Remarks of President Jimmy Carter  |  Remarks of Senator Edward M. Kennedy  |  Remarks of Joseph P. Kennedy II

Remarks of President Jimmy Carter

Note: The President spoke at 11: 25 a.m. outside the Library. Prior to the ceremonies, he was given a private tour of the building.

Members and friends of the family of John F. Kennedy:

As President of the United States, I'm indeed honored to be here on this occasion, at once so solemn and also so joyous—the dedication of the John F. Kennedy Library. Like a great cathedral, this building was a long time coming. But it more than justifies the wait. Its grace and its dignity are, I hope and believe, worthy of the man whose memory it will nurture.

I never met him, but I know that John Kennedy loved politics, he loved laughter, and when the two came together, he loved that best of all.

For example, in a press conference in March 1962, when the ravages of being President were beginning to show on his face, he was asked this two-part question: "Mr. President, your brother Ted said recently on television that after seeing the cares of office on you, he wasn't sure he would ever be interested in being President." [Laughter] And the questioner continued, "I wonder if you could tell us whether, first, if you had it to do over again, you would work for the Presidency and, second, whether you can recommend this job to others?" The President replied, "Well, the answer to the first question is yes, and the second is no. I do not recommend it to others—at least for a while." [Laughter]

As you can well see, President Kennedy's wit and also his wisdom— [laughter] —is certainly as relevant today as it was then. [Laughter]

This library, this repository of facts and ideas, will feed history with a permanent record of the dreams of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, and also the realization of those dreams.

In America, the records of a great political leader will not be threatened by succeeding political regimes which might fear them, because we are a nation committed not only to freedom but also to the pursuit of truth.

A library is especially fitting as a tribute to John Kennedy, for he was not only a maker of history but a writer of history as well. His fame as an author of books foretold his fame as an author of events. He said he had few apprehensions about how his Presidency would fare in history, because he planned to write that history himself.

To our loss, we will never read the books that he would have written about his own Presidency. His death impoverished not only statecraft but literature as well. But in this building behind me, the work of reflection and evaluation of what he did can now be done very well by others.

President Kennedy understood the past and respected its shaping of the future. Yet he was very much a man of his own time. The first President born in this century, he embodied the ideals of a generation as few public figures have ever done in the history of the Earth. He summoned our Nation out of complacency, and he set it on a path of excitement and hope.

The accomplishments of this thousand days, as you well know, are notable, though his Presidency was too short for him to finish all the tasks that he set for himself. We honor him not just for the things he completed but for the things he set in motion, the energies that he released, and the ideas and the ideals which he espoused.

President Kennedy took office understanding that the texture of social and economic life of our Nation and our people was changing, and that our Nation and our people would have to change with it. "Change is the law of life," he once said. "And those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future." He had a vision of how America could meet and master the forces of change that he saw around him.

President Kennedy entered the White House convinced that racial and religious discrimination was morally indefensible. Later, that conviction became a passion for him, a passion that his brother Robert shared and, as his son has so well said, carried forward.

As a southerner, as a Georgian, I saw at first hand how the moral leadership of the Kennedy administration helped to undo the wrongs that grew out of our Nation's history. Today the problem of human rights in the United States is shifting from inequality of legal rights to inequality of opportunity. But the question of legal rights is not yet settled.

We are all Americans, we are all children of the same God. Racial violence and racial hatred can have no place among us in the South or in the North. The moral imperative of the Kennedy administration, indeed, still remains with us.

President Kennedy sought to move our foreign policy beyond the sterility of the cold war. He never failed to uphold liberty, and he never failed to condemn tyranny; yet he saw very clearly that the threat of nuclear destruction had created the need for mutual accommodation with our potential adversaries. He warned against the nation and a world turned into "a prison in which man awaits his executioner."

