Address at the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg

June 8, 1966


Braamfontein, Johannesburg, South Africa

I have been in your country only a short time; yet you already have made a strong and deep impression…Everywhere I have been impressed with the warmth and the interest of all of the people of South Africa, of all political persuasions and races. Everywhere I have been impressed by your achievements, the wealth you have created in this continent which so sorely needs the blessings of progress.

Above all, I have been impressed with South African youth; not just those young in years, but those of every age who are young in a spirit of imagination and courage and an appetite for the adventure of life…

Will you sound the trumpet? And what is the battle, to which we all are summoned? It is the first battle for the future…The winds of freedom and progress and justice blow across the highest battlements, enter at every crevice, are carried by jet planes and communications satellites and by the very air we breathe.

Tomorrow’s South Africa will be different from today’s, just as tomorrow’s America will be different from the country I left these few short days ago; different for the astronauts who returned from their journey—and for James Meredith, who did not complete his journey. Our choice is not whether change will come but whether we can guide that change in the service of our ideals and toward a social order shaped to the needs of all our people. In the long run we can master change, not through force or fear, but only through the free work of an understanding mind, through an openness to new knowledge and fresh outlooks, which can only strengthen the most fragile, and the most powerful human gifts: the gifts of reason.

Thus those who cut themselves off from ideas and clashing convictions not only display fear and enormous uncertainty about the strength of their own views; they also guarantee that when change comes; it will not be to their liking. And they encourage the forces of violence and passion which are the only alternatives to reason and the acts of minds freely open to the demands of justice.

Justice—a demand which has echoed down through all the ages of man. This is the second battle to which we are summoned. And let no man think that he fights this battle for others; he fights for himself, and so do we all. The Golden Rule is not sentimentality but the deepest practical wisdom.

For the teaching of our time is that cruelty is contagious, and its disease knows no bounds of race or nation. Where men can be deprived because their skin black, in the fullness of time others will be deprived because their skin is white. If men can suffer because they hold one belief, then others may suffer from the holding of other beliefs. Freedom is not money, that I could enlarge mine by taking yours. Our liberty can grow only when the liberties of all our fellow men are secure; and he who would enslave others ends only by chaining himself, for chains have two ends, and he who holds the chain is as securely bound as he whom it holds. And as President Kennedy said at the Berlin Wall in 1963, “Freedom is indivisible, and when one man is enslaved, all are not free.”…

There are those who say that the game is not worth the candle—that Africa is too primitive to develop, that its peoples are not ready for freedom and self-government. But those who say these things should look to the history of every part and parcel of the human race. It was not the the black man of Africa who invented and used poison gas or the atomic bomb, who sent six million men and women to the gas ovens and used their bodies as fertilizer…And it was not the black men of Africa who bombed and obliterated Rotterdam and Shanghai and Dresden and Hiroshima.

We all struggle to transcend the cruelties and the follies of mankind. That struggle will not be won by standing aloof and pointing a finger; it will be won by action, by men who commit their every resource of mind and body to the education and improvement and help of their fellow man.

And this is the third aspect of our battle: to fight for ourselves as individuals, and for the individuality of all.

We are the patriots. We believe in our countries and wish to see them flourish. But the countries we love are not abstractions…

History is full of peoples who have discovered it is easier to fight than think, easier to have enemies and friends selected by authority than to make their own painful choices, easier to follow blindly than to lead, even if that leadership must be the private choice of a single man alone with a free and skeptical mind. But in the final telling it is that leadership, the impregnable skepticism of the free spirit, untouchable by guns or police, which feeds the whirlwind of change and hope and progress in every land and time.