|The American Presidency Project|
|• John F. Kennedy|
|Special Message to the Congress on Civil Rights and Job Opportunities.|
|June 19, 1963|
To the Congress of the United States:
Last week I addressed to the American people an appeal to conscience--a request for their cooperation in meeting the growing moral crisis in American race relations. I warned of "a rising tide of discontent that threatens the public safety" in many parts of the country. I emphasized that "the events in Birmingham and elsewhere have so increased the cries for equality that no city or State or legislative body can prudently choose to ignore them." "It is a time to act," I said, "in the Congress, in State and local legislative bodies and, above all, in all of our daily lives."
In the days that have followed, the predictions of increased violence have been tragically borne out. The "fires of frustration and discord" have burned hotter than ever.
At the same time, the response of the American people to this appeal to their 'principles and obligations has been reassuring. Private progress--by merchants and unions and local organizations--has been marked, if not uniform, in many areas. Many doors long closed to Negroes, North and South, have been opened. Local biracial committees, under private and public sponsorship, have mushroomed. The Mayors of our major cities, whom I earlier addressed, have pledged renewed action. But persisting inequalities and tensions make it clear that Federal action must lead the way, providing both the Nation's standard and a nationwide solution. In short, the time has come for the Congress of the United States to join with the Executive and Judicial Branches in making it clear to all that race has no place in American life or law.
On February 28, I sent to the Congress a message urging the enactment this year of three important pieces of civil rights legislation:
1. Voting. Legislation to assure the availability to all of a basic and powerful right--the right to vote in a free American election--by providing for the appointment of temporary Federal voting referees while voting suits are proceeding in areas of demonstrated need; by giving such suits preferential and expedited treatment in the Federal courts; by prohibiting in Federal elections the application of different tests and standards to different voter applicants; and by providing that, in voting suits pertaining to such elections, the completion of the sixth grade by any applicant creates a presumption that he is literate. Armed with the full and equal right to vote, our Negro citizens can help win other rights through political channels not now open to them in many areas.
2. Civil Rights Commission. Legislation to renew and expand the authority of the Commission on Civil Rights, enabling it to serve as a national civil rights clearing house offering information, advice and technical assistance to any public or private agency that so requests.
3. School Desegregation. Legislation to provide Federal technical and financial assistance to aid school districts in the 'process of desegregation in compliance with the Constitution.
Other measures introduced in the Congress have also received the support of this administration, including those aimed at assuring equal employment opportunity.
Although these recommendations were transmitted to the Congress some time ago, neither House has yet had an opportunity to vote on any of these essential measures. The Negro's drive for justice, however, has not stood still--nor will it, it is now clear, until full equality is achieved. The growing and understandable dissatisfaction of Negro citizens with the present pace of desegregation, and their increased determination to secure for themselves the equality of opportunity and treatment to which they are rightfully entitled, have underscored what should already have been clear: the necessity of the Congress enacting this year-not only the measures already proposed-but also additional legislation providing legal remedies for the denial of certain individual rights.
The venerable code of equity law commands "for every wrong, a remedy." But in too many communities, in too many parts of the country, wrongs are inflicted on Negro citizens for which no effective remedy at law is clearly and readily available. State and local laws may even affirmatively seek to deny the rights to which these citizens are fairly entitled--and this can result only in a decreased respect for the law and increased violations of the law.
In the continued absence of Congressional action, too many State and local officials as well as businessmen will remain unwilling to accord these rights to all citizens. Some local courts and local merchants may well claim to be uncertain of the law, while those merchants who do recognize the justice of the Negro's request (and I believe these constitute the great majority of merchants, North and South) will be fearful of being the first to move, in the face of official, customer, employee or competitive pressures. Negroes, consequently, can be expected to continue increasingly to seek the vindication of these rights through organized direct action, with all its potentially explosive consequences, such as we have seen in Birmingham, in Philadelphia, in Jackson, in Boston, in Cambridge, Maryland, and in many other parts of the country.