When the nuclear test ban treaty was signed in 1963, he voiced the hope-though he dared not yet voice the anticipation or expectation—that there would someday be controls on the numbers and the types of nuclear weapons. Now the SALT II treaty can redeem that hope. Its ratification will be a further fulfillment of the needs of all humanity.

President Kennedy knew that the future of freedom would be increasingly bound up with social, political, and economic justice in what has since become known as the Third World. His one bold expression of this vision was the Peace Corps, which, with its combination of activism, idealism, and adventure, summed up so many of John Kennedy's virtues.

I'm proud that this kind of commitment has now been vigorously renewed and that America once again holds out her hand to the poor, the silenced, and oppressed of every, country in the world.

Like every President who hopes to leave the world a better place because he served in it, President Kennedy chafed under the limits of his power to act. These limits on a President still exist. As he put it during his second year in office, "There are greater limitations upon our ability to bring about a favorable result than I had ever imagined." Yet, President Kennedy persisted. He became and he still remains a symbol of human aspiration. Perhaps that's why the outpouring of grief at his death had such a special quality.

On that November day, almost 16 years ago, a terrible moment was frozen in the lives of many of us here. I remember that I climbed down from the seat of a tractor, unhooked a farm trailer, and walked into my warehouse to weigh a load of grain. I was told by a group of farmers that the President had been shot. I went outside, knelt on the steps, and began to pray. In a few minutes, I learned that he had not lived. It was a grievous personal loss—my President. I wept openly for the first time in more than 10 years—for the first time since the day my own father died.

People wept in Boston and in Paris, in Atlanta and in Warsaw, in San Francisco and in New Delhi. More than anyone had realized before that day, the spirit of this young American President had taken hold of the hearts and the imaginations of countless millions of people all over the world.

During the months that followed—in civil rights, in medical care for the aged, in greater dignity for the poor, in an increase of caring for one another his vision was carried into the reality of our Nation's life with the help of a united Congress and a united people, united in grief, but also united in determination to fulfill the dreams which he had painted for us.

At the time, the tragedy in Dallas seemed an isolated convulsion of madness. But in retrospect, it appears near the beginning of a time of darkness. From Vietnam to Cambodia, from Los Angeles to Memphis, from Kent State to Watergate, the American spirit suffered under one shock after another, and the confidence of our people was deeply shaken.

The American people are good and strong. We've undertaken a solid commitment to heal those wounds, and at long last the darkness has begun to lift. I believe that America is now ready to meet the challenges of the 1980's with renewed confidence and with renewed spirit.

These challenges, of course, are not the same ones that confronted us a generation ago. The carved desk in the Oval Office which I use is the same as when John F. Kennedy sat behind it, but the problems that land on that desk are quite different.

President Kennedy was right: Change is the law of life. The world of 1980 is as different from what it was in 1960 as the world of 1960 was from that of 1940. Our means of improving the world must also be different.

After a decade of high inflation and growing oil imports, our economic cup no longer overflows. Because of inflation, fiscal restraint has become a matter of simple public duty. We can no longer rely on a rising economic tide to lift the boats of the poorest in our society. We must focus our attention and our care and our love and concern directly on them.

We have a keener appreciation of limits now—the limits of government, limits on the use of military power abroad, the limits of manipulating, without harm to ourselves, a delicate and a balanced natural environment.

We are struggling with a profound transition from a time of abundance to a time of growing scarcity in energy. We're only beginning to learn the new habits and to utilize the new technologies that will carry us to a future age of clean and renewable energy.

And we face these these when centrifugal forces in our society and in our political system as well—forces of regionalism, forces of ethnicity, of narrow economic interests, of single-issue politics—are testing the resiliency of American pluralism and of our ability to govern. But we can and we will prevail.

The problems are different; the solutions, none of them easy, are also different. But in this age of hard choices and scarce resources, the essence of President Kennedy's message—the appeal for unselfish dedication to the common good—is more urgent than it ever was. The spirit that he evoked— the spirit of sacrifice, of patriotism, of unstinting dedication—is the same spirit that will bring us safely through the adversities that we face today. The overarching purpose of this Nation remains the same to build a just society in a secure America living at peace with the other nations of the world.

