LBJ’s Gettysburg Address

On May 30, 1963, during the Civil War Centennial, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson spoke at a Memorial Day ceremony in Gettysburg.

You can listen to a recording of LBJ’s speech here. Here’s the text:

On this hallowed ground, heroic deeds were performed and eloquent words were spoken a century ago.

We, the living, have not forgotten–and the world will never forget–the deeds or the words of Gettysburg. We honor them now as we join on this Memorial Day of 1963 in a prayer for permanent peace of the world and fulfillment of our hopes for universal freedom and justice.

We are called to honor our own words of reverent prayer with resolution in the deeds we must perform to preserve peace and the hope of freedom.

We keep a vigil of peace around the world.

Until the world knows no aggressors, until the arms of tyranny have been laid down, until freedom has risen up in every land, we shall maintain our vigil to make sure our sons who died on foreign fields shall not have died in vain.

As we maintain the vigil of peace, we must remember that justice is a vigil, too–a vigil we must keep in our own streets and schools and among the lives of all our people–so that those who died here on their native soil shall not have died in vain.

One hundred years ago, the slave was freed.

One hundred years later, the Negro remains in bondage to the color of his skin.

The Negro today asks justice.

We do not answer him–we do not answer those who lie beneath this soil–when we reply to the Negro by asking, “Patience.”

It is empty to plead that the solution to the dilemmas of the present rests on the hands of the clock. The solution is in our hands. Unless we are willing to yield up our destiny of greatness among the civilizations of history, Americans–white and Negro together–must be about the business of resolving the challenge which confronts us now.

Our nation found its soul in honor on these fields of Gettysburg one hundred years ago. We must not lose that soul in dishonor now on the fields of hate.

To ask for patience from the Negro is to ask him to give more of what he has already given enough. But to fail to ask of him–and of all Americans–perseverance within the processes of a free and responsible society would be to fail to ask what the national interest requires of all its citizens.

The law cannot save those who deny it but neither can the law serve any who do not use it. The history of injustice and inequality is a history of disuse of the law. Law has not failed–and is not failing. We as a nation have failed ourselves by not trusting the law and by not using the law to gain sooner the ends of justice which law alone serves.

If the white over-estimates what he has done for the Negro without the law, the Negro may under-estimate what he is doing and can do for himself with the law.

If it is empty to ask Negro or white for patience, it is not empty–it is merely honest–to ask perseverance. Men may build barricades–and others may hurl themselves against those barricades–but what would happen at the barricades would yield no answers. The answers will only be wrought by our perseverance together. It is deceit to promise more as it would be cowardice to demand less.

In this hour, it is not our respective races which are at stake–it is our nation. Let those who care for their country come forward, North and South, white and Negro, to lead the way through this moment of challenge and decision.

The Negro says, “Now.” Others say, “Never.” The voice of responsible Americans–the voice of those who died here and the great man who spoke here–their voices say, “Together.” There is no other way.

Until justice is blind to color, until education is unaware of race, until opportunity is unconcerned with the color of men’s skins, emancipation will be a proclamation but not a fact. To the extent that the proclamation of emancipation is not fulfilled in fact, to that extent we shall have fallen short of assuring freedom to the free.

Later that year, in November 1963, former president Dwight D. Eisenhower spoke at the cemetery in honor of the 100th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address. President Kennedy had declined an invitation to serve as the main speaker; he’d already committed to a trip, suggested by LBJ, to Dallas, Texas.

6 Responses to LBJ’s Gettysburg Address

  1. It is mind boggling that LBJ’s efforts to expand voting and civil rights remain under attack nearly three score years later

  2. Roughly a month later, at the dedication of the new South Carolina monument, George Wallace drew a standing ovation at Gettysburg when he defended segregation, states rights, and his recent “stand in the schoolhouse door.”

  3. thanks for posting this — very timely. in his closing LBJ remarked:

    “Until justice is blind to color, until education is unaware of race, until opportunity is unconcerned with the color of men’s skins, emancipation will be a proclamation but not a fact.”

    For fair minded Americans and civil rights standard bearers like MLK, that was mainstream thought.
    It’s interesting these days, that many progressive thinkers believe precisely the opposite about justice, education and opportunity.

    Happy Decoration Day.

  4. Thanks, Chris, for bringing this fascinating speech to our attention. A different perspective on a President who is often viewed in a one-dimensional way. It’s truly sad that almost fifty years after this speech that so many have not taken LBJ’s advice to heart.

    1. Yikes – make that almost 60 years. And six months after that speech I vividly remember sitting in my 3rd grade class when news broke that JFK had been shot….

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