May 30, 1964, was the first Memorial Day after the death of Eleanor Roosevelt. On that day, at the invitation of the Roosevelt family, Sargent Shriver spoke at Hyde Park as part of the annual Roosevelt memorial service.
"IN ALL THE YEARS of my husband's public life," said Eleanor Roosevelt, "I never once heard him make a remark which indicated that any crisis could not be solved."
This Memorial Day you have done me the honor of asking me to speak at the lifelong home and final resting place of two people whose lives were a testament to the creative power of man to solve his own problems. The Roosevelts were the finest examples of the nation which they loved and led. Through thee work the United States passed successfully through the most troubled and dangerous period of its history into an era, not less troubled, but with a shape and challenge which is a product of their triumph.
We have before us difficulties as fresh and as grave as those that challenged Franklin Roosevelt. But the nature of those difficulties and our capacity to deal with them have been profoundly influenced by his life and his work.
I come here today not as a participant in the age of Roosevelt but as an inheritor of that age. He was the principal architect of our America.
It is said that Roosevelt's task was easier because he took office at a time of great national crisis. The normal processes of political debate were suspended, opposition had been submerged by the flood of national misery, and everyone turned to him expectantly for leadership. This created a great opportunity, but it also magnified the dangers of failure.
The Preamble to the Constitution lists among the objectives of the American people to "establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity." In our entire history no leader was truer to that mandate than Franklin Roosevelt.
Roosevelt laid the foundations of today's affluent society, and established the principle that the nation was responsible for the general welfare of all its citizens. Although poverty and injustice remain, we have today, for the first time, the legal and material resources to end them. In our dealings with the world, he thrust America, almost against its will, into the center of the world arena. He strengthened us to defeat our most brutal and powerful enemies and destroyed the isolationism and parochial outlook which had kept the United States from assuming its responsibilities as part of a greater world community.
Because of him, for the first time in our history the issue is not whether we will have the strength to deal with our problems, but whether we have the courage and determination to use that strength; not whether we have the resources, but whether we choose to use those resources for the world's welfare; not whether we can, but whether we will.
Today's central issue is a moral issue: the issue of commitment. Largely because of Roosevelt we are the first nation in history with the strength to solve its own problems. If we fail, it will be a failure of commitment.
We can eliminate unemployment and poverty in this country. We can ensure some measure of security against the ravages of disease and old age. We can enable the Negro to become simply and fully an American. We can harness and use science for the welfare of our people. We can work for a world in which almost three billion underprivileged people will be our colleagues in progress.
This is not said lightly. These are not easy problems. I have seen the face of poverty and idleness in the mines of West Virginia. I have come face to face with racial hatred on the South Side of Chicago: Catholics stoning fellow Catholics on the steps of a church because they were black. In the last few years, I have traveled five hundred thousand miles around the world seeing at first hand the deep barriers of culture, belief, prejudice, and superstition which divide us from our fellow man.
But I have also seen the power of commitment, the individual commitment of thousands of Peace Corps Volunteers doing more than any of us can realize to refashion our relationships to the rest of the world. The Peace Corps is proof that deeply committed individuals can have a profound impact on the most difficult and intransigent of problems. Fuller proof is found in the civil rights movement. To the commitment of those in the front lines of the struggle must be added that of homeowners joining to break down housing ghettos, of businessmen joining to bring about desegregation, of religious leaders actively recruiting Negro members for their congregation.
What can we do about it? you ask. There is much you can do. For the need is not merely for laws or Presidential action. but for the self-organization of society on a large scale to solve the problems. The proof of this is in Chicago and New York and Washington-where our books are full of good laws and regulations, but where hypocrisy and racial hatred and the apathy of decent citizens have made a mockery of American justice and equal opportunity.
We must now show that we have the personal commitment to use our wealth and strength in the construction of a good society at home and throughout the world.