In short, the result of continued Federal legislative inaction will be continued, if not increased, racial strife--causing the leadership on both sides to pass from the hands of reasonable and responsible men to the purveyors of hate and violence, endangering domestic tranquility, retarding our Nation's economic and social progress and weakening the respect with which the rest of the world regards us. No American, I feel sure, would prefer this course of tension, disorder and division--and the great majority of our citizens simply cannot accept it.
For these reasons, I am proposing that the Congress stay in session this year until it has enacted--preferably as a single omnibus bill--the most responsible, reasonable and urgently needed solutions to this problem, solutions which should be acceptable to all fair-minded men. This bill would be known as the "Civil Rights Act of 1963", and would include--in addition to the aforementioned provisions on voting rights and the Civil Rights Commission--additional titles on public accommodations, employment, federally assisted programs, a Community Relations Service, and education, with the latter including my .previous recommendation on this subject. In addition, I am requesting certain legislative and budget amendments designed to improve the training, skills and economic opportunities of the economically distressed and discontented, white and Negro alike. Certain executive actions are also reviewed here; but legislative action is imperative.
I. EQUAL ACCOMMODATIONS IN PUBLIC FACILITIES
Events of recent weeks have again underlined how deeply our Negro citizens resent the injustice of being arbitrarily denied equal access to those facilities and accommodations which are otherwise open to the general public. That is a daily insult which has no place in a country proud of its heritage--the heritage of the melting-pot, of equal fights, of one Nation and one people. No one has been barred on account of his race from fighting or dying for America-there are no "white" or "colored" signs on the foxholes or graveyards of battle. Surely, in 1963, 100 years after Emancipation, it should not be necessary for any American citizen to demonstrate in the streets for the opportunity to stop at a hotel, or to eat at a lunch counter in the very department store in which he is shopping, or to enter a motion picture house, on the same terms as any other customer. As I stated in my message to the Congress of February 28, "no action is more contrary to the spirit of our democracy and Constitution--or more rightfully resented by a Negro citizen who seeks only equal treatment-than the barring of that citizen from restaurants, hotels, theaters, recreational areas and other public accommodations and facilities."
The United States Government has taken action through the courts and by other means to protect those who are peacefully demonstrating to obtain access to these public facilities; and it has taken action to bring an end to discrimination in rail, bus and airline terminals, to open up restaurants and other public facilities in all buildings leased as well as owned by the Federal Government, and to assure full equality of access to all federally owned parks, forests and other recreational areas. When uncontrolled mob action directly threatened the nondiscriminatory use of transportation facilities in May 1961, Federal marshals were employed to restore order and prevent potentially widespread personal and property damage. Growing nationwide concern with this problem, however, makes it clear that further Federal action is needed now to secure the right of all citizens to the full enjoyment of all facilities which are open to the general public.
Such legislation is clearly consistent with the Constitution and with our concepts of both human rights and property rights. The argument that such measures constitute an unconstitutional interference with property rights has consistently been rejected by the courts in upholding laws on zoning, collective bargaining, minimum wages, smoke control and countless other measures designed to make certain that the use of private property is consistent with the public interest. While the legal situations are not parallel, it is interesting to note that Abraham Lincoln, in issuing the Emancipation Proclamation 100 years ago, was also accused of violating the property rights of slave-owners. Indeed, there is an age-old saying that "property has its duties as well as its rights"; and no property owner who holds those premises for the purpose of serving at a profit the American public at large can claim any inherent right to exclude a part of that public on grounds of race or color. Just as the law requires common carriers to serve equally all who wish their services, so it can require public accommodations to accommodate equally all segments of the general public. Both human rights and property rights are foundations of our society--and both will flourish as the result of this measure.
