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Benjamin L. Hooks (1925-)

Speech at Gustavus Adolphus College

St. Peter, Minnesota-April 3, 1978

Attorney and Baptist minister Benjamin L. Hooks led the nation’s largest civil rights organization, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) for fifteen years. His tenure there (1977–93) came after long involvement in law, government, and the civil rights movement. A close associate of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., he heard King give his last speech—in Hook’s hometown of Memphis, Tennessee—the night before King was assassinated.

Hooks has had a long and varied career, and is well known for his powerful speaking skills. He was an advisor to King and a board member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a group of clergy and activists that organized civil rights marches, boycotts, sit-ins, and freedom rides.

The son of a Memphis photographer and a schoolteacher, Hooks was a shy young man who was drawn to the ministry, but was encouraged by his father to study law. He served stateside in World War II, at one time guarding Italian prisoners of war who were allowed to eat in the segregated restaurants where Hooks would not be served. He attended LeMoyne College and Howard University, and earned his law degree from DePaul University in 1948.1

Hooks opened a law practice in Memphis and got involved in local politics and civil rights activity. He became an ordained Baptist minister and began preaching at Middle Baptist Church in Memphis in 1956. (He would later divide his time in the pulpit with a Detroit church, where he would fly twice a month to preach.) In the early 1960s, Hooks became an assistant public defender in Shelby County, Tennessee. He became the first African American criminal court judge in the state in 1965.2

In 1972, President Richard Nixon nominated Hooks as the first black commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission. In more than four years on the FCC, Hooks pushed for increased African American ownership of radio and television outlets and more evenhanded representation of blacks in the media.

Hooks took over the top job at the NAACP in 1977. He worked to restore the organization’s influence at a time when it drew criticism for being out-of-date and politically inert. As executive director, Hooks pushed the organization to increase its membership and eliminate its debt. He was sixty-seven when he stepped down in 1993. “Despite what is said about the ‘old fogeyism’ of the association, or about its irrelevance, the NAACP remains the undisputed leader and major force in the civil rights arena,” he told reporters.3

Since retiring, Hooks has served on the board of several organizations and taught at Fisk University and the University of Memphis.

He made the following speech at Gustavus Adolphus College, a small, Lutheran school in the farmland south of Minneapolis. He was the guest speaker at a conference marking the tenth anniversary of King’s death.

Listen to the speech

[In Memphis, the] Mason temple had a tin roof and as I heard the rain pattering tonight on this beautiful place, in this beautiful place, and looked out and saw the flash of the lightning, I was somehow strangely transported back almost ten years. And I remember when Turner and I walked into that Mason temple that night, it was rather late. This is one of those nights when we didn’t expect anybody to be present, that place seats perhaps 7,500 or 8,000 people and to our surprise there must have been between 1,500 and 2,000 folk who had turned out on that very, very stormy night.

And Dr. Abernathy presented Martin that night, and Dr. Abernathy can speak quite a long time but that night he spoke even longer than usual. I remember it took him almost 45 minutes to introduce Dr. King. Brought him from 1929, [when] he was born, up until 1968 so that it was providential for me because when I got there, Dr. King had not yet gotten up to speak.

I had worked with Dr. King, I was a member of the Board of Directors of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; later I was to serve as financial secretary of that organization. I had marched and demonstrated and walked with Dr. King and had been one of his legal counselors and advisors for almost all of his civil rights career. But in all of those years that I heard Dr. King speak, never had I heard him speak with the pathos and the passion and the eloquence which he demonstrated that night. I was literally transfixed in my seat as this prophet of God spoke not only to Memphis, but to the nation and indeed to the world.

I wish I could stand here tonight and say that I had some premonition that that would be his last speech, but I did not. But I shall not forget how, at the conclusion of that speech, Dr. King, who was sort of stoic by nature, I never, in the years that I knew him, saw him exhibit too much joy or sorrow over anything much, he simply took life as it was. He was criticized and abused and vilified, misunderstood and lied on continuously. Would the God that all the folk who follow him now, both black and white, had followed him during his lifetime, we would be closer to the realization of the great American dream.

I remember that night when he finished, he stopped by quoting the words of that song that he loved so well, “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.” He never finished. He wheeled around and took his seat and to my surprise, when I got a little closer, I saw tears streaming down his face. Grown men were sitting there weeping openly because of the power of this man who spoke on that night.

