June 11, 2020

President Kennedy’s Report to the American People on Civil Rights, June 11, 1963

Fifty-seven years ago on June 11, 1963, President John F. Kennedy delivered an impromptu Report to the American People on Civil Rights, broadcast on both radio and television. This speech, while in part a reaction to riots in Birmingham, Alabama, marked the beginning of a dramatic shift in the president’s response to the civil rights movement. For him, no longer was this national issue a passing interest; it had a new focus and presidential commitment to set change in motion. President Kennedy sought much needed help from Martin Luther King Jr., and launched an appeal for national unity as resistance to desegregation fueled social unrest.

On the anniversary of this powerful speech, President Kennedy’s words remain ever more striking as they eerily magnify the unresolved civil rights legacies of that decade with the issues of racial injustice we continue to face today. The current outcry spilling across the nation and world are in reaction to yet another brutal and senseless murder of an African American, and the residual impact of a four-hundred-year-old legacy of systemic racial inequality.

President Kennedy’s words on June 11, 1963, defined equal rights as intrinsic human rights, declaring that it is an individual and collective moral duty to provide equality to African Americans. These words harnessed inspiration and the call for action from his inaugural Ask Not address and contrast with the state of the nation today. While progress has been made over the last six decades, change has been slow and gradual, and there is much left to be done. The last two weeks of peaceful protests across the country and around the world have awakened us, touched raw nerves and revealed unhealed wounds. They have inspired a world-wide movement to listen, engage, and confront the unspoken biases that have kept us apart.

Today, we at The Sixth Floor Museum re-dedicate ourselves to building stronger civic and community engagement for Dallas, and our fellow citizens. We pledge to hear, to listen to you and to our community. We pledge to offer a safe and open forum for discussion and examination of our shared and unshared history and the legacies of civil rights and social injustices today.

The commitment of The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza is to ensure that every aspect of our internal operational practices, our external forms of educational outreach, and our public programming and community engagement activities, all pave the path for social justice.

This is our commitment to building and maintaining a diverse, equitable, accessible and inclusive museum for one and for all.

Nicola Longford, CEO + Board + Staff