In a society which is increasingly mobile and in an economy which is increasingly interdependent, business establishments which serve the public--such as hotels, restaurants, theaters, stores and others--serve not only the members of their immediate communities but travelers from other States and visitors from abroad. Their goods come from all over the Nation. This participation in the flow of interstate commerce has given these business establishments both increased prosperity and an increased responsibility to provide equal access and service to all citizens.
Some 30 States,1 the District of Columbia and numerous cities--covering some 2/3 of this country and well over 2/3 of its people-have already enacted laws of varying effectiveness against discrimination in places of public accommodation, many of them in response to the recommendation of President Truman's Committee on Civil Rights in 1947. But while their efforts indicate that legislation in this area is not extraordinary, the failure of more States to take effective action makes it clear that Federal legislation is necessary. The State and local approach has been tried. The voluntary approach has been tried. But these approaches are insufficient to prevent the free flow of commerce from being arbitrarily and inefficiently restrained and distorted by discrimination in such establishments.
1 Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin, Wyoming.
Cities with public accommodations ordinances which are outside the above States include Washington, D.C., Wilmington, Del., Louisville, Ky., El Paso, Tex., Kansas City, Mo., and St. Louis, Mo.
Clearly the Federal Government has both the power and the obligation to eliminate these discriminatory practices: first, because they adversely affect the national economy and the flow of interstate commerce; and secondly, because Congress has been specifically empowered under the Fourteenth Amendment to enact legislation making certain that no State law permits or sanctions the unequal protection or treatment of any of its citizens.
There have been increasing public demonstrations of resentment directed against this kind of discrimination--demonstrations which too often breed tension and violence. Only the Federal Government, it is clear, can make these demonstrations unnecessary by providing peaceful remedies for the grievances which set them off.
For these reasons, I am today proposing, as part of the Civil Rights Act of 1963, a provision to guarantee all citizens equal access to the services and facilities of hotels, restaurants, places of amusement and retail establishments.
This seems to me to be an elementary right. Its denial is an arbitrary indignity that no American in 1963 should have to endure. The proposal would give the person aggrieved the right to obtain a court order against the offending establishment or persons. Upon receiving a complaint in a case sufficiently important to warrant his conclusion that a suit would materially further the purposes of the act, the Attorney General--if he finds that the aggrieved party is unable to undertake or otherwise arrange for a suit on his own (for lack of financial means or effective representation, or for fear of economic or other injury)--will first refer the case for voluntary settlement to the Community Relations Service described below, give the establishment involved time to correct its practices, permit State and local equal access laws (if any) to operate first, and then, and only then, initiate a suit for compliance. In short, to the extent that these unconscionable practices can be corrected by the individual owners, localities and States (and recent experience demonstrates how effectively and uneventfully this can be done), the Federal Government has no desire to intervene.
But an explosive national problem cannot await city-by-city solutions; and those who loudly abhor Federal action only invite it if they neglect or evade their own obligations.
This provision will open doors in every part of the country which never should have been closed. Its enactment will hasten the end to practices which have no place in a free and united Nation, and thus help move this potentially dangerous problem from the streets to the courts.
II. DESEGREGATION OF SCHOOLS
In my message of February 28, while commending the progress already made in achieving desegregation of education at all levels as required by the Constitution, I was compelled to point out the slowness of progress toward primary and secondary school desegregation. The Supreme Court has recently voiced the same opinion. Many Negro children entering segregated grade schools at the time of the Supreme Court decision in 1954 will enter segregated high schools this year, having suffered a loss which can never be regained. Indeed, discrimination in education is one basic cause of the other inequities and hardships inflicted upon our Negro citizens. The lack of equal educational opportunity deprives the individual of equal economic opportunity, restricts his contribution as a citizen and community leader, encourages him to drop out of school and imposes a heavy burden on the effort to eliminate discriminatory practices and prejudices from our national life.