It’s sort of fitting that ten years later I’m here at this great institution as you commemorate the life and the time, the service of one of America’s authentic heroes. Today, yesterday, tomorrow, a dream remembered. I suppose that all of you have read now, Langston Hughes’s, a beautiful poem, “What Happens to a Dream Deferred?”

Dr. King, as my mind travels back over those years in 1968, spoke rather forcibly on a topic that seemed a little strange that night. For, in 1968, you must recall that Lyndon Johnson was still President and even though we were suffering with the agony of the Vietnamese experience, there were many of us in the black community who felt that finally America had come to grips with the old racial question that had troubled us since our existence as a nation. We had seen, in the mid ’60s, the passage of five monumental civil rights bills. In 1954 and 1955 we had witnessed the Supreme Court writing an end—legally and judicially—to the system of separate [but] equal, so-called, but always unequal, education. We’d witnessed Eisenhower calling out the federal troops to ensure that black folk could attend school with whites in Little Rock, Arkansas. So many of us that night we felt that even though there were some little ends to be caught up, that the struggle was all but over. But Dr. King spoke that night so beautifully and forcibly and he kept reminding us that there would be dark and difficult days ahead.

I must confess that I was a little bit surprised because I didn’t expect that kind of a speech on April 3, 1968. But as I look back over those years, I must say in all honesty that surely Dr. King spoke prophetically that night. For, in the ten years since he died, we have seen and witnessed in this land and in this country some dark and difficult days.

And I was doing an interview on last Saturday with some reporters from a paper as we talked about Memphis, Tennessee, and even this nation, about the progress. I must sadly confess that as I tried to rack my mind that it looks, except for the escalator effect, that we have not moved very far from ’68 to ’78. In fact, if I were honest tonight, I would have to say that as I travel the length and breadth of this country, that there seems to be a counter-tide of conservatism sweeping across this nation that threatens to undo all of the progress that we thought we had made. Unless we are very careful, this nation will see a second post-Reconstruction period. And the consequences for the nation will be grim and dreadful, not just for black folk, not just for women, not for Hispanics, Asian-Americans, and Indian-Americans but for all of America it will be sad and tragic day if we witness a roll-back of human rights in this nation.

If there is one thing we should have learned by now, if the lessons of Watergate should have taught us anything, it is that liberty is indivisible and that there is no way to roll back the rights of some people in this nation, without all of us inevitably suffering a roll-back in human, spiritual and civil rights.

My mind examines some of the things we face now. In 1968, while Dr. King spoke, we were still celebrating the birth of nationhood of many nations of Africa. But today as we look at that great continent, from Ethiopia on the east all the way back to the west and to South Africa at the tip of the horn, we see a continent that is once again caught up in a struggle to become first-class nations in this world.

Many of the colonial powers, and indeed powers that were not colonial powers, are interfacing in the affairs of Africa. Troops are being landed and all kinds of things are being done to roll back the proud spirit of the ’50s and the ’60s, when all of these nations unfurled their new flag and started on the road toward nationhood.

Surely, anyone who can read and who can understand the vicious system of apartheid in South Africa, where less than 4 million whites seem determined and bent to utilize the labor, the exploitation, the dehumanization of more than 14 million blacks to build one of the highest standards of living that the world has ever known. It seems nothing will stop them. The seeds of a third world war are being planted now in South Africa and we in America are continuing to send money and our institutions are expanding their industrial economy, they’re building property on the backs of people who still work for less than a dollar a day.

There’s something un-Christian, something that is alien to our whole Judeo-Christian heritage in what we’re doing in South Africa. Unless good people in America rise up and revolt against that type of thing, we will see the seeds of a third world war that might engulf all of us, because of what’s happening in South Africa today.

Just two Saturdays ago, the NAACP led a march down in Nashville, Tennessee. It was so strange that we had more than 7,000 people, there were more than 100 people from television and radio and newspaper, reporters from all over the nation and the world. But because the march was nonviolent, because there were no heads busted, because there were no noses bloodied, you saw very little of it. Yet we were there to present our bodies as a witness that we are concerned, we were trying to elevate the level of consciousness in this country that there’s something going on. A Nazi regime in South Africa that will threaten to parallel the growth of Hitler and so many of us are satisfied.

I’ve had an opportunity to talk with Donald Wood, the editor of one of the great white papers in South Africa. He was telling us about how the South African government banned The World, which was the largest black newspaper in South Africa, and put Rebozo in jail and then banned him, put him under house arrest, and how he escaped from South Africa. It’s difficult to listen to that man without recognizing that here in 1978 we’re seeing the most massive deprivation of human rights that this world has known since Hitler held sway in Germany a few years ago. And yet so many of us are unconcerned because it doesn’t seem to affect us.

