If I could think of one group which is most responsible for the transformation of the United States of America from a racist and segregation society to a free and integrated society, I would say it's this group whom I'm addressing right now.
The black colleges of our country and the black churches of our country several years ago, several decades ago, several generations ago, stood firmly and courageously and innovatively for what was right and decent. It was not an easy thing for you to do nor for your predecessors to do. But you have indeed transformed our country, and I thank you for it, because one of the consequences of these changes that I have just described is that I, as a southerner and an ex-Governor of Georgia, was made a viable candidate. And I would not be here as President tonight if it had not been for you.
As you know, I have been on many of your campuses as a candidate and since I've been President. And when I couldn't come, I sent some of my best representatives—recently, for instance, to Tuskegee; my mother has been there as a visitor, the Vice President's been there as a visitor. And as Wade Wilson1 knows, I'll be speaking at Cheyney State for graduation exercises shortly if the invitation is still good. [Laughter] I will try to behave myself the next 30 days, Wade, so I can- [laughter] —
1 President, Cheyney State College.
I know you've been here almost 3 days, and I know how important your visit to Washington is to you and to me and to the people of our country. My own commitment is not just to make the President and the Vice President and the special members of the White House staff available to you to help when you are in trouble, nor to provide a constant, easy avenue of communication and consultation, advice, counsel, and criticism even when you're not in trouble, in time when crises do not exist, but I want to be sure that every single agency of the Federal Government is tuned to your needs and to your hopes and aspirations and desires and to the dreams of your students and the parents who love them.
I pledge to you that whenever there is a problem which I myself can address or the leaders in my Cabinet who have met with you can address, that I'm available to you personally, and so is Vice President Mondale, and so are all the members of my staff.
My major disappointment is that I will not be here to hear Judge Higginbotham's address. And I know how he is admired by all of you. We have made every effort, through his leadership and others like him, through your honoree tonight, Mary Berry, 2 and others like her, to open up the councils of government in positions of top leadership, where policy is made to the black citizens of our country, who have too long been excluded. When those private groups met, policy was decided before the public was aware of the questions even being discussed. And in the regulatory agencies of our Government-some of which I have no control except to appoint the members; the FCC, the CAB, and others—I'm trying to open up those to the voice of the minority groups of our country.
2 Assistant Secretary for Education, Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.
I can't always meet your demands. If I could, then I would say that your demands were not quite stringent enough. [Laughter] I know that you have never been timid in letting me or my predecessors know what you expected. [Laughter] But that's part of the American life, and that's why so much progress has been possible.
I'm eager to serve you well. I pray to God, my brothers and sisters in this room, that I will never be a disappointment to you nor to those whom you serve so well and who look to you not only for present leadership and guidance but for future leadership and for an even greater United States of America in the years to come.
Thank you very much.