Speeches by John F. Kennedy

From the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

Remarks of Senator John F. Kennedy at Charleston, West Virginia, April 20, 1960

Two drafts of this speech exist in the John F. Kennedy Pre-Presidential Papers at the John F. Kennedy Library. They are essentially identical except that the place heading on one of the drafts has the location scratched out and "Huntington" written in by hand instead.

It has been said in recent weeks that the State of West Virginia is not "typical" of the rest of America - that it is different and somehow inferior. But I have traveled across your great state and I know that West Virginia is typical of America - it is typical in the strength and courage and determination of its citizens - it is typical in its desire for a better life for all men - it is typical in its belief in the great American traditions of freedom and fair play and a brotherhood of men - of all faiths and races - under God. And it is also a typical victim of the short-sightedness, the blindness, the indifference, and the lack of faith which have characterized the entire last eight Republican years in Washington.

We hear much in Washington about Republican prosperity and Republican abundance. And we have a President who travels throughout the world telling of the richness of America. Let him and his Administration come to West Virginia instead. Let them see, at first hand, the hardship, the poverty and despair which their failures of vision and leadership have helped to create. Let them see a strong, resourceful State with a courageous and determined people - where almost a hundred thousand able-bodied men are out of work, and 300,000 people are forced to struggle for existence on a starvation diet of government surplus foods. Let them see a West Virginia which has contributed much to America's rise to greatness, which wants to continue to contribute to America's strength, and which is being denied that right to contribute.

West Virginia is a great and rich State. It has the potential for abundance. It is a state with vast deposits of natural resources - of coal and gas. It is a state with a skilled, strong labor force. It is a state with a strategic economic location - within 500 miles of 55% of the American population and four of our five largest metropolitan centers. And it is a state of unparalleled beauty and recreational attractions - the "Switzerland of America" - a place to which many thousands more tourists could be attracted.

And yet, in the midst of this great richness - unemployment continues to increase, per capita income goes down, population declines as young people seek opportunity and jobs elsewhere, and farm income drops to almost one-third of the national average. These are cold, impersonal figures which tell a human story - a story of hardship, of despair, of personal tragedy, of hunger and of hopelessness. And they also tell another story - an equally grim story - the story of a government which has the power to help, which has a duty to help, but which has refused to help - the story of a government which apparently doesn't care.

Of course West Virginians are not asking for handouts - for charity - or for special treatment. The people of West Virginia are a proud and independent people - typical of the best in American life. But they do want a chance to work - a chance to earn a decent living. They do want help in rebuilding their stricken economy.

For they know that such help will repay itself a thousand fold in terms of increased production, a more prosperous people, and a stronger America. And I can assure you that such help is on the way. For the next Democratic Administration - an Administration in the great New Deal tradition of Franklin Roosevelt - will know that a stronger West Virginia is one of the keys to a stronger America.

I offer you a sound program for economic development - a responsible practical program which will put men back to work, bring new hope to your people, and rebuild your economy.

First on the list is the passage of federal legislation to meet the single, basic, fundamental need of the State of West Virginia - more jobs for your people. And more jobs means not only helping existing industries - coal and chemical and glass and pottery - but it also means bringing in new industry to create new jobs. That is why any program of economic redevelopment for West Virginia - and for the many other distressed sections of this country - must concentrate on stimulating new industries and new jobs in these hard-hit areas. We Democrats already have legislation which will do this - which will restore hope and prosperity to West Virginia - a bill which provides long-term loans, technical assistance, help in rebuilding roads and water supplies - and all the essential prerequisites to economic growth. A Democratic Congress passed this bill in 1958 - but it was vetoed - vetoed without regard to the suffering and tragedy that fills the more than 100 distressed communities of heavy unemployment - vetoed by a Republican President, Dwight D. Eisenhower. But in 1961 - with a Democratic President in the White House - the Administration will not only support - it will demand - this legislation.

Second, we must restore prosperity to the badly hit coal industry - an industry which is the cornerstone of West Virginia's economy. We must establish a National Fuels Policy which will end harmful discriminations against coal fuels. We must embark on a bold, new program of coal research which will find new uses for coal, broaden existing uses, and decrease the cost of coal distribution. And we must stimulate the increased use of "coal by wire" - the construction of steam plants which will transform coal power into electric power and carry it to the homes of America, vastly increasing coal consumption.

Third, we must direct all federal agencies, especially the defense department, to give special preference in awarding government contracts to areas of substantial unemployment. Today West Virginia, which was first in the proportion of its men who shed their blood in Korea, is last among the states in the amount of money spent by the Pentagon. West Virginia deserves a fair share of governmental contracts - and in 1961 it will get a fair share.

Fourth, we should establish a Youth Conservation Corps which will give jobs to young West Virginians and supply a labor force to work to preserve your vital natural resources and seal off dangerous, abandoned mines.

Fifth, we must have a national program of water resource development, pollution control, and flood control. These were all great Democratic programs under Roosevelt and Truman. In the past eight years these programs have been neglected - our water resources have been dissipated - and when Congress itself acted, its efforts have been met with a Republican veto. We must develop and preserve our great water resources if we are to avoid future disastrous floods, and keep pollution from completely destroying the beauty and purity of our water.

Sixth, we must develop and preserve our woodlands, our parks, and our other great natural resources. This Administration has spent less each year for the preservation of our natural resources than Franklin Roosevelt, even though a dollar bought a lot more conservation twenty years ago than it does today. Increased resource development is the key to increasing the tourist trade which a beautiful West Virginia should attract - and which the future West Virginia will attract.

Seventh, we must extend our present programs to relieve present hardship. We must increase unemployment benefits and social security, and expand our program of food distribution. These programs not only ease present distress, but they lead to future economic development by creating a healthier people and increasing purchasing power.

With this program - a sound, constructive program - a program of dynamic leadership, of vision and of faith in West Virginia and in the United States - we can make West Virginia in the future, as it has been in the past, not only a "typical" state - but a leader for all America.

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