50 Years Later, 'City On A Hill' Speech Resounds

By Sarah Birnbaum

Jan. 11, 2011

BOSTON -- Massachusetts met a new Kennedy on Tuesday, when they gathered to commemorate the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's "City On A Hill" speech.

In 1961, John F. Kennedy spoke a podium at the Massachusetts State House before an audience of legislators, state officials and 700 spectators. In a few weeks, he would be inaugurated as President.
 “For no man about to enter high office in this country can ever be unmindful of the contribution this state has made to our national greatness," Kennedy said as he bid farewell to his home state of Massachusetts.
In his historic speech, he compared the challenges he would face as president to the troubles facing the first Puritan settlers of Massachusetts in the 1600's.  Borrowing a phrase from John Winthrop, an early governor of the colony, Kennedy said the government he was forming would strive to be a model for other nations.
 “The eyes of all people are truly upon us – and our governments, in every branch, at every level, national, state and local, must be as a city upon a hill – constructed and inhabited by men aware of their great trust and their great responsibilities,” Kennedy said.
 Speaking at the commemoration, Joseph Kennedy III, President Kennedy’s great-nephew, said JFK’s words are more relevant now than ever, in the aftermath of the shootings in Arizona on Saturday.
 “For too long the rhetoric in Washington has been toxic.  Anti-war protesters holding up signs saying 'Death to Terrorist Pig Bush.'  Tea Party protesters shouting out racist and anti-gay slurs to members of Congress...This isn’t what President Kennedy stood for,” his great-nephew said.
Joseph Kennedy III urged the nation to embrace the vision laid out in the City Upon a Hill speech: To strive for “courage, judgment, integrity and dedication in these stormy times.”

Sign Up

Sign-up for WGBH News updates, WGBH promotions, and previews of what's coming up on WGBH TV.




Support for WGBH is provided by:
Become a WGBH sponsor