Robert Kennedy’s “Day of Affirmation” Speech

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I am not sure why, but I have always been drawn to Robert Kennedy’s “Day of Affirmation” Speech.

Even as I have learned that Robert Kennedy was a bit more complex than he appears in his speeches and in the related mythology,yet  his words still has that potential to move us, to appeal to our better angels. Even though we see no black Africans in seated behind him, still the words speak to us. There is something very real hidden away in the contradictions and imperfections of that moment.

The speech was delivered in June 6th, 1966, at University of Cape Town, South Africa. And the one passage that I have often quoted is as follows. It suggests, as I try to remind myself sometimes, that even for those deeply involved in the political, there must be an ethical calling that underlies all the very practical arguments for what needs to be done.

“We must recognize the full human equality of all of our people before God, before the law, and in the councils of government. We must do this, not because it is economically advantageous, although it is; not because of the laws of God command it, although they do; not because people in other lands wish it so. We must do it for the single and fundamental reason that it is the right thing to do.”

original text

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