Words Matter


American's Mission Statement read by Senator John F. Kennedy

Season 4, Ep. 24

On July 4th we celebrate the birth of the American Experiment. The Declaration of Independence -- written in the Spring of 1776 by a 33 year old Thomas Jefferson -- is America’s mission statement. And like all mission statements, the words represented not what we were, but what we aspired to be. In fact, the author himself was a gifted writer, but a deeply flawed person who – like his country -- did not embody the ideas and ideal of that document.

For more than two hundred and forty years, the story of America has been the struggle between those who want to move us close to the words of our mission statement – and those who want to stop them.

It is often forgotten that the Declaration itself was meant to be spoken. 

In 2004 the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library released a previously unknown 1957 recording of then-Senator Kennedy reading the Declaration of Independence in New York on July 4th.

So this week to honor Independence Day -- And to remind ourselves that as a country must continue the struggle to turn America’s founding words into reality – we give John F. Kennedy’s reading of the Declaration of Independence the final word.

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Barack Obama's Eulogy for the Honorable Reverend Clementa Pinckney

Season 4, Ep. 23
On June 26th 2015 President Barack Obama delivered the eulogy at the funeral of the ReverendClementa C. Pinckney, the senior pastor oftheEmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Churchin Charleston and a South Carolina State Senator.Reverend Pinckney and 8 other Black church members had been murdered a week earlier during Bible Study in a racially motivatedmass shootingperpetrated by a white supremacist.TheEmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Churchis one of the oldestBlack churchesin the United States, and it has long been a center for organizing events related tocivil rights.Founded in 1816, the church played an important role in thehistory of South Carolina, duringslaveryand Reconstruction, during thecivil rights movementof the 1950s and 60sandin theBlack Lives Mattermovement.It is the oldestAfrican Methodist Episcopal Churchin theSouth, often referred to as "Mother Emanuel".Rev.Pinckney, was a well known activist who had held rallies after theshooting of Walter Scottby a white police officer two months earlier, in nearbyNorth Charleston. As astate senator, Reverend Pinckney had pushed for legislation requiring police to wearbody cameras.The Reverend and his church were targeted because of their history and role in civil rights activism.With a rousing eulogy and a chorus of “Amazing Grace,” President Barack Obama called on the country to honor the nine victims of the South Carolina church massacre by working toward racial healing.He said that included removing the Confederate battle flag from the South Carolina State House grounds.“It’s true, the flag did not cause these murders,” The President said, but “we all have to acknowledge the flag has always represented more than just ancestral pride. For many, black and white, that flag was a reminder of systemic oppression and racial subjugation. We see that now.”“By taking down that flag,” he said, “we express God’s grace.”But I don't think God wants us to stop there.“On July 6, 2015, theSouth Carolina Senatevoted to remove the Confederate flag from display outside the South Carolina State House.Make no mistake - the protests we have seen in the last month are a continuation of that struggle. And none of us can stop - none of us should rest until we dismantle and remove every symbol and every fact of thesystemic oppression and racial subjugation that President Obama described in his eulogy of Reverend Pinckney.

President John F. Kennedy on Civil Rights

Season 4, Ep. 21
This week we highlight presidential leadership and one of the most important civil rights speeches ever delivered by a sitting American president.By June of 1963, John F. Kennedy has been president for nearly two and a half years.While Kennedy had long privately expressed his deep moral objections to the treatment of black people in American society and indicated support for New federal legislation.His public comments ranged from cautious moderate criticism to a 1950s version of “both sides-ism” but were mostly nonexistent.In June of 1963, however the man and the moment met.Alabama Governor George Wallace’s staged photo op defiance of federal law by standing in the school house doorway had lasted less than 90 minutes.On June 11th 1963 two black students were peaceful enrolled at the University of Alabama under the protection of a federalized Alabama National Guard commanded by US Marshals under the direction of the Department of Justice and the Attorney General of the United States.Kennedy’s advisors recommended and Fully expected that the president would NOT address the American people that evening.With a little less than 18 months until to the 1964 elections, the President’s legislative agenda and his political future depended upon the votes Southern Democrats in Congress and those of their politically unforgiving constituents.The President had other ideas. Kennedy saw a way to exercise moral leader on an issue where he had to that point failed. He would request Network Television airtime to address the nation on the issue of civil rights.The facts and statistics on racial inequality in the United States described by President Kennedy to the American people that evening had even never been acknowledged by a President before - much less spoken in such a detailed and direct language.In a telegram to the White House after watching the President’s remarks in Atlanta with other civil rights leaders, the Reverend Dr Martin Luther King Jr. described the address asONE OF THE MOST ELOQUENT,PROFOUND,AND UNEQUIVOCAL PLEAS FOR JUSTICE AND FREEDOM OF ALL MEN,EVER MADE BY ANY PRESIDENT.Dr King knew that Kennedy was moved by his now famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail” - written just weeks before.To President Kennedy and many Americans Dr. King’s letter was more thanthan a spirited defense of civil disobedience. It was an indictment of white indifference.As you listen to the speech, you will hear Kennedy echoing King’s “Letter”The President rejects the idea that Black Americans should have to wait for equality. "Who among us," Kennedy asks the American people, "would then be content with counsels of patience and delay?"