The Federal courts, pursuant to the 1954 decision of the United States Supreme Court and earlier decisions on institutions of higher learning, have shown both competence and courage in directing the desegregation of schools on the local level. It is appropriate to keep this responsibility largely within the judicial arena. But it is unfair and unrealistic to expect that the burden of initiating such cases can be wholly borne by 'private litigants. Too often those entitled to bring suit on behalf of their children lack the economic means for instituting and maintaining such cases or the ability to withstand the personal, physical and economic harassment which sometimes descends upon those who do institute them. The same is true of students wishing to attend the college of their choice but unable to assume the burden of litigation.
These difficulties are among the principal reasons for the delay in carrying out the 1954 decision; and this delay cannot be justified to those who have been hurt as a result. Rights such as these, as the Supreme Court recently said, are "present rights. They are not merely hopes to some future enjoyment of some formalistic constitutional promise. The basic guarantees of our Constitution are warrants for the here and now ..."
In order to achieve a more orderly and consistent compliance with the Supreme Court's school and college desegregation decisions, therefore, I recommend that the Congress assert its specific Constitutional authority to implement the 14th Amendment by including in the Civil Rights Act of 1963 a new title providing the following:
(A) Authority would be given the Attorney General to initiate in the Federal District Courts appropriate legal proceedings against local public school boards or public institutions of higher learning--or to intervene in existing cases--whenever
(1) he has received a written complaint from students or from the parents of students who are being denied equal protection of the laws by a segregated public school or college; and
(2) he certifies that such persons are unable to undertake or otherwise arrange for the initiation and maintenance of such legal proceedings for lack of financial means or effective legal representation or for fear of economic or other injury; and
(3) he determines that his initiation of or intervention in such suit will materially further the orderly progress of desegregation in public education. For this purpose, the Attorney General would establish criteria to determine the priority and relative need for Federal action in those districts from which complaints have been filed.
(B) As previously recommended, technical and financial assistance would be given to those school districts in all parts of the country which, voluntarily or as the result of litigation, are engaged in the process of meeting the educational problems flowing from desegregation or racial imbalance but which are in need of guidance, experienced help or financial assistance in order to train their personnel for this changeover, cope with new difficulties and complete the job satisfactorily (including in such assistance loans to a district where State or local funds have been withdrawn or withheld because of desegregation).
Public institutions already operating without racial discrimination, of course, will not be affected by this statute. Local action can always make Federal action unnecessary. Many school boards have peacefully and voluntarily desegregation in recent years. And while this act does not include private colleges and schools, I strongly urge them to live up to their responsibilities and to recognize no arbitrary bar of race or color-for such bars have no place in any institution, least of all one devoted to the truth and to the improvement of all mankind.
IIL FAIR AND FULL EMPLOYMENT
Unemployment falls with special cruelty on minority groups. The unemployment rate of Negro workers is more than twice as high as that of the working force as a whole. In many of our larger cities, both North and South, the number of jobless Negro youth-often 20% or more--creates an atmosphere of frustration, resentment and unrest which does not bode well for the future. Delinquency, vandalism, gang warfare, disease, slums and the high cost of public welfare and crime are all directly related to unemployment among whites and Negroes alike-and recent labor difficulties in Philadelphia may well be only the beginning if more jobs are not found in the larger Northern cities in particular.
Employment opportunities, moreover, play a major role in determining whether the rights described above are meaningful. There is little value in a Negro's obtaining the right to be admitted to hotels and restaurants if he has no cash in his pocket and no job.
Relief of Negro unemployment requires progress in three major areas:
(1) More jobs must be created through greater economic growth. The Negro--too often unskilled, too often the first to be fired and the last to be hired--is a primary victim of recessions, depressed areas and unused industrial capacity. Negro unemployment will not be noticeably diminished in this country until the total demand for labor is effectively increased and the whole economies headed toward a level of full employment. When our economy operates below capacity, Negroes are more severely affected than other groups. Conversely, return to full employment yields particular benefits to the Negro. Recent studies have shown that for every one percentage point decline in the general unemployment rate there tends to be a two percentage point reduction in Negro unemployment.