The library that we dedicate today is a symbol, above all, of that unchanging purpose. Through our study here of his words and his deeds, the service of President Kennedy will keep its high place in the hearts of many generations of America to come after us.

This library may be dedicated with the words of a poet from Tennessee, a contemporary of the President whose name the library will bear:

"To those who in all times have sought the truth and have told it in their art or in their living, who died in honor . . .
"To those who died in the high and humble knowledge of God . . .
"To those who died in sorrow, and in kindness, and in bravery; to those who died in violence suddenly . . .
"To those who died in the time of the joy of their strength .... " 1

This library is dedicated to John F. Kennedy, 35th President of the United States of America.

1. Excerpts from James Agee's dedication to his first book of poems, "Permit Me Voyage."  

Remarks of Senator Edward M. Kennedy

For all who knew President Kennedy, this moment is a culmination, a happy rendezvous with history that makes his memory come alive.

In dedicating this library we honor Jack. And in honoring Jack, we honor the best in our country and ourselves.

He loved this city with a patriot's love. He loved the sea with a sailor's love. And so he would have loved this site and the library his family and friends and country have built to celebrate his life.

I can see him now, standing by the shore, feeling the salt breeze, drinking in the beauty of this harbor, recalling its rich history and the great events that took place here when America was born.

He would look out across the ocean to the horizon and beyond. In his mind's eye, he would see his immigrant heritage, the green and rocky shores of the land of his ancestors, the Ireland whence he came.

In dedicating this library, we also honor those who helped to make this dream come true. The magnificent buildings and landscape, the films and exhibits you will see inside --these and other works reflect years of devotion to the creation of this library that can never be repaid.

On behalf of our family that loved him so deeply, I express the gratitude we feel to those who made Jack's journey with us. We welcome the wide circle of friends from home and overseas gathered here, who found so much inspiration in his life, so much warmth in his friendship, so much pain in his loss.

We thank President and Mrs. Carter for being with us today, and for the support and assistance of the Administration over the past three years in helping to complete the library and make it part of the fine system of Presidential libraries the nation has today.

Others, too, deserve our gratitude:

--I.M. Pei, at the pinnacle of his powers, for creating as Jack's library this great architectural masterpiece of our time.

--Ivan Chermayeff and Charles Guggenheim, for the imagination and skill they used in the exhibits and films, capturing the essence of Jack's life from the detailed records and actions of his Presidency.

--Dave Powers, Dan Fenn, Angelique Lee, Don Dowd and the other men and women of GSA and the library staff and corporation who brought this day about.

--The millions, young and old, from America and around the world, who believed in Jack and whose gifts, large and small, helped to make this library possible.

--The University of Massachusetts and the communities of Dorchester and Columbia Point, who have welcomed us as friends and neighbors, and who have made us happy in this home.

--And, finally, we thank those within our family, especially Jacqueline and Ethel and Steve and Pat, whose labors of love over months and years steered us through the storms of the past and brought our ship safely to this port.

Dorchester itself has a special affection for us, as the place where it all began, as the childhood home that Rose Elizabeth Fitzgerald left when she married Joseph Patrick Kennedy sixty-five years ago this month. Our parents were proud of their family, proud of their nine children. I know the pride my mother feels today. And I know the pride my father would have felt, could he have been here with Rose to witness this honor for their son.

To those who come here, this library will also tell the story of another son, Robert Kennedy, who was at Jack's right hand in all those years of preparation, who shared the time of triumph, who picked up the fallen standard and held it high again.

This library will be more than just a collection of photographs and objects under glass. It will be a living memorial at many levels.

Here in Boston, it will take up the causes of the community, helping to revitalize this section of our city.

Across the country, it will reach out to visitors and scholars, summoning young men and women to careers in public life.

