Speeches by John F. Kennedy

From the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

Remarks of Senator John F. Kennedy at South Charleston, West Virginia, April 30, 1960

This is a transcription of this speech made for the convenience of readers and researchers. One draft of the speech exists in the John F. Kennedy Pre-Presidential Papers at the John F. Kennedy Library.

By far the most urgent and critical need of the State of West Virginia is the need to bring new industry - new jobs and new incomes - to your State. That one goal overshadows all others in importance. That one goal is the object of your most determined struggles, your efforts and your hopes. And that one goal must be at the very top of the agenda of the next - Democratic - President - the President we are going to elect this year.

Here, in South Charleston, you have one of the most demanding and important examples of the need for new industry. Your once dynamic and expanding Naval Ordnance Plant - a plant which once employed more than 11,000 men - has been slowly closing down as the government prepares to abandon it completely. In time of war this vital plant contributed strategic materials - vital supplies and important armor plate - to the great American victory - your factory was the pride of the nation. But today - in a time of unprecedented peacetime prosperity - the Administration has decided that it has no more use for South Charleston. It offers no hope of new jobs or new business. It has condemned thousands of workers to economic hardship, unemployment and despair. It has forgotten how much South Charleston contributed to America in the past - and it just doesn't care what happens to you in the future.

But the Democratic Party does care. It cares what happens to South Charleston and the thousands of places like it throughout America. It cares about men who are out of work - families who are deprived of an adequate living - children who lack proper food and clothing and the opportunity for a decent childhood. It cares about islands of American poverty in the midst of American plenty. And more important - the Democratic Party not only cares - we are going to do something about it.

For we Democrats know that until something is done to restore work and economic dignity to all Americans - until we realize, as Robert Louis Stevenson has said, that "the greatest confession of the failure of civilization is the man who can work, and wants to work, and is not allowed to work" - only then will we be able to build a truly strong America which has reached the great goal of a decent life for all men.

And we have a program to help us reach that goal: not a program of charity - for the people of West Virginia do not want charity; not a program of handouts or government doles - for the people of West Virginia do not want handouts or doles - but a sound program, a dynamic program, a program of economic development which will put depressed areas back on their feet - attract new industries to West Virginia - and give men who want to work, a chance to work. This is the sort of program which can reopen your Naval Ordnance Plant - not as a government factory - but as part of a new, vital, booming private enterprise system for all of West Virginia.

This program is contained in the Area Redevelopment Bill. I led the fight for this bill as floor leader when it passed the Senate in 1956. But it never survived Republican attacks in the House. In 1958, Area Redevelopment passed both the Senate and the House and it looked as if help was on the way. But it was vetoed - vetoed without regard to the unemployment, the suffering and the tragedy which has been created by factories shutting down - and men thrown out of work - vetoed by a Republican Administration and a Republican President - Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Now, again in this session of Congress, the Senate has passed this bill. And again the Republicans are threatening a veto. Let them veto it. It will be their last chance. For in 1961 there will be a Democratic President in the White House - a President who does care about West Virginia - a President who will support and sign a strong, effective, workable Area Redevelopment Bill - a bill that will reinvigorate the economy of America - a bill that will bring new jobs and more industry to West Virginia.

To attract new industry to West Virginia your cities and towns must have adequate water, streets, schools and other community facilities. This bill will help build them.

To attract new industry to West Virginia your workers must be retrained in the new skills which new industry will demand. This bill will help to retrain them.

To attract new industry to West Virginia will take large-scale capital investment - and financial support. This bill will provide long-term loans to help attract new business.

To attract new industry to West Virginia will take market surveys and economic studies, credit facilities and modern plants. This bill helps make all these available.

Here is a program which will work - which will bring back jobs, and restore production to your factories. The Republicans say that we cannot afford this program - that we cannot afford to restore prosperity to the economically distressed areas of this country. But I say that we can afford it. I say that a strong America can afford - and badly needs - a strong South Charleston and a strong West Virginia. And I say that a generous America, which can afford to rebuild the economies of Britain and France and Germany, can also afford to rebuild your economy.

No, the Republicans do not lack money - they lack faith and understanding. We Democrats understand the problems of West Virginia - we have faith in your great future - and we have a sound, creative, dynamic program which will make that future a brighter one.

And in 1961 we will begin the job.

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