Prompt and substantial tax reduction is a key to achieving the full employment we need. The promise of the area redevelopment program--which harnesses local initiative toward the solution of deep-seated economic distress--must not be stifled for want of sufficient authorization or adequate financing. The accelerated public works program is now gaining momentum; States, cities and local communities should press ahead with the projects financed by this measure. In addition, I have instructed the Departments of Labor, Commerce, and Health, Education, and Welfare to examine how their programs for the relief of unemployment and economic hardship can be still more intensively focused on those areas of hard-core, long-term unemployment, among both white and nonwhite workers. Our concern with civil rights must not cause any diversion or dilution of our efforts for economic progress--for without such progress the Negro's hopes will remain unfulfilled.
(2) More education and training to raise the level of skills. A distressing number of unemployed Negroes are illiterate and unskilled, refugees from farm automation, unable to do simple computations or even to read a help wanted advertisement. Too many are equipped to work only in those occupations where technology and other changes have reduced the need for manpower--as farm labor or manual labor, in mining or construction. Too many have attended segregated schools that were so lacking in adequate funds and faculty as to be unable to produce qualified job applicants. And too many who have attended nonsegregated schools dropped out for lack of incentive, guidance or progress. The unemployment rate for those adults with less than 5 years of schooling is around 10%; it has consistently been double the prevailing rate for high school graduates; and studies of public welfare recipients show a shockingly high proportion of parents with less than a primary school education.
Although the proportion of Negroes without adequate education and training is far higher than the proportion of whites, none of these problems is restricted to Negroes alone. This Nation is in critical need of a massive upgrading in its education and training effort for all citizens. In an age of rapidly changing technology, that effort today is failing millions of our youth. It is especially failing Negro youth in segregated schools and crowded slums. If we are ever to lift them from the morass of social and economic degradation, it will be through the strengthening of our education and training services--by improving the quality of instruction; by enabling our schools to cope with rapidly expanding enrollments; and by increasing opportunities and incentives for all individuals to complete their education and to continue their self-development during adulthood.
I have therefore requested of the Congress and request again today the enactment of legislation to assist education at every level from grade school through graduate school.
I have also requested the enactment of several measures which provide, by various means and for various age and educational groups, expanded job training and job experience. Today, in the new and more urgent context of this Message, I wish to renew my request for these measures, to expand their prospective operation and to supplement them with additional provisions. The additional $400 million which will be required beyond that contained in the January Budget is more than offset by the various Budget reductions which I have already sent to the Congress in the last four months. Studies show, moreover, that the loss of one year's income due to unemployment is more than the total cost of 12 years of education through high school; and, when welfare and other social costs are added, it is clear that failure to take these steps will cost us far more than their enactment. There is no more profitable investment than education, and no greater waste than ill-trained youth. Specifically, I now propose:
(A) That additional funds be provided to broaden the Manpower Development and Training Program, and that the act be amended, not only to increase the authorization ceiling and to postpone the effective date of State matching requirements, but also (in keeping with the recommendations of the President's Committee on Youth Employment) to lower the age for training allowances from 19 to 16, to allocate funds for literacy training, and to permit the payment of a higher proportion of the program's training allowances to out-of-school youths, with provisions to assure that no one drops out of school to take advantage of this program;
(B) That additional funds be provided to finance the pending Youth Employment bill, which is designed to channel the energies of out-of-school, out-of-work youth into the constructive outlet offered by hometown improvement projects and conservation work;
(C) That the pending vocational education amendments, which would greatly update and expand this program of teaching job skills to those in school, be strengthened by the appropriation of additional funds, with some of the added money earmarked for those areas with a high incidence of school drop-outs and youth unemployment, and by the addition of a new program of demonstration youth training projects to be conducted in these areas;
(D) That the vocational education program be further amended to provide a work-study program for youth of high-school age, with Federal funds helping their school or other local public agency employ them part time in order to enable and encourage them to complete their training;
(E) That the ceiling be raised on the Adult basic education provisions in the pending Education program, in order to help the States teach the fundamental tools of literacy and learning to culturally deprived adults. More than 22 million Americans in all parts of the country have less than eight years of schooling; and
(F) That the public welfare work-relief and training program, which the Congress added last year, be amended to provide Federal financing of the supervision and equipment costs, and more Federal demonstration and training projects, thus encouraging State and local welfare agencies to put employable but unemployed welfare recipients to work on local projects which do not displace other workers.
