The American Presidency Project
John T. Woolley & Gerhard Peters • Santa Barbara, California return to original document
• Dwight D. Eisenhower
Remarks at Meeting of Negro Leaders Sponsored by the National Newspaper Publishers Association.
May 12, 1958

Mr. Walker, Ladies and Gentlemen:

Always it is a privilege for me to have the opportunity of greeting to the Nation's Capital any group of Americans who are assembled to participate in any of our country's problems. In doing so, I am always careful to use no adjectives in describing the American group that I am talking to. Though some are farmers or some are Chambers of Commerce people, or some like you may be Negroes, we are Americans and we have American problems.

Just as I would before any other group, I should like to talk to you about the things that bother me. I know more about them than I know exactly what bothers you.

It's the problems of living in this world--of our country living in this world--in and under the threat of communism; the threat of its force, of its economic penetration, of its propaganda and its political efforts. It's the strength of our economy, its down-dips and its upturns, its booms and its recessionary movements.

We have three especially important problems in the international world that now, in my opinion, in my conviction and in my knowledge affect our economy. These are the problems of our security through our own military forces, through our mutual aid programs with our friends, through world trade--the way they affect our economy and the way our economy affects them. These are reciprocal influences because if our military defense is strong, you and I feel strong in the things that we do-in the papers you publish or the work that you do. You have the feeling of security that you would not get unless this country were paying for its military defenses.

Likewise, our economy would not have the same sense of confidence and buoyancy. We would not buy as we should. We would think there was some way of saving something out of this terrible threat, should it ever eventuate.

In mutual aid our effort is designed to bring to a higher level the economic strength of many of the newly developing countries so that they may share their burden of our common security.

Certainly our reciprocal trade as it operates makes each of us--each of these countries--stronger because of the exchange of goods that we need in return for those that we over-produce and send to others.

All of these things affect our economy, and I repeat that only as that economy is strong can it keep these programs functioning smoothly and effectively to the benefit of all of us.

Defense must be kept at the absolute minimum in cost but with the maximum efficiency. This group is part of America that is paying the bills. This bill is something on the order of forty billions and more annually. Each of you is now wearing clothes that have been increased in price because of those costs. The taxes you have paid have gone into them. Therefore, it is very pertinent for us to examine the necessity for these costs. Exactly how much do we need in deterrent force--how much do we need all the way along the line--to make certain that this country is truly safe and secure. Any cent that we spend over and above what is necessary by the highest standards of efficiency is waste and increases our costs. This is a problem for all of us.

Now this is the kind of thing that I talk about all the time because I believe our defenses must be made efficient without useless cost. I believe a program of mutual aid is absolutely necessary if we are to make it possible for our defense forces to defend us. And I believe mutual trade is necessary or our economy will collapse and all these functions will be damaged.

Now I realize as I talk about these matters that there is still, nevertheless, in your minds a special problem--that one of civil rights. Because of the problems that have been raised about the issue of racial discrimination and indeed any other types of discrimination, we have to be interested. We must be interested. We must do something about the Constitutional rights of the individual. To my mind, every American whatever his religion, his color, his race or anything else, should have exactly the same concern for these matters as does any individual who may have felt embarrassment or resentment because those rights have not been properly observed.

So it means that every American, if we are to be true to our Constitutional heritage, must have respect for the law. He must know that he is equal before the law. He must have respect for the courts. He must have respect for others. He must make perfectly certain that he can, in every single kind of circumstance, respect himself.

In such problems as this, there are no revolutionary cures. They are evolutionary. I started in the Army in 1911. I have lived to see the time come when in none of the Armed Services is practiced any kind of discrimination because of race, religion or color.
In the Federal Government this same truth holds steady.

In laws we have seen enacted those affecting the rights of voting. They are, let us pray, to be observed exactly as any other law passed and published by the Congress.

Such things as these mean progress. But I do believe that as long as they are human problems--because they are buried in the human heart rather than ones merely to be solved by a sense of logic and of right-we must have patience and forbearance, We must depend more on better and more profound education than simply on the letter of the law. We must make sure that enforcement will not in itself create injustice.

I do not decry laws, for they are necessary. But I say that laws themselves will never solve problems that have their roots in the human heart and in the human emotions. It is because of this very reason that I am more hopeful that we will, as the years go past, speak to each other only as Americans without any adjectives to describe us as special types of Americans. I am hopeful that we will see ourselves as equals before the law, equal in economic and every other kind of opportunity that is open to any other citizen. It is because education and understanding and betterment of human people can bring these things about, that I am hopeful.

Now, my friends, there is one author that I rarely quote--I never quote--and that is myself. But Fred Morrow, one of my valued assistants in the White House, happened to be looking over a speech I made in 1952 on human relations--civil rights. The talk was made in October of 1952 in Los Angeles, and I take from it a very short quotation because it represents my creed today as closely as I could possibly express it today. It is this:

"This problem and its solution are the job of all of us. Government can help and must help, but the final answer is up to you and to me, and must be achieved in the communities where we live. Every American who opposes inequality, every American who helps in even the smallest way to make equality of opportunity a living fact, is doing the business of America."

This, my friends, is my belief. I believe as long as we are doing the business of America, as long as we are doing it with respect to her security, to the certainty of her defense, to her relationships with other nations, to the spurring of our economy to greater and greater heights of production--everything we do as Americans makes America stronger. Therefore every person who performs in this way is himself or herself part of America's strength.

Actually, I wanted to come over here just to say to each of you: Welcome. I trust that all of the problems you here study will command your interest and your feeling that through studying them you will be more able to help the rest of us in reaching better solutions; that you yourselves may better help others to reach those understandings throughout our country.

I know that your discussions are not based on any one subject. On the contrary, as Americans you run clear across the gamut of interesting subjects. In all this work I extend to you my felicitations, my congratulations and the very profound wish that as a result of this conference each of us will go out of it with a better understanding of ourselves and of our country, and with the determination to make it still a better and better place in which to live.
Thank you very much.

Citation: Dwight D. Eisenhower: "Remarks at Meeting of Negro Leaders Sponsored by the National Newspaper Publishers Association.", May 12, 1958. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project.
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