But it seems to me I can still hear the poets saying, “Never seem to know for whom the bells toll, they toll for thee.” So all of us tonight, even in this beautiful setting in Minnesota, St. Peter, all of us are involved in what is happening a world away, miles and miles away across 6,000 miles of ocean, somehow we’re caught up and we ought begin to pay attention to it and to pay our witness and to do our best to see that the kind of apartheid, the kind of viciousness that exists in South Africa can be brought to a close.

Maybe Dr. King looked in 1968 away from Selma, Alabama, away from Jackson, Mississippi, away from Atlanta and Memphis, Tennessee, and looked down the future and saw Boston, where even today, and just two or three years ago, people would go to church and think of their rosaries and come away from the church saying, “Hail Mary full of grace, blessed art thou and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus,” and then having said that, would spit on children and throw bricks through the windows of the school buses and set them on fire, in order that white and black children might not go to school together. Not in Selma, but in Boston, the cradle of liberty, where men first had the tea party and where we first cried out against taxation without representation. In Boston, the symbol of our dreams where the liberty trail begins, in Boston! In this century, in this decade, we found racism raising its ugly head. The whole forces of evil and conservatism come into light.

Maybe Dr. King saw the tragedy of the Bakke case [ University of California v. Bakke]. As I move across this country, I talk about that case coming out of the University of California Medical School, the Davis Medical College, and I know that all of you perhaps are fed up to your gills with it, but there are still so many facts that people don’t understand. I’ve been asked by so many folk all over this country, what is it that black folk want, what are we looking for? And I would have to say to you again and again that we are not looking for superiority, we are simply looking for some equality, we are simply looking for the fulfillment of the American dream. Because we were not there, we did not participate when the so-called founding fathers in the sweltering heat of a Philadelphia summer wrote those words that “We hold these truths to be self-evident.” They need no empirical proof, they needed no recitation to say that men are created equal and they are endowed not by the Magna Carta, not by the parliaments of men, but by God with these rights.

I need not stand here tonight and tell you that we didn’t really mean it, but when they got to black folks they called us three-fifths of a man instead of a whole man. When they got to women they did not even give them the right to vote until the 1920s. But the fact is they wrote, published, proclaimed those words at a time when they were bright bugle calls to greatness. For almost 202 years now we’ve been trying to make them come true, a great American dream.

So what black folks are looking for in this nation is for this nation to finally come to the realization and admit honestly that we have not ever lived up to it and the time has come that we should. In 1968, in this great country of ours, there were in existence 116 medical schools. In those 116 medical schools, approximately 266 blacks were admitted to first-year medical school, in 1968, ten short years ago. And of those 266, approximately half of them were admitted to Howard and Meharry, which are predominantly black schools. Which means that the other 114 medical schools admitted, between them, hardly 150 black students. If you go back and read 1968’s rolls, you’ll find that the majority of white, predominantly white, medical schools had less than one black and many of them had none.

Through the use of affirmative action programs we have succeeded in bringing the number of black students admitted to first-year medical schools from less than 300 in 1968 to about 1,100 in 1976. And now come the cries of reverse discrimination. But I also want you to know that in 1968 there were approximately 8,000 white medical students admitted to first-year medical school, but that by 1976 that number had grown to 14,500 whites. So it doesn’t look like to me that black folks are taking anybody’s place; it looks to me like some folk want to have the bread, the cake, the pie, and all the crumbs that fall from the table and some of us are saying, “Hell no, we won’t go!” [applause] The time has come when all of us must enjoy the goodness and the fruit of this American democracy because that’s what it’s all about.

Now when you talk about qualifications, we’re not saying to medical schools, “lower your qualifications.” We’re simply saying establish your benchmark and then make sure that some blacks and some Asian-Americans and Hispanic-Americans and Indian-Americans and women get admitted along with white males. Because I’m not sure that this business of qualifications is all it’s cracked up to be in the first place.

Chief Justice Burger, a very eminent and distinguished jurist, has said publicly on more than one occasion that, in his judgment, 50 percent of all of the lawyers practicing law in this great country are not competent to represent people in the courtroom.

