt doesn't realize is that if he were Mexican, there's a 94.6% chance that he would've already been deported by his opponent,” CNN Contributor Ruben Navarette wrote on his Facebook page.

Opinion: Romney better off as a Latino?

"It's a terrible joke," said Matt Barreto, author of “Ethnic Cues: The role of shared ethnicity in Latino political participation.” "There is no evidence that Latino candidates have an easier time getting elected. As someone that studies this professionally, this is not true. Minority candidates have a much harder time of winning elections."

In a secretly recorded video obtained by Mother Jones, a liberal magazine, the presidential candidate spoke to donors at a private fund-raiser last May on a variety of topics.

Secretly taped comments put Romney back on defense

One comment generating response: that had his father been "born of Mexican parents, I'd have a better shot of winning this," Romney joked. "I mean, I say that jokingly, but it would be helpful to be Latino." FULL POST

August 14th, 2012
12:00 PM ET

Carole Simpson: Advice from the last female presidential debate moderator

Editor's note: Carole Simpson is the leader-in-residence at Emerson College’s School of Communication in Boston, where she teaches journalism and communications classes. She is the first woman or minority to be the sole moderator of a presidential debate, and chronicled her 40 years as a broadcast journalist in her memoir, "Newslady."

By Carole Simpson, Special to CNN

(CNN) -  Congratulations Candy Crowley on being the first female in 20 years to be named moderator of a presidential debate!

CNN's Crowley first woman in two decades to moderate presidential debate

They could not have chosen a more seasoned journalist for this job.

(I have to acknowledge that I am not totally unbiased: Candy and I first met 30 years ago when we covered President Ronald Reagan.)

I remember when I was chosen to moderate the 1992 presidential debate with President George H.W. Bush, businessman Ross Perot and then-Gov. Bill Clinton. I had been covering politics since 1968, was anchor of weekend news at ABC and had covered Clinton and Bush.

It is with that background, that I share some advice.

Don't forget you will be treated differently because you are a woman

There is still a double standard.

People will be hypercritical of how you handle the debate no matter how professional or fair you are.

Opinion: Carole Simpson on the truth about being old and female

Republicans accused me of making Bush look ineffectual, and making Clinton look good.

It was George Bush who replied to a question about the economic recession, “I'm not sure I get it.” I didn’t make him look at his watch during the debate.

I had nothing to do with Bill Clinton working his personal charm on the town hall participants.

Yet, Rush Limbaugh used his radio program to blast my alleged Democratic bias. His speech was so hateful that I received death threats.

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Filed under: 2012 Election • Gender • History • How we look • Politics • What we think • Women
Opinion: Why focus on Gabby Douglas' hair?
After her historic win, gymnastics all-around gold medalist Gabby Douglas faced criticism about her hair.
August 6th, 2012
02:20 PM ET

Opinion: Why focus on Gabby Douglas' hair?

Editor's Note: Tiya Miles is chairwoman of the Department of Afro-American and African Studies and professor of history and Native American studies at the University of Michigan. She is the author of "Ties That Bind: The Story of an Afro-Cherokee Family in Slavery and Freedom" and "The House on Diamond Hill: A Cherokee Plantation Story." She is also the winner of  a 2011 genius grant from the MacArthur Foundation.

By Tiya Miles, Special to CNN

When Gabby Douglas stood on the Olympic podium Thursday, a bright smile on her face and gold medal around her neck, she made history as the first African-American woman to win top honors in the all-around gymnastics competition.

Many African-Americans watching Douglas shared a flush of pride at the accomplishment, noting her joy, her poise, her grace and, apparently, her hairstyle.

I heard about this latter preoccupation from my sister, who swept into town for a weekend visit and opened with, “Have you heard that mess about Gabby’s hair? Type in ‘Gabby Douglas hair’ on Google; you’ll see.” I was dismayed to find a string of posts by African-American women and men debating Douglas’ hairstyle and the perceived imperfection that while her hair was straightened, parts of it had turned visibly kinky during her performance.

The fascination with natural African-American hair

Twitter and Facebook commenters and callers on black talk radio shows questioned whether her hair was too straight or too kinky, whether it was over-gelled or under-tamed, and what she should have done with that floppy bun. My sister, who thought this barrage of criticism was a “mess,” threw in the final comment: “All right, I admit if I was her mother, I would have put a headband on the girl, but really, who cares?”

A significant number of people, if the list my Google search returned is any indication. Why were some African-Americans fixated on hair at a moment that should have been set aside to savor a grand achievement? FULL POST

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Filed under: Black in America • History • How we look • What we think • Women
Opinion: Mental illness an explanation, not an excuse for Colorado shootings
Accused movie theater shooter James Holmes makes his first court appearance on July 23, 2012, in Centennial, Colorado.
August 1st, 2012
06:00 AM ET

Opinion: Mental illness an explanation, not an excuse for Colorado shootings

Editor's note: Jack Levin, Ph.D. is the Brudnick Professor of Sociology and Criminology at Northeastern University. He has authored or co-authored 30 books, including the recently published volume "Serial Killers and Sadistic Murderers—Up Close and Personal and The Violence of Hate."

By Jack Levin, Special to CNN

(CNN) - My colleague James Alan Fox and I have studied hundreds of cases of mass murder, including those committed at random in shopping malls, churches, health clubs, and cinemas.

Almost every killer who opens fire indiscriminately in a public place seems to have been delusional, paranoid, and hallucinatory.

Yet no matter how definitive the evidence, this conclusion does not sit well with Americans who seek justice for seemingly "crazy" acts of violence. It seems to me that many people would prefer to believe that mass killers are evil rather than sick.

Colorado movie shooting suspect charged with murder

Part of the reason may be that the attribution of illness sounds like an excuse rather than an explanation.

The label “evil” distances the killer from “normal” people in the minds of most Americans, but illness does not. Millions of Americans suffer from depression; millions more have anxiety disorders, and they wouldn’t kill anyone.

Most individuals do not regard themselves as evil; they have a conscience, feel empathy for victims, and are remorseful when they do the wrong thing.

Remembering the Colorado shooting victims

In short, they believe themselves and their family members to be nothing like the killer in Aurora, and that makes them feel more secure. FULL POST

July 25th, 2012
08:16 PM ET

Opinion: Sally Ride opens a new frontier for others

Editor's Note: Ainissa G. Ramirez, Ph.D., is the director of the award-winning science lecture series for children called Science Saturdays at Yale, and hosts a video series, "Material Marvels. "Technology Review named her one of the world’s 100 Top Young Innovators for her contributions in transforming technology. Follow her on @blkgrilphd. This piece was written in association with The Op-Ed Project.

By Ainissa G. Ramirez, Special to CNN

(CNN) - Sally Ride was a fantastic physicist and astronaut, and later a science education reformer.

I was surprised to learn of her passing on Monday. I was even more surprised to learn that she was a lesbian.

Sally Ride, first American woman in space, dies

She left us with one last gift — she came out publicly.

In just one line, the obituary issued by her company shared her love with the world: “In addition to Tam O’Shaughnessy, her partner of 27 years, Sally is survived by her mother, Joyce; her sister, Bear; her niece, Caitlin, and nephew, Whitney; her staff of 40 at Sally Ride Science; and many friends and colleagues around the country.”

With that, another dimension has been added to her remarkable life, inspiring those who are different, especially gay children.


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