A Holiday Reflection for White America: Citizens Union

December 14, 1967


New York, NY

Long ago it was written that “to everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”

Now we approach the season which, in every year, we mark our higher purpose and our common humanity.

In this year, this season is also a time to pause and a time to reflect, on where we have been and where we are going—halfway between the terrible summer of 1967 and what may well be a most difficult time in the summer of 1968…

The weather is cool now, and the violence that breaks out, breaks out only occasionally.

But the embers of disaffection and distrust, the sparks of frustration and discontent—these still burn and these still crackle, in the ashes of Detroit and Newark, Los Angeles and New York, and in every city across this nation.

We know that this winter is worse than last winter, and the next summer may be worse than last summer; a grotesque spiral of greater violence and ever—greater vengeance, threatening the well—being and liberties of every American citizen.

We know that this will happen—unless we act, now, to heal the division and cure the sores in which violence festers.

Since the events of last summer this has been plain to all within the eyes to see.

We have seen—but we have not acted.

Yet only action—forceful, direct, sweeping action—can meet our problems…

Look through the eyes of the young slumdweller—the Negro, the Puerto Rican, the Mexican American—at the dark and hopeless world he sees…

Kennedy continues:

On his television set, the young man can still watch the multiplying marvels of white America; the commercials still tell him life is impossible without the latest products of our consumer society.

All this goes on.

But he still cannot buy them.

How overwhelming must be the frustration of this young man—this young American—who, desperately wanting to believe and half believing, finds himself locked in the slums, his education second rate, unable to get a job, confronted by the open prejudice and subtle hostilities of a white world, and powerless to change his condition or even have an effect on his future.

Others still tell him to work his way up as other minorities have done; and so he must.

For he knows, and we know, that only by his own efforts and his own labor will he come to full equality.

But how is he to work?

The jobs have fled to the suburbs, or have been replaced by machines, or have moved beyond the reach of those with limited education and skills…

The fact is, if we want to change these conditions—those of us here in this room, those of us who are in the establishment, whether it be business, or labor, or government—we must act.

The fact is that we can act.

And the fact is also that we are not acting…

Kennedy describes program for urban revitalization:

We must turn the power and resources of our private enterprise system to the underdeveloped nation within our midst.

This should be done by bringing into the ghettos themselves productive and profitable private industry—creating dignified jobs, not welfare handouts, for the men and youth who now languish in idleness. To do this, private enterprise will require incentives—credit, accelerated depreciation, and extra deductions—as effective and comprehensive as those we now offer for the production of oil or the building of grain storage facilities or the supersonic transport…

But what is far beyond doubt is that the resources and abilities of private industry, and not just the federal treasury and bureaucracy, must be engaged in this great task…

There is, after all—for all of us—no alternative.

History has placed us all, black and white, rich and poor, within a common border and under a common law.

All of us, from the wealthiest to the young children that I have seen in this country, in this year, bloated by starvation—we all share one precious possession, and that is the name American.

It is not easy to know what that means.

But in part to be an American means to have been an outcast and a stranger, to have come to the exiles’ country, and to know that he who denies the outcast and stranger still amongst us, he also denies America.

That is something for us to consider, in this Christmas of 1967.