To make the above recommendations effective, I call upon more States to adopt enabling legislation covering unemployed fathers under the aid-to-dependent children program, thereby gaining their services for "work-relief" jobs, and to move ahead more vigorously in implementing the Manpower Development and Training Program. I am asking the Secretaries of Labor and HEW to make use of their authority to deal directly with communities and vocational schools whenever State cooperation or progress is insufficient, particularly in those areas where youth unemployment is too high. Above all, I urge the Congress to enact all of these measures with alacrity and foresight.
For even the complete elimination of racial discrimination in employment--a goal towards which this Nation must strive (as discussed below)--will not put a single unemployed Negro to work unless he has the skills required and unless more jobs have been created--and thus the passage of the legislation described above (under both sections (1) and (2)) is essential if the objectives of this message are to be met.
(3) Finally racial discrimination in employment must be eliminated. Denial of the right to work is unfair, regardless of its. victim. It is doubly unfair to throw its burden on an individual because of his race or color. Men who served side by side with each other on the field of battle should have no difficulty working side by side on an assembly line or construction project.
Therefore, to combat this evil in all parts of the country,
(A) The Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity, under the Chairmanship of the Vice President, should be given a permanent statutory basis, assuring it of adequate financing and enforcement procedures. That Committee is now stepping up its efforts to remove racial barriers in the hiring practices of Federal departments, agencies and Federal contractors, covering a total of some 20 million employees and the Nation's major employers. I have requested a company-by-company, plant-by-plant, union-by-union report to assure the implementation of this policy.
(B) I will shortly issue an Executive order extending the authority of the Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity to include the construction of buildings and other facilities undertaken wholly or in part as a result of Federal grant-in-aid programs. (C) I have directed that all Federal construction programs be reviewed to prevent any racial discrimination in hiring practices, either directly in the rejection of presently available qualified Negro workers or indirectly by the exclusion of Negro applicants for apprenticeship training.
(D) I have directed the Secretary of Labor, in the conduct of his duties under the Federal Apprenticeship Act and Executive Order No. 10925, to require that the admission of young workers to apprenticeship programs be on a completely nondiscriminatory basis.
(E) I have directed the Secretary of Labor to make certain that the job counseling and placement responsibilities of the Federal-State Employment Service are carried out on a nondiscriminatory basis, and to help assure that full and equal employment opportunity is provided all qualified Negro applicants. The selection and referral of applicants for employment and for training opportunities, and the administration of the employment offices' other services and facilities, must be carried on without regard to race or color. This will be of special importance to Negroes graduating from high school or college this month.
(F) The Department of Justice has intervened in a case now pending before the NLRB involving charges of racial discrimination on the part of certain union locals.
(G) As a part of its new policy on Federal employee organizations, this Government will recognize only those that do not discriminate on grounds of race or color.
(H) I have called upon the leaders of organized labor to end discrimination in their membership policies; and some unions, representing 85% of the AFL-CIO membership, have signed nondiscrimination agreements with the Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity. More are expected.