Now I was a practicing lawyer for many years. I presided as a trial judge where I had to deal with lawyers every day. I must confess to you I don’t quite agree with Chief Justice Burger about 50 percent of all American lawyers being unqualified to represent people in the courtroom. My figure would be closer to 70 percent of all the lawyers being unqualified. I spent many dreary days on the bench. I had to take the cases away from most lawyers to keep them from putting all their clients in jail. [laughter]

Now if, in fact, we take Mr. Burger’s more conservative figures, remember that less than two percent of all the lawyers who practice in America today are black; 98 percent of all the lawyers who practice in this country are white. So if every black lawyer was unqualified, you’ve still got 48 percent of all the white lawyers who are not qualified to practice, who are not competent. And if this is what qualifications are all about, then we ought to have a new set of criteria for competence and qualifications.

I look at what the American Medical Association says, even that conservative body, admits that there were more than two million unnecessary cases of surgery performed in America in 1976. Two million instances in which people were put on the operating table and operated on, not because they needed it, but because somebody wanted to make money! Is that what qualifications are all about? We say no!

All we’re asking in this nation is that you give those of us who have planted your corn and picked your cotton and wet-nursed your babies and fought in every war and been loyal to this nation, all we’re saying is that we want equality and parity and an opportunity to demonstrate that we can be a part of the great American dream. We’re not asking you to lower your qualifications, because God in heaven knows they’re low enough already. All we want is an opportunity. Mr. Bakke talks about sixteen places being reserved for minorities and then the question is asked do we believe in quotas? No, the NAACP has always opposed quotas, because a quota is an artificial ceiling above which one cannot rise. But we do believe in goals and timetables. And if there is to be parity in this nation, goals and timetables must exist.

The classic example, and I sort of changed the figures around a little bit, but this actually happened, you can check it. Judge Johnson, a great federal judge down in Montgomery, Alabama, was dealing with the Alabama highway patrol. In all of their history they had never had a black highway patrolman. So a suit was filed. Under the Title 7 of the Civil Rights laws, the affirmative action section, it says that everybody in this country must be an equal-opportunity employer. So the commissioner of the highway patrol said to Judge Johnson, “We’ve tried hard. But you know how high the standards are for the Alabama highway patrol. Most of our troopers, I suppose, are graduates of great Universities with their PhD degrees—of course most of them couldn’t read good, but they were still very well qualified—we haven’t found a single Nigra in the whole state of Alabama who’d qualify.” Out of one million black folk, he couldn’t find one Negro who qualified.

And Judge Johnson wrestled with this dilemma for months and months and months. Now any law in this country which does not have a penalty is no law at all. I came down with one of the most distinguished and law-abiding citizens of this great state. We drove down here at fifty-five miles an hour, because we’re patriotic and we love this state and we want to save gas and we want to be loyal to President Carter’s program. In addition to that, the highway patrol is always out there to nail the rest of you for going fifty-six. So Isaac, you know, Leon, you know, we believe in obeying the law, but we also think if there’s no penalty, I don’t know what he would have done because that Lincoln we drove in on seems like it was walking at fifty-five. [laughter] I’m not at all sure what would have happened. So every law in this country has attached to it a penalty.

Judge Johnson, sitting as a federal district judge, was faced with the dilemma of a quota being entered and the highway patrol simply thumbing their noses at him. So Judge Johnson fashioned a remedy and federal judges all over the nation have fashioned remedies called goals and timetables. One day he suggested to the commission of the highway patrol in Alabama that “The order for you to integrate the Alabama highway patrol did not come from the black plaintiffs, it came from the federal district court. For laws to have any meaning, if we issue an order and it’s not carried out, it ceases to have meaning. So Mr. Commissioner, I would suggest to you, by the first day of September, that’s a timetable, you should have ten, at least ten black highway troopers on duty or you will be held in contempt of court and you will, Mr. Commissioner, go to jail. Is that clear?”

That’s not a quota, that’s goals and timetables because otherwise the law loses its majesty, the law loses its meaning, the law loses its ability to enforce itself and the law becomes a mockery and we may as well dismantle the rule of law and have a rule of men and we all do what we want. If that law does not deserve enforcing, no law deserves enforcing. All laws ought be equal. And so what happened? Nobody got mad, nobody got angry, Judge Johnson simply said by the first day of September you will have ten black troopers or you will go to jail. The highway commissioner is a reasonable man, he came back on the first of August and said, “Mr. Judge, I want to report, I’m ahead of time, and I got fifteen instead of ten.” That’s what the law can do for you. It may not make you change your heart, but it can make you change your conduct! That’s what goals and timetables are all about.