For the great and humble in other lands, it will be a beacon signaling the message of this nation, a lighthouse bearing witness to Jack's truth that America at its best can truly light the world.

He and I had a special bond, despite the 14 years between us. When I was born, he asked to be my godfather. He was the best man at my wedding. He taught me to ride a bicycle, to throw a forward pass, to sail against the wind.

As President, Jack was a glory on the mountaintop. The New Frontier of which he dreamed touched deep and responsive chords in the American character. He could make lightning strike on the things he cared about. He was an irresistible force that made immovable objects move.

He taught us to redeem the promise of health care for America's senior generation, to whom the nation owes so much of its present greatness.

He taught us to control the atom, to end the threat of nuclear annihilation, so that we could leave our children a safer world.

He taught us to make freedom ring in America --freedom for black and brown as well as white; freedom to live and work and vote; freedom to sit at a public lunch counter, to learn in a public classroom, to play football on a public field.

He added a new dimension in foreign policy by tapping the idealism of our youth. He led us beyond our planet and launched us toward the moon. And in our own hemisphere, he summoned us to a new alliance of effort for the benefit of those less fortunate than ourselves.

That is the way it was with Jack. There was a sense of progress and adventure, a rejection of complacency and conformity. There was a common mission, a shared ideal, and above all the joy of high purpose and great achievement.

Jack believed that America is promises, that challenges are opportunities in disguise, that our spirit can soar again.

With his gift of history, he understood that America is at its best when the nation is on the move, when ideas are on the march.

With his gift of politics, he became a resourceful architect of unity amid the rich and sometimes brawling diversity of this land.

With his gift of statesmanship, he made America the apostle of peace and strength in a troubled and divided world.

With his gift of compassion, he touched the hearts of peoples everywhere who believed in this nation's destiny of freedom and opportunity and sought it for themselves.

With his gift of humor and vitality, he brought an atmosphere of wit and vigor to everything he did.

And with his gift of words, he found a lever that could move the world.

His passion for the sea would have made him a great explorer. He might have sailed with Magellan, navigating beyond the charts to the new and better world he sought.

His life was a voyage of discovery, a quest for excellence that inspired universal trust and faith. In that brief unfinished journey, he made us believe once more in the great historic purpose of this land. He filled America with pride and made the nation young again.

It was all so brief. The thousand days are like an evening gone. But they are not forgotten. Those whose lives he touched will never be the same. They responded to his call, devoting their own lives to their country, bringing out the best in others as he brought out the best in them.

Early in January 1961, preparing to come to Washington for Inauguration Day, Jack went before the Massachusetts legislature to bid farewell:

"Today," he said, "the eyes of all people are truly upon us, and our governments, in every branch, at every level, must be as a city upon a hill."

These buildings that bear his name will be his city upon his hill.

And now, in dedicating this library to Jack, we recall those years of grace, that time of hope. The spark still glows. The journey never ends. The dream shall never die.

Remarks of Joseph P. Kennedy II

President Carter, Mrs. Carter, friends of the Kennedy family:

I speak for my mother, my brothers and sisters, when I say that it is good that my father's papers will rest here. And it is good that those who come to this library will have a chance to learn of some of my father's activities and his hopes and his struggles.

This is a relatively young country still trying to get a sense of itself, what we really believe in and how we want to live our lives.

Buildings such as this awaken our memories and bring us closer to a part of our history. But no building, however impressive in its design and dramatic in its location, however significant and valuable its papers and books and photographs and films, is meant to make a new history.

And so today, as I stand here and think of father and what his life was all about, I have to admit to myself that there is only one kind of completely satisfactory memorial to him and he himself was trying to do his share to build it - a better, a much better America.

An America where the phrase "equal justice under the law" is not only engraved on a Washington, D.C., building, but is a living reality for millions of ordinary men, women and children all over this land.

