I hope that every American, regardless of where he lives, will stop and examine his conscience. This Nation was founded by men of many nations and backgrounds. It was founded on the principle that all men are created equal, and that the rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.
Today, we are committed to a worldwide struggle to promote and protect the rights of all who wish to be free. Every American ought to have the right to be treated as he would wish to be treated, as one would wish his children to be treated. But this is not the case.
In a time of domestic crisis men of good will and generosity should be able to unite regardless of party or politics. This is not even a legal or legislative issue alone. Law alone cannot make men see right. We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is as old as the Scriptures and is as clear as the American Constitution.
The heart of the question is whether all Americans are to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities, whether we are going to treat our fellow Americans as we want to be treated. This Nation, for all its hopes and all its boasts, will not be fully free until all its citizens are free.
We preach freedom around the world, and we mean it, and we cherish our freedom here at home, but are we to say to the world, and much more importantly, to each other that this is the land of the free; that we have no second-class citizens; that we have no class or caste system?
Now the time has come for this Nation to fulfill its promise. The fires of frustration and discord are burning in every city. Redress is sought in the streets, in demonstrations, parades, and protests which create tensions and threaten violence and threaten lives.
We face, therefore, a moral crisis as a country and a people. It cannot be left to increased demonstrations in the streets. It cannot be quieted by token moves or talk. It is a time to act in the Congress, in your State and local legislative body and, above all, in all of our daily lives. It is not enough to pin the blame on others, to say this a problem of one section of the country or another, or deplore the facts that we face. A great change is at hand, and our task, our obligation, is to make that revolution, that change, peaceful and constructive for all.