(I) Finally, I renew my support of pending Federal Fair Employment Practices legislation, applicable to both employers and unions. Approximately two-thirds of the Nation's labor force is already covered by Federal, State and local equal employment opportunity measures--including those employed in the 22 States and numerous cities which have enacted such laws as well as those paid directly or indirectly by Federal funds. But, as the Secretary of Labor testified in January 1962, Federal legislation is desirable, for it would help set a standard for all the Nation and close existing gaps.
This problem of unequal job opportunity must not be allowed to grow, as the result of either recession or discrimination. I enlist every employer, every labor union, and every agency of Government--whether affected directly by these measures or not--in the task of seeing to it that no false lines are drawn in assuring equality of the right and opportunity to make a decent living.
IV, COMMUNITY RELATIONS SERVICE
I have repeatedly stressed the fact that progress in race relations, while it cannot be delayed, can be more solidly and more peacefully accomplished to the extent that legislation can be buttressed by voluntary action. I have urged each member of the United States Conference of Mayors to establish biracial human relations committees in every city; and I hope all communities will establish such a group, preferably through official action. Such a board or committee can provide invaluable services by identifying community tensions before they reach the crisis stage, by improving cooperation and communication between the races, and by advising local officials, merchants and organizations on the steps which can be taken to insure prompt progress.
A similar agency is needed on the Federal level--to work with these local committees, providing them with advice and assistance-to work in those communities which lack a local committee-- generally to help ease tensions and suspicions, to help resolve interracial disputes and to work quietly to improve relations in any community threatened or torn with strife. Such an effort is in no way a substitute for effective legislative guarantees of human rights. But conciliation and cooperation can facilitate the achievement of those rights, enabling legislation to operate more smoothly and more effectively.
The Department of Justice and its Civil Rights Division have already performed yeoman service of this nature, in Birmingham, in Jackson, and throughout the country. But the problem has grown beyond the time and energies which a few otherwise burdened officials can make available--and, in some areas, the confidence of all will be greater in an intermediary whose duties are completely separated from departmental functions of investigation or litigation.
It is my intention, therefore, to establish by Executive order (until such time as it can be created by statute) an independent Community Relations Service--to fulfill the functions described above, working through regional, State and local committees to the extent possible, and offering its services in tension-torn communities either upon its own motion or upon the request of a local official or other party. Authority for such a service is included in the proposed omnibus bill. It will work without publicity and hold all information imparted to its officers in strict confidence. Its own resources can be preserved by its encouraging and assisting the creation of State and local committees, either on a continuing basis or in emergency situations.
Without powers of enforcement or subpoena, such a service is no substitute for other measures; and it cannot guarantee success. But dialogue and discussion are always better than violence--and this agency, by enabling all concerned to sit down and reason together, can play a major role in achieving peaceful progress in civil rights.
V. FEDERAL PROGRAMS
Simple justice requires that public funds, to which all taxpayers of all races contribute, not be spent in any fashion which encourages, entrenches, subsidizes or results in racial discrimination. Direct discrimination by Federal, State or local governments is prohibited by the Constitution. But indirect discrimination, through the use of Federal funds, is just as invidious; and it should not be necessary to resort to the courts to prevent each individual violation. Congress and the Executive have their responsibilities to uphold the Constitution also; and, in the 1960's, the Executive branch has sought to fulfill its responsibilities by banning discrimination in federally financed housing, in NDEA and NSF institutes, in federally affected employment, in the Army and Air Force Reserve, in the training of civilian defense workers and in all federally owned and leased facilities.
Many statutes providing Federal financial assistance, however, define with such precision both the administrator's role and the conditions upon which specified amounts shall be given to designated recipients that the amount of administrative discretion remaining-which might be used to withhold funds if discrimination were not ended--is at best questionable. No administrator has the unlimited authority to invoke the Constitution in opposition to the mandate of the Congress. Nor would it always be helpful to require unconditionally--as is often proposed--the withdrawal of all Federal funds from programs urgently needed by Negroes as well as whites; for this may only penalize those who least deserve it without ending discrimination.