An America where no one anywhere goes hungry or suffers malnutrition, where no one anywhere lives in rural shacks and shanties or broken-down gutted slum tenements, where no one anywhere is the captive of disease and yet unable to obtain proper medical care, where no one anywhere is denied his or her dignity as a human being by virtue of race, sex or background.

My father died waging a struggle. As I have grown up I've come to appreciate what that struggle was about:

- It was about migrant farm workers living, still living, in retched circumstances so that others of us might eat good fruit and vegetables.

- It was about miners doing their hard work still in terribly unsafe mines and soon enough being ravaged by black lung disease.

- It was about tenant farmers, thousands of them, still laboring long and hard and ending up with nothing at all to show for it.

- It was about Indians here on this land first, and still too many are hurt, manipulated, betrayed people.

- It was about black people and Chicanos whose labors, my father never forgot, helped to build this country.

- It was about Eskimos and the families of the hollows of eastern Kentucky and West Virginia.

- And yes, it was about ordinary working families of this country - no matter their skin color or origin - men and women putting their time in on this earth, sweating it out at work, doing the best they know how at home and in the neighborhood, making no big deal out of life or themselves and too often getting a raw deal from those who think of themselves as their betters, their leaders.

Month after month, year after year, until his last breath my father did his best to try to understand and reach out and respond to those people.

He traveled restlessly the length and breadth of this nation during the troubled 1960s anxious to get the facts, but anxious as well to give voice to the aspirations of millions of Americans who are not so much voiceless as unheard in those influential places a comparative handful of people dominate.

One day it may be different here and it may be different in the other countries my father visited, but only if more of us learned to acquire what my father called "moral courage."

He used that expression back in 1966. He was in South Africa and he made clear where his heart lay there.

Even as he knew how easy it is for many of us here at home who are lucky, who are well off and able to ride through the ups and downs of business cycles, to sit back and worry about no one but ourselves, our own small and some-times smug and sometimes self-important world, now over a decade later we pause to remember him.

But I hope in so doing, we will remember the millions all over the world who have also died - died for want of food, for want of medicine, died in a desperate effort to secure their political freedom or to secure a decent measure of social and economic justice.

I hope and pray that my generation of Americans will do their share to redeem those deaths, will summon the "moral courage" my father referred to and with it work to bring about the decent and just world he so much wanted to see in his lifetime.

But if we are to realize that world, is it enough to talk in generalities however pleasant sounding or ought we to be actively taking on what the Bible called "the principalities and powers?" And who is connecting inflation to those "principalities and powers" that operate this country?

We all know that inflation bears down hardest on the poor. Now we are being told by the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board that, and I quote: "The standard of living of the average American has to decline if inflation is to be reduced."

Well, what about the standard of living of the people on the boards of oil companies? Yes indeed we need to conserve, we need to consume less, by all means. But that means all of us, not just the privileged few, excuse me, including the privileged few.

I think of the giant oil corporations that are squeezing us so hard all the time. And who's stopping them?

I think of the big coal companies, many owned by oil companies, who are responsible for mine accidents, mine injuries, polluted streams and terrible life-taking floods. And who's stopping them?

I think of the agri-businesses that rake in the dough and give precious little in wages to the migrants who harvest crops. And who's stopping them?

Until we are strong enough as a nation to look at these concentrations of wealth and power and to make that kind of business the people's business, then we have a long way to go, both ethically and politically.

The sooner we face down the vested interests, the better it will be for plain, ordinary, far too vulnerable Americans. I know my father gave those vested interests a critical look during the 1960s and I hope the rest of us keep our eyes open during the 1980s, lest many of us be picked bone-clean.

Finally, I'd like to leave us with these words of my father spoken in South Africa 13 years ago:

"The future does not belong to those who are content with today, apathetic towards common problems and their fellow man alike, timid and fearful in the face of new ideas and bold projects.

"Rather, it will belong to those who can blend vision, reason and courage in a personal commitment to the ideals and great enterprises of American society."