(...) there is a great deal to be gained when we take time to share our views. And while our communication should always deal with current issues of importance, it must never stray far from our national commitment to battle against discrimination and increase our knowledge of each other.
A few isolated groups in the backwater of American life still hold perverted notions of what America is all about. Recently, in some places in the nation there's been a disturbing reoccurrence of bigotry and violence. If I may, from the platform of this organization, known for its tolerance, I would like to address a few remarks to those groups who still adhere to senseless racism and religious prejudice, to those individuals who persist in such hateful behavior.
If I were speaking to them instead of to you, I would say to them, "You are the ones who are out of step with our society. You are the ones who willfully violate the meaning of the dream that is America. And this country, because of what it stands for, will not stand for your conduct." My Administration will vigorously investigate and prosecute those who, by violation of -- or violence or intimidation, would attempt to deny Americans their constitutional rights.
(...) Our dialog must also include discussions on how we can best protect the rights and privileges of all our citizens. My Administration will root out any case of government discrimination against minorities and uphold and enforce the laws that protect them. I emphasize that we will not retreat on the nation's commitment to equal treatment of all citizens. Now, that, in my view, is the primary responsibility of national government. The Attorney General is now carefully studying the decennial redistricting plans being submitted under the current Voting Rights Act. As soon as we have all the information there will be a decision regarding extension of the Act.
(...) In the months ahead, our dialog also will include tough and realistic questions about the role of the federal government in the black community. I'm not satisfied with its results, and I don't think you are either. And the failures of the past have been particularly hard on the minority poor, because their hopes have failed as surely as the federal programs that built those hopes. But I must not *be the only one who has questions about* government policies.
Can the black teenager who faces a staggering unemployment rate feel that government policies are a success? Can the black wage earner who sees more and more of his take-home pay shrinking because of government taxes feel satisfied? Can black parents say, despite a massive influx of federal aid, that educational standards in our schools have improved appreciably? Can the woman I saw on television recently -- whose family had been on welfare for three generations, and who feared that her children might be the fourth -- can she believe that current government policies will save her children from such a fate?
We ask these tough questions because we share your concerns about the future of the black community. We ask these questions because the blacks of America should not be patronized as just one more voting bloc to be wooed and won. You are individuals as we all are. Some have special needs. I don't think the federal government has met those needs.
Now, I've been listening to the specific needs of many people -- blacks, farmers, refugees, union members, women, small business men and women, and other groups -- they're commonly referred to as "special-interest groups." Well, in reality they're all members of the interest group that I spoke of the day I took the oath of office. They are the people of America. And I am pleased to serve that special-interest group.
The people of the inner cities will be represented by this Administration every bit as much as the citizens of Flagstaff, Arizona, Ithaca, New York, or Dixon, Illinois, where I grew up. Anyone who becomes President realizes he must represent all the people of the land, not just those of a home State or a particular party; nor can he be just President of those who voted for him.
(...) The well-being of blacks, like the well-being of every other American, is linked directly to the health of the economy. For example, industries in which blacks have made sufficient gains in employment -- substantial gains, like autos and steel -- have been particularly hard hit. And "last hired, first fired" is a familiar refrain to too many black workers. And I don't need to tell this group what inflation has done to those who can least afford it. A declining economy is a poisonous gas that claims its first victims in poor neighborhoods, before floating out into the community at large.
(...) Rebuilding America's economy is an absolute moral imperative if we're to avoid splitting this society in two with class against class. I do not intend to let America drift further toward economic segregation. We must change the economic direction of this country to bring more blacks into the midstream -- and we must do it now.
In 1938, before we had the equality we know today, Langston Hughes wrote "Let America Be America Again." And he wrote:
Oh, yes, I see [say] it plain
America never was America to me.
And yet I swear this oath --
America will be!
America will be. That is the philosophy the people proclaimed in last November's election: America will be. And this time, she will be for everyone. Together, we can recreate for every citizen the same economic opportunities that we saw lift up a land of immigrant people, the kind of opportunities that have swept the hungry and the persecuted into the mainstream of our life since the American experiment began.
To a number of black Americans, the U.S. economy has been something of an underground railroad: It has spirited them away from poverty to middle-class prosperity and beyond, but too many blacks still remain behind. A glance at the statistics will show that a large proportion of the black people have not found economic freedom. Nationwide, for example, 43 percent of black families in 1979 had money incomes under 10,000 dollars.
Harriet Tubman, who was known as the "conductor" of that earlier underground railroad, said on her first escape from slavery, "When I found I had crossed that line, I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person. There was such a glory over everything." Even after a century the beauty of her words is powerful. We can only imagine the soaring of her soul, what a feeling that must have been when she crossed into freedom and the physical and mental shackles fell from her person.
Harriet Tubman's glory was the glory of the American experience. It was a glory which had no color or religious preference or nationality. It was simply, eloquently, the universal thirst that all people have for freedom.
(...) The black leadership of this nation has shown tremendous courage, both physical and intellectual, and great creativity as it sought to bring equality to its people. You in this audience are the inheritors of that proud black heritage. You are the black leaders of today, and I believe you possess the very same courage and creativity. I ask you to use that courage and creativity to examine the challenges that are facing not just blacks but all of America.
I ask you to question the status quo as your predecessors did and look for new and imaginative ways to overcome minority problems. I'm talking about the kind of courage and questioning your chairman, Margaret Bush Wilson, showed in taking the heat for the NAACP's controversial 1978 energy statement -- a statement which shook the elitists of our country back into the real world, at least for a time. What I'm asking you to consider requires not so much a leap of faith, but a realization that the federal government alone is just not capable of doing the job we all want done for you or any other Americans.
(...) We plan to take a look, a comprehensive look, at the education of blacks from primary school upward and strengthen the base of black colleges, which are a sound educational investment. They are more than that. They're a proud tradition, a symbol of black determination and accomplishment, and I feel deeply they must be preserved. Now we've -- we've increased the share of Department of Education Title III funds sent -- spent on black colleges, and that trend will continue.
We have equal concern for the black business leaders of today. Minority business development, as I indicated earlier, is a key to black economic progress. Black-owned businesses are especially important in neighborhood economies where the dollars, as I said, spent have a beneficial multiplier effect.
(...) We will link hands to build an era where we can put fear behind us and hope in front of us. It can be an era in which programs are less important than opportunities. It can be an era where we all reach out in reconciliation instead of anger and dispute.
In the war in Vietnam several years ago, a live grenade fell among a group of American soldiers. They were frozen with horror knowing they were only seconds away from death. Then one young soldier, a black, threw himself on the grenade, covering it with his helmet and his body. He died to save his comrades. Greater glory hath no man. Congressional Medal of Honor winner, posthumously presented, Garfield Langhorn's last whispered words were, "You have to care."
Let us care. Let us work to build a nation that is free of racism, full of opportunity, and determined to loosen the creative energies of every person of every race, of every station, to make a better life. It will be my honor to stand alongside you to answer this call.
- - - - - - - -
- transcript via
- photographs via and via and via and via and via