Somebody asked Dr. King one day, “Dr. King, do you think changing the law will change men’s hearts?” He said, “I’m not particularly concerned now about changing men’s hearts. I want the right to drink from a water fountain, to use a restroom, and unless you’ve been up and down these highways like I have and felt in your own body the sting of discrimination, you don’t really know what it’s like. And I don’t care what a man thinks about me as long as I use that restroom and drink from that water fountain. I’ll wait until later to change his heart. I want the law changed now so we can enjoy some decency and some parity and some equality now.”

And that’s all this thing is about. This is to make America a better nation for all of us. I saw a recent poll that said that 20 percent of all the young black people between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five have given up on this country. They think it will take a revolution to change it. My brothers and my sisters, that’s dangerous to every white and black man and woman in this nation. Time magazine calls it a growing underclass. We surrender our liberties so easily and so quickly.

When I go to the airport tomorrow morning down in St. Paul or Minneapolis, I will go through a buzzing machine and if I set it off I’ll hold my hands up and smile while I’m hassled. Today I saw them going through my briefcase, just pulling everything out. I do it gladly and you’d do it. Why? Because I don’t want that plane to be bombed in the middle of the air. So little by little we lose the democracy that we have inherited.

Let nobody fool themselves, this is a great land and this is a great country. We do have a marvelous opportunity, those of us who live here now. But if we are to pass on to our children, and to our children’s children the type of democracy that we have inherited, we must be vigilant about the future. We must make sure that the rights and opportunities that have been guaranteed by the Constitution in these years must be extended to all of those who live beneath the sun that rises and sets on America every day. This is our challenge and this is our opportunity.

So I support the concept of affirmative action. When I look at our nation, more than 2,000 cases were filed in 1976 by white males who feel that there is a thing called “reverse discrimination.” That is a ludicrous, stupid statement to make because in this nation all we’re trying to do is have a reversal of discrimination and not reverse discrimination, to open the doors that have been closed.

I never shall forget, just a few days ago, I addressed a meeting of the National Conference of Christians and Jews, and one of my Jewish friends came up to me and told a story of something that happened to him down in Florida many years ago. He had a black chauffeur, and he said they were driving from New York. When they got down to Florida in one of those small towns, there was a big sign up that said, “No dogs and Jews allowed in this town.” My Jewish friend said he sat there with tears in his eyes, but then something strange happened. His chauffeur, who was black, turned around and said, “Mr. Bloom,” and he said my chauffeur was crying, and he said, “Look, they didn’t even think enough of me to put my race on the sign.” No dogs, no Jews allowed, and they didn’t even think enough of black folks to say “and no blacks.” It was understood we were not allowed.

Now we come knocking boldly at the door of Democracy, asking for equal opportunity and a chance. We come not just for ourselves, but we come to make this nation better. For whenever we fence out creativity, whenever we fence out the talent of those who have so much to offer, this nation suffers. That’s what Dr. King was about, and I respect and admire his memory. I respect and admire those who can look at this peaceful warrior, so lied on and so criticized, who went to jail thirty-nine times, who had a message not just for black folk, but a message for every man, woman, boy, girl and child who lived in America and, indeed, this world.

He was a man who never gave way to hatred. I’ve seen him in some moments when I don’t understand what it was that kept him moving. I’ve seen him as he endured the stings and arrows of outrageous fortune. I’ve seen him as he came to a town and the newspaper would headline his coming with “Here comes a sheep, this wolf, rather, in sheep’s clothing trying to destroy the good relations between the Negroes and the whites in our city.” That good relation consisted of Negroes in the ditch and white folk with their foot on their necks. Martin King had to endure all of that, his friends lying on him, people talking about him, being threatened. I watched him speak night after night into the floodlights, knowing he had received death threats, never knowing when a bullet would come.

One day that bullet caught up with him, on the fourth day of April 1968. I remember I was on my way to see him that day because we had talked the night before and made an appointment to deal with some things that were of concern to us and to this nation. I remember just a few years before that when he had come to Memphis for a meeting of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and how he’d come out to our house that night and, in one of the few times that I was privileged to know him, he relaxed, as he was singing some of the songs that you were singing tonight.

One of the greatest heritages ever passed down, passed down from folk who could not read their names in boxcar letters, but who, in the dim and dark night of cruel slavery, looked up and saw stars still shining in the night. I think it was the poet Countee Cullen who said, “And yet do I marvel at this curious thing, to make a poet black and bid him sane.” Some of the most profound words ever uttered, some of the most beautiful thoughts ever contained in the hearts of men were written and sent on the air by black folk who were tied up in slavery.

