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Lyndon B. Johnson: Remarks at a Meeting of the President's Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity.
Lyndon B. Johnson
342 - Remarks at a Meeting of the President's Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity.
May 12, 1964
Public Papers of the Presidents
Lyndon B. Johnson<br>1963-64: Book I
Lyndon B. Johnson
1963-64: Book I

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I AM very proud that I could be here this morning and I am very honored by my chance to be in company with you.

I heard the story last night of the woman who telephoned her bank. She wanted to arrange for the disposal of a $1,000 bond. The clerk asked her, "Madam, is the bond for redemption or conversion?" There was a very long pause, and then the woman said, "Well, am I talking to the first National Bank or the first Baptist Church?"

I think I know who I am talking to this morning. I am talking to the men and women who hold in their hands the power of new opportunity, new hope, and even new life to thousands of their fellow citizens. I think in the days ahead the time will come when at various places in this country they will point to the group that made up the membership of this committee and say this is when some of the breakthroughs began. They may not point to it with the same pride as we do to Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, but they will point to it with an achievement that will make us all very proud.

Now the distance between your bank and your church may not be very far. For the work that we do is not just to make profits or to get new members of our union, but to mold a Nation. That is our real charge. The destiny of a democracy is decided not so much by the acts of its government as it is by the practices and the attitudes of its people.

The integrity of America and its moral strength, its character, the place it is going to occupy in the history of the world, can be shaped a great deal more by your decisions about who you hire to work in your business or who you permit to join your union, or who you employ in Government service, than by any pronouncement you make. That is why I am proud that thousands of people like you are working today to insure equal opportunity for all of our citizens.

This committee has just passed the third anniversary of the establishment, by President Kennedy, of the President's Committee. It was a revised committee; it was a rejuvenated committee; it was a re-worked committee. It had new and increased powers and authority.

One set of statistics alone illustrates what has been accomplished under this committee, and I think it points to a very hopeful course for the future. These figures show that the employment of 86 companies, which submitted their Plans for Progress reports between January 1961 and January 1963, increased by 258,853 persons, and that 23.1 percent of those increased employees' jobs went to minority groups--23 percent went to minority groups. So I think that we are making progress.

I think that you couldn't have pointed to a figure like that with pride--23 percent going to minority groups--before they heard your voices. And with your help we are going to continue to improve that record.

In the last 2 weeks I have traveled thousands of miles through several States. In the last 13 days I have been in 13 States. I just slept 1 night away from Washington, but I spent most of the daylight hours somewhere else when I was out of the city. And everywhere I have carried the message that no American is free until all Americans are free. That is simple. That is understandable. And that is without procrastination or equivocation or compromise.

I have said again and again and again that we believe in the concepts of opportunity and freedom expressed in our Constitution. We are constitutional Democrats, we are Jeffersonian Democrats. We intend to give those constitutional principles new vitality. We intend to practice what we preach.

The American people to me, looking at it from my unobjective viewpoint, seem to respond to that plea. I think that the businessmen are responding to it. I think the labor leaders are responding to it. I think the spiritual leaders are responding to it.

I have talked to the Baptists from the South and I am meeting with the NAM Board at 12:15, and I will say the same thing to them. I have talked to the United States Chamber of Commerce, and I talked to the Amalgamated Clothing Workers in New York on Saturday. So I am not speaking to any special, privileged group. I am taking them across the board and talking to all of them, saying the same thing.

Republicans don't understand this. They say, "He is talking out of both sides of his mouth. He is everything to everybody." Well, now, I am not one that believes that if you are a friend of the Negro you have to hate the white. I am not one that believes that if you are a Baptist that you don't think the Catholic ought to be allowed to exist. I am not one that thinks that if you belong to a labor union, you ought to confiscate the profits of industry. I am not one that believes that if you are a member of industry that you ought to have sweatshops.

I believe that what is good for all these groups is good for America, and I am saying the same thing to each one of them. They are responding. I believe our country is united. I believe we have demonstrated to the world that we could have a transition under our constitutional processes, and I think that no enemy and no adversary has the slightest doubt about our strength morally, spiritually, militarily, and every other way.

Since we last met I have talked to several hundred executives of this country's leading business firms, and many labor leaders in the White House itself. I have urged each one of them, each time, to make sure that they offer equality of opportunity, strictly on the basis of merit. And they have pledged their efforts to do so.

So I want to announce today that I have sent out letters to the presidents of the nearly 200 companies who have signed Plans for Progress with the President's Committee, and I am asking them to extend their efforts beyond their office doors, beyond their plant gates, and into their communities wherever they have plants. It may be a plant in the faraway South, it may be a plant on the Atlantic seaboard.

I have asked them personally to write to the manager of each of their plants--to get the letter from the president to the manager of each of their plants to enlist these men who are the real leaders in their community, in an effort to get this job done.

The vindication of our democracy is our real challenge today. A society like ours can thrive only when it enlists the devotions and energies of all the people. In extending equal opportunity to Americans for whom democracy has been an illusion and not a reality, as I said in the beginning, I think you are putting your names for all time to come on the cornerstone of what is truly a great society.