Instead of permitting this issue to become a political device often exploited by those opposed to social or economic progress, it would be better at this time to pass a single comprehensive provision making it clear that the Federal Government is not required, under any statute, to furnish any kind of financial assistance--by way of grant, loan, contract, guaranty, insurance or otherwise-to any program or activity in which racial discrimination occurs. This would not permit the Federal Government to cut off all Federal aid of all kinds as a means of punishing an area for the discrimination occurring therein--but it would clarify the authority of any administrator with respect to Federal funds or financial assistance and discriminatory practices.
Many problems remain that cannot be ignored. The enactment of the legislation I have recommended will not solve all our problems of race relations. This bill must be supplemented by action in every branch of government at the Federal, State and local level. It must be supplemented as well by enlightened private citizens, private businesses and private labor and civic organizations, by responsible educators and editors, and certainly by religious leaders who recognize the conflict between racial bigotry and the Holy Word.
This is not a sectional problem--it is nationwide. It is not a partisan problem. The proposals set forth above are based on a careful consideration of the views of leaders of both parties in both Houses of Congress. In 1957 and 1960, members of both parties rallied behind the Civil Rights measures of my predecessor; and I am certain that this tradition can be continued, as it has in the case of world crises. A national domestic crisis also calls for bipartisan unity and solutions.
We will not solve these problems by blaming any group or section for the legacy which has been handed down by past generations. But neither will these problems be solved by clinging to the patterns of the past. Nor, finally, can they be solved in the streets, by lawless acts on either side, or by the physical actions or presence of any private group or public official, however appealing such melodramatic devices may seem to some.
During the weeks past, street demonstrations, mass picketing and parades have brought these matters to the Nation's attention in dramatic fashion in many cities throughout the United States. This has happened because these racial injustices are real and no other remedy was in sight. But, as feelings have risen in recent days, these demonstrations have increasingly endangered lives and property, inflamed emotions and unnecessarily divided communities. They are not the way in which this country should rid itself of racial discrimination. Violence is never justified; and, while peaceful communication, deliberation and petitions of protest continue, I want to caution against demonstrations which can lead to violence.
This problem is now before the Congress. Unruly tactics or pressures will not help and may hinder the effective consideration of these measures. If they are enacted, there will be legal remedies available; and, therefore, while the Congress is completing its work, I urge all community leaders, Negro and white, to do their utmost to lessen tensions and to exercise self-restraint. The Congress should have an opportunity to freely work its will. Meanwhile, I strongly support action by local public officials and merchants to remedy these grievances on their own.
The legal remedies I have proposed are the embodiment of this Nation's basic posture of common sense and common justice. They involve every American's right to vote, to go to school, to get a job and to be served in a public place without arbitrary discrimination--rights which most Americans take for granted.
In short, enactment of "The Civil Rights Act of 1963" at this session of the Congress-however long it may take and however troublesome it may be--is imperative. It will go far toward providing reasonable men with the reasonable means of meeting these problems; and it will thus help end the kind of racial strife which this Nation can hardly afford. Rancor, violence, disunity and national shame can only hamper our national standing and security. To paraphrase the words of Lincoln: "In giving freedom to the Negro, we assure freedom to the free-honorable alike in what we give and what we preserve."
I therefore ask every member of Congress to set aside sectional and political ties, and to look at this issue from the viewpoint of the Nation. I ask you to look into your hearts--not in search of charity, for the Negro neither wants nor needs condescension-but for the one plain, proud and priceless quality that unites us all as Americans: a sense of justice. In this year of the Emancipation Centennial, justice requires us to insure the blessings of liberty for all Americans and their posterity--not merely for reasons of economic efficiency, world diplomacy and domestic tranquility--but, above all, because it is right.
JOHN F. KENNEDY
|Citation: John F. Kennedy: "Special Message to the Congress on Civil Rights and Job Opportunities.", June 19, 1963. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=9283.|
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