Address at University of Kansas

March 18, 1968


Lawrence, KS

I have seen these other Americans—I have seen children in Mississippi starving, their bodies so crippled by hunger; and their minds have been so destroyed for their whole life that they will never have no future. I have seen children in Mississippi—here in the United States, with a gross national product of eight hundred billion dollars—I have seen children in the Delta area of Mississippi with distended stomachs, whose faces are covered with sores from starvation, and we haven’t developed a policy so that we can get enough food so that they can live, so that their lives are not destroyed. I don’t think that’s acceptable in the United States of America and I think we need a change.

I have seen Indians living on their bare and meager reservations, with no jobs, with an unemployment rate of 80 percent, and with so little hope for the future that for young men and women in their teens, the greatest cause of death is suicide—that they end their lives by killing themselves.

I don’t think that we have to accept that, for the first Americans, for the minority here in the United states. If young boys and girls are so filled with despair when they are going to high school and feel that their lives are so hopeless and that nobody’s going to care for them, nobody’s going to be involved with them, nobody’s going to bother with them, that they either hang themselves, shoot themselves, or kill themselves—I don’t think that’s acceptable and I think the United States of America—I think the American people know we can do much, much better. And I run for the presidency because of that. I run for the presidency because I’ve seen proud men on the hills of Appalachia, who wish only to work in dignity; but they cannot, for the mines have closed and their jobs are gone and no one—neither industry, labor, nor government—has cared enough to help.

I think we here in this country, with the unselfish state that exists in the United States of America, I think we can do better here also.

I have seen the people of the black ghetto, listening to ever-greater promises of equality and justice, as they sit in the same decaying schools and huddle in the same filthy rooms, without heat, warding off the cold and warding off the rats.

If we believe that we, as Americans, are bound together by a common concern for each other, then an urgent national priority is upon us. We must begin to end the disgrace of this other America.

And this is one of the great tasks of leadership for us, as individuals and citizens this year. But even if we act to erase material poverty, there is another great task. It is to confront the poverty of satisfaction—a lack of purpose and dignity—that afflicts us all.

Too much and too long, we seem to have surrendered community excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things. Our gross national product now is over eight hundred billion dollars a year, but that GNP—if we should judge America by that—counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for those who break them. It counts the destruction of our redwoods and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and the cost of a nuclear warhead, and armored cars for police who fight riots in our streets. It counts Whitman’s rifle and Speck’s knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.

Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages; the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage; neither our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.

If this is true here at home, so it is true elsewhere in the world. From the beginning, our proudest boast was that we, here in this country, would be the best hope for all of mankind. And now, as we look at the war in Vietnam, we wonder if we still hold a decent respect for the opinions of mankind, and whether they have maintained a decent respect for us; or whether, like Athens of old, we will forfeit sympathy and support, and ultimately security, in a single-minded pursuit of our own goals and our own objectives.