Monday, October 15, 2012

0 President Lyndon Johnson's Commencement Address at Howard University (1965)

Full text 

But freedom is not enough. You do not wipe away the scars of centuries by saying: Now you are free to go where you want, and do as you desire, and choose the leaders you please. 
You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, "you are free to compete with all the others," and still justly believe that you have been completely fair. 
Thus it is not enough just to open the gates of opportunity. All our citizens must have the ability to walk through those gates. 
This is the next and the more profound stage of the battle for civil rights. We seek not just freedom but opportunity. We seek not just legal equity but human ability, not just equality as a right and a theory but equality as a fact and equality as a result. 
For the task is to give 20 million Negroes the same chance as every other American to learn and grow, to work and share in society, to develop their abilities--physical, mental and spiritual, and to pursue their individual happiness. 
To this end equal opportunity is essential, but not enough, not enough. Men and women of all races are born with the same range of abilities. But ability is not just the product of birth. Ability is stretched or stunted by the family that you live with, and the neighborhood you live in--by the school you go to and the poverty or the richness of your surroundings. It is the product of a hundred unseen forces playing upon the little infant, the child, and finally the man. 
For what is justice? 
It is to fulfill the fair expectations of man. 
Thus, American justice is a very special thing. For, from the first, this has been a land of towering expectations. It was to be a nation where each man could be ruled by the common consent of all--enshrined in law, given life by institutions, guided by men themselves subject to its rule. And all--all of every station and origin--would be touched equally in obligation and in liberty. 
Beyond the law lay the land. It was a rich land, glowing with more abundant promise than man had ever seen. Here, unlike any place yet known, all were to share the harvest.
And beyond this was the dignity of man. Each could become whatever his qualities of mind and spirit would permit--to strive, to seek, and, if he could, to find his happiness.
This is American justice. We have pursued it faithfully to the edge of our imperfections, and we have failed to find it for the American Negro. 
So, it is the glorious opportunity of this generation to end the one huge wrong of the American Nation and, in so doing, to find America for ourselves, with the same immense thrill of discovery which gripped those who first began to realize that here, at last, was a home for freedom. 
All it will take is for all of us to understand what this country is and what this country must become. 
The Scripture promises: "I shall light a candle of understanding in thine heart, which shall not be put out." 
Together, and with millions more, we can light that candle of understanding in the heart of all America. 
And, once lit, it will never again go out.


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