So help us build that society, help us do it here and now.

Help us to make the dream of democracy come true today.

I am looking for a day in this country, and I see it not too far away, when every able-bodied person who wants to work has a job or is going to a job. That is not a revolutionary thing, but it would mean a good deal to 5.4 percent of our people today. Every man has a job or is changing to go to another one.

I predict that in this decade we will build a society, because we are interested in human beings, in which no person will be denied equal employment opportunity because of his race, or his creed, or his color, or where his ancestors came from, or his religion, or the section where he was born.

I have said this many times, but we broke down two old, false theories in the last election. We demonstrated that you could elect a man who is a Catholic as President of the United States, and we demonstrated you could elect a man from the South as Vice President of the United States. Time has already proved that we acted wisely in one instance, and I hope that our record will be such that it will justify the other one.

So I want you to search your consciences, I want you to search your personnel records, I want to ask you to ask yourselves if you have done all you can to make America a land of full opportunity for all of its people. Because as I have said so many times, and I think it is worth repeating every day, Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation 100 years ago, and he freed the slaves of their chains. But he did not free the Negro of the bigotry that exists in this country. He did not free the minority group of the hatred that is spread all over the country about them, and until education, as a result of the wisdom and the courage of the Supreme Court--until education in this country is completely blind to all color, until employment is unaware of race, we will have a proclamation, but emancipation will not be a fact. So we have a lot of emancipation to do yet, 100 years later.

I was the only Member of Congress to be elected on President Roosevelt's Supreme Court plan. It appeared that the Wagner Act would be declared unconstitutional, that the Social Security Act would be declared unconstitutional, the NRA, the AAA, and a few others had already gone down the drain. So in a moment of desperateness and without much hope, but still fighting with all he had, the President suggested, as Lincoln had done, that we make some changes in the philosophy of the court.

Generally speaking, the laboring people of this country stayed behind him. He was their leader. But the farmers quit him. It was too radical a revision for them to follow. So the people of the country let the Congress know that they felt that this was too much of a change.

And they had a few slogans they got out. They backed the court and they called it "The Pack the Court Scheme," because it infused some new blood and added to it. Well, the bill was defeated. It didn't pack the court, but it unpacked them, because some of them were retired as a result of it, and we got some of the same results in a little different way.

But the reason we did get the bill defeated, and the reason we got the change the other way, was because they heard from the country. The people were alarmed about that bill. The people were concerned. The people made their wishes known. Somehow or other, a Congressman and a Senator are attuned, they have an antenna, and they can understand how the people feel.

Now, for 60 days up there, we have been discussing the details of the civil rights bill, an equal rights bill, a constitutional rights bill. The net effect of that bill will be to take these problems out of the streets and the back alleys and bring them into the courts, to let them be judiciously determined and handled.

That bill must be passed. That kind of legislation must become the law of the land. We cannot see our democratic system spend 60 days on a bill like that and then fail.

But it is going to fail unless the people, in righteous indignation, let them know that they do not have that superior feeling and they do require legislation that protects a person because of his particular color. If the Congress does not act on that legislation, we will have some very dark days in this country.

I think that you have set an example in the employment field, but you just have been able to set an example, and that is all. You haven't skimmed the surface. You have covered roughly one-tenth of the jobs in the country by your Plans for Progress program. There are 70 million working, and you have 7 million of them covered.

Because of the civil rights debate, and because of the active effort there, we have all been giving our energies to that field and trying to mobilize public opinion, trying to talk to them, whether you are in Chicago, New York, Atlanta, Knoxville, or Pittsburgh, where I have been, and we haven't been constantly shoving on the employment field. Now we have to do that. We have to renew our efforts here.

But we can't take our eye off that bill, either, because that bill will underwrite and set up the machinery, and give us the most potent practices we have ever had to do the job that you were selected to do.

So I congratulate you on your membership on this committee. I ask you to renew your efforts to do a better job in the field we are operating in. I thank you for being present and not sending a proxy. Those that are proxies, I thank them for coming, since it is something their boss couldn't do. I am glad I didn't have to send a proxy. I never want to. This is as important a job as I have ever been associated with, and it gives me more satisfaction and more sense of achievement than almost anything I do.

So those of you who have gone through the fire with me in the last few years, I want you to know that I feel a debt of gratitude to you. As soon as we get this bill passed, we are going to make greater and greater strides toward the promised land that we have been looking forward to so long.

Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 11 a.m. in the Indian Treaty Room in the Executive Office Building.

The Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity was established by President Kennedy on March 6, 1961, by Executive Order 10925 (3 CFR, 1959-1963 Comp., p. 448). For his statement upon signing the order, see "Public Papers of the Presidents, John F. Kennedy 1961," Item 68.

Citation: Lyndon B. Johnson: "Remarks at a Meeting of the President's Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity.," May 12, 1964. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=26246.
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