‘Ripple of Hope’ (Day of Affirmation) Speech


Ernest-Cole_SignsAware of Senator Robert Kennedy’s reputation for taking on issues of human rights, the anti-apartheid student organization, the National Union of South African Students, invited him to deliver their country’s annual Day of Affirmation speech. At the time, an all-white government ruled over that country through an oppressive legal system that enforced racial segregation and discrimination against non-whites.  The system, known as apartheid, curtailed the rights, associations and movements of South Africa’s black inhabitants.

apartheid noun [uhpahrt-heyt] literally translated as apart apart + -heid -hood (click on apartheid for a video definition of the word – will use clip for RFK in the Land of Apartheid when it becomes available)

Although the aftermath of the U.S. Civil War had brought an official end to the practice of enslaving African-Americans,  true equality between the races had not yet been achieved in the United States even a century later. When Kennedy traveled to South Africa to deliver the Day of Affirmation speech in 1966,  segregation and discrimination against African Americans in his own country remained widespread.  Kennedy saw parallels between the injustices faced by the black people in the United States and those in South Africa. In one of the most renowned speeches of all time, he called for the end of insidious racial discrimination everywhere.

EthelRFK_Soweto_t614When Kennedy went to South Africa to speak out against apartheid, he met with anti-apartheid leaders who had been completely silenced by their oppressive government.  Because they were not free to speak, Kennedy shared their messages to the rest of the marginalized population of South Africa and to the world. He gave hope to anti-apartheid student activists who had felt alone in their quest for racial equality. He showed them how their efforts were connected to those of other civil rights’ movements underway around the world.

Although apartheid would not be abolished for nearly another 28 years, Senator Kennedy’s visit to South Africa shed light on the apartheid system, bringing it out of the shadows and onto the world stage. The power of his words and actions connected him to a generation of South Africans who would endure against the yoke of oppression. These emboldened young people eventually became the future leaders of a new apartheid-free South Africa.

Read Robert Kennedy’s daughter, Kerry Kennedy’s description of the scene on the day he gave his historic Day of Affirmation (Ripple of Hope) speech in Capetown, South Africa in 1966.

On the night of June 6, 1966 Robert Kennedy addressed a crowd of thousands at the University of Cape Town. Through excerpts from his famous “Ripple of Hope” speech we learn more about his values and vision.

It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.
“It is a revolutionary world we live in…it is the young people who must take the lead.   Thus you, and your young compatriots everywhere, have had thrust upon you a greater burden of responsibility than any generation that has ever lived.  “There is,” said an Italian philosopher, “nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.” Yet this is the measure of the task of your generation, and the road is strewn with many dangers.
Few men are willing to brave the disapproval of their fellows, the censure of their colleagues, the wrath of their society. Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality of those who seek to change a world which yields most painfully to change…I believe that in this generation those with the courage to enter the moral conflict will find themselves with companions in every corner of the world.
Like it or not we live in interesting times. They are times of danger and uncertainty; but they are also more open to the creative energy of men than any other time in history. And everyone here will ultimately be judged-will ultimately judge himself-on the effort he has contributed to building a new world society and the extent to which his ideals and goals have shaped that effort.

And I hope you will often take heart from the knowledge that you are joined with fellow young people in every land, they struggling with their problems and you with yours, but all joined in a common purpose; that, like the young people of my own country and of every country I have visited, you are all in many ways more closely united to the brothers of your time than to the older generations of any of these nations; and that you are determined to build a better future.

Take a deeper dive into the work of Robert Kennedy with these in-depth educational resources on the ‘Ripple of Hope’ speech and the events surrounding it.

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