Address at the University of Alabama

March 21, 1968


Tuscaloosa, AL

We speak as citizens of the same nation, joined by a common history, heartened by common success, troubled by common concerns. And I have come here to Alabama to talk with you of the hope which binds us together as Americans; and to ask you for your help.

For America’s successes were not built by men of narrow region refusing to look beyond their own sectional concerns. The settling of the prairie by men of the East; the fight to build the Tennessee Valley Authority, led by George Norris of Nebraska and Franklin D. Roosevelt of New york; the battle of Alabama’s Hugo Black for the rights of labor and free speech—these are the triumphs for a whole nation, made by men who were first, and always, Americans. This is the spirit in which I came to Alabama.

I have come here because our great nation is troubled, divided as never before in our history; divided by a difficult, costly war abroad and by a bitter, destructive crisis at home; divided by our age, by our beliefs, by the color of our skin. I have come here because I seek to join with you in building a better country and a united country. And I come to Alabama because I need your help.

For this campaign, in this critical election year, must be far more than a matter of political organization, of courting and counting votes.

This election will mean nothing if it leaves us, after it is all over, as divided as we were when it began. We have to begin to put our country together again. So I believe that any who seek high office this year must go before all Americans: not just those who agree with them, but also those who disagree; recognizing that it is not just our supporters, not just those who vote for us, but all Americans, who we must lead in the difficult years ahead.

And this is why I have come, at the outset of my campaign, not to New York or Chicago or Boston, but here to Alabama.

Some have said there are many issues on which we disagree. For my part, I do not believe these disagreements are as great as the principles which unite us. And I also think we can confront those issues with dandor and truth, and confront each other as men. We need not paper over our differences on specific issues—if we can, as we must, remember always our common burden and our common hope as Americans…

For the work we must do is not for the benefit of any one of our peoples. It is work we must do for all Americans…

All…Americans are joined by the bond of injustice—and all…Americans must be freed by strong, determine national effort—not an effort which merely swells our budget with programs which will not free [the less fortunate] of Americans—but an effort which will provide jobs, not welfare dollars; decent homes, not slums standing on the foundation of federal indifference…

For history has placed us all, northerner and southerner, black and white, within a common border and under a common law. All of us, from the wealthiest, and most powerful of men to the weakest and hungriest of children, share one precious possession: the name American.

So I come to Alabama to ask you to help in the task of national reconciliation.