When I was a college student and singing in the choir, I remember singing a song that later on perplexed me because I used to sing it with gusto and with joy, “Before I’d be a slave I’d be buried in my grave, go home and be at peace with my God.” It dawned on me that the folk who wrote those words, the folk who were singing them, were indeed the physically tied to chattel slavery, who did not own the shoes on their feet, nor the coats on their back. That little corn-shuck pad on which they slept did not belong to them but they discovered a great and profound truth: that even though their bodies belonged to the master, even though they could be sold like cattle and hogs on the auction block, that there was something that could never belong to the slave master. That was their soul and their spirit. And they discovered what Blind Bunyan discovered and Milton discovered, that there’s something about me that can never be taken away. Before I give that up, before I become a slave in my mind, I’d be buried in my grave, and go home, be at peace with my God.

It was those people who gave us insightful songs. We thought every time they talked about “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” they were talking about eschatology and long white robes and some of our less secure and immature minds among black folk fell out with slavery songs. But every time black folk were singing about “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” they were sometimes talking about Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman coming down with the freedom train, not going to heaven in the by-and-by but to Ohio and Pennsylvania in the here and now. God has given to us the gift of song and we have given it to the American nation and to this world. And so I close tonight by saying the one thing that Dr. King stood preeminently for was that we should love everybody, because he taught us that there was a better way than hate.

And so as I move around this country as Executive Director of the NAACP, I say to my brothers and sisters and to my friends everywhere that the time has come when we must not give away to hating. It’s a waste of time for black folk to talk about hating the blue-eyed honkies and blue-eyed blonds, that’s foolishness. Because if there’s any one thing I’ve learned in fifty years of living, it is that hatred won’t destroy the folk you hate, but it will eat you up and kill you graveyard dead and put you in the hospital with high blood pressure and hypertension and strokes. So we have no time to hate. The time has come when we must reach out black and white together and try to build a better nation and thus a better world. We have no message of hate but we have a message of love.

We’re telling you now, and I will say it when I’m in the White House, I will say it in the Congress, if I stood up there before the Supreme Court I would say that America now has a date with destiny and that date is to make the great American dream come true. When all of us, whether we got our degrees from Morehouse or no house, from Yale or by mail, can sit down at the welcome table and partake in the fruits of Democracy. When black and white together, male and female, rich and poor, we shall lock arms and join hearts and walk up the King’s highway, looking for the coming of the day when our eyes can see the glory of the coming of the Lord.

I know that there are those who are tired of the struggle. As I move around this nation I find some black folk who have gotten tired and they say that they have given so much of their time, but I say we must still struggle on. There are white friends who tell me, “But Brother Hooks you don’t understand, I’ve been ostracized. I go to my country club to have a drink, now they don’t want to see me because I keep talking, they call me a nigger-lover, they do all kinds of things.” But I simply say to you what I see the sign on the highway saying, “Remember the life you save may be your own.”

If we get tired and if we get discouraged, remember that we are the ones who have been given the opportunity by God to make this world a better place. It was at the height of World War II, before we entered it, when Hitler had the very fires of Europe alight with the bodies of those he was burning in concentration camps, that the beleaguered island of Britain stood as the last bastion of hope for the civilized world.

When Winston Churchill, one of the great masters of the English language, got on the radio again and again and sometimes I play those records and the words still come echoing back. When he called on his people to give blood and sweat and toil and tears; when he asked them to fight on the beaches and in the cities but never to surrender; when in one great and memorable address he said, “I want you to so conduct yourselves that if this island empire should endure for a thousand years, historians will look back and say, ‘This was your finest hour.’ ”

Again and again he rallied the British people to the standard of greatness. Then, at a very dark moment, when America stood, as it were, on the sidelines, when the menacing mobs of Hitler seemed about to overtake the civilized world, when only Britain stood in the path of this madman, this tyrant, this cruel dictator, Churchill made one of his most memorable addresses. He recited again what he’d called on his fellow countrymen to do. He reminded them he’d called on them for blood and sweat and toil and tears. He reminded them he’d asked them to fight on the beachheads and on the beaches and in the cities. He reminded them that he’d asked them to so conduct themselves that if the empire should endure for a thousand years, historians would look back and say, “This is your finest hour.” And he said that I know that you’re tired of me calling you for sacrifices and privations—almost too much for the human spirit to bear. But I close tonight by asking you the question, which I ask of you here gathered at this institution tonight: “If not now, when? If not you, who?” Peace. [applause]


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