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Congressional Black Caucus Remarks at a White House Reception for Members of the Caucus.

September 25, 1980

THE PRESIDENT. First of all, let me say that it's very good for me to get such a good welcome in my own house. [Laughter]

We have some very distinguished guests with us this afternoon, whom I'll recognize in a few minutes, but first I'd like to say that this afternoon the League of Women Voters invited me and Governor Reagan to participate in a one-on-one debate, to be followed later by a multi-candidate debate. I have already accepted the invitation and look forward to a good debate on the issues that are important to you and important to our country, and I hope that Governor Reagan will do the same and accept the debate request. If he does accept we'll have an opportunity to meet one on one with the nominees of the Democratic and Republican Parties, and that's essential. It's what I've wanted from the very beginning. And I hope that this acceptance by Governor Reagan will be prompt, that we can go ahead and schedule the debate and have the debate about the debates ended, at least for this election year. [Laughter]

I might say, too, that it's always a pleasure to be with the Congressional Black Caucus. This is the first time we've had this kind of invitation extended to you. It's because I have such a special friend who's the chairman. I invited Cardiss Collins to come over, and she said she'd like to bring a few friends with her. [Laughter] So, I'd like to welcome Cardiss Collins and about 2,000 of her close friends. [Laughter]

As you may or may not know, yesterday was Cardiss Collins' birthday. And, Cardiss, I'd like to give you a rose now, since my wife's not here.

MS. COLLINS. Oh, thank you, Mr. President. Thank you. Thank you very much.

THE PRESIDENT. I'm sorry we couldn't get together yesterday. We could have hired the RFK Stadium and gotten all of Cardiss' friends in there together. [Laughter]

Any time a President or any other leader gets together with the Congressional Black Caucus, it's a special occasion. And although there's no way for a President and the members of this caucus to agree on every detail of method and timing, we do share a common commitment to freedom and to justice and to opportunity for all Americans and also for people throughout the world. Because of deep conviction, compromise is not always possible. But the members of this caucus and those of you who depend upon it and upon its members to represent your interests—there has never been any hesitation to share your concerns with me. Cardiss Collins, as the chairman, has been a strong and persistent and an effective voice in keeping your goals constantly before the Nation.

We are especially privileged to have two outstanding leaders of the new Africa with us: President Siaka Stevens of Sierra Leone—we are very pleased to have you, President Stevens; and also President Habyarimana of Rwanda is here—we are very proud to have you, sir—with his beautiful wife. He's been a very strong promoter of the cause of human rights in Central Africa. And as you all know, President Stevens is also the Chairman of the Organization of African Unity, representing 50 nations in that great continent, having an important voice in mending regional and bilateral disputes, trying to carve out the ideals and hopes of the people of Africa, and playing a very significant role in the affairs not only of his continent but indeed of the entire world. President Stevens has just made a very important address in the United Nations General Assembly and President Habyarimana will be speaking to the United Nations General Assembly tomorrow.

With the help of Secretaries of State Vance and Muskie and of our own Ambassadors, Andy Young and Donald McHenry, at the United Nations, my own administration, aided and supported by the Congressional Black Caucus, has carved out a new American foreign policy, which we consider to be of great interest to the people of Africa and indeed of the entire developing world.

With the needs and the rights of people of all nations in mind, one of my earliest goals as President, supported by many of you and spoken to the world by Andy Young and Secretary Vance, was to have a peaceful and a just settlement in Zimbabwe. And as you know, just a few weeks ago the new Prime Minister of that great country, a new democracy, was here in this same room to celebrate in an emotional way the birth of additional freedom and human rights and equality and the end of racial discrimination in that country. We are very proud of that development.

America's influence is never stronger than when we are meticulously true to our own highest principles. There is no way that a country even as strong as ours can force peace on the rest of the world. But we can be a powerful force for peace when we act to help other nations whose people are committed to resolve their differences in a just and fair manner without war or combat. This is our aim in the Middle East, and this is also our aim in Africa.

The United States supports the political, economic, and social justice in southern Africa through peaceful efforts by the people of southern Africa themselves. We are particularly eager to work with these two great leaders here, with the Congressional Black Caucus, with our State Department, and with our representatives at the United Nations to bring about democracy and freedom for the people of Namibia and to eliminate apartheid throughout the southern part of Africa in the early future, not in the distant future.

And of course, I've recognized these two national leaders and the members of the Congressional Black Caucus, but I also want to acknowledge the leadership that's played by many of you here who will be attending, this weekend, meetings with the Congressional Black Caucus. This is a social occasion, but I do want to take this chance, as President, to ask you to help with two very crucial decisions now in prospect in the Congress of the United States, two projects on which the Congressional Black Caucus and I have been embarked for many years, and lately in a concentrated fashion.

One is to implement a bill that was passed in 1968 to guarantee Americans equality in seeking adequate housing. We must have enforcement powers for the Fair Housing Act. This is the most significant civil rights legislation of the last 10 years, and I ask you to help us all get it passed through the United States Senate before this Congress adjourns for the year. It's crucial. We must have it.

And the other request I have to you is to remember that although we've made great strides forward in making available to Americans 8 1/2 million more new jobs, 1.3 million of those jobs being for black people, we still have an extremely high unemployment rate among young minority citizens of this country. We must provide additional help for them, because as the economic recovery takes place, many people can go back to the jobs they had, but too many young black Americans have never had a job to which they can return. And a $2 billion program on our youth bill now before the Senate must pass. That's the other item on the agenda that I want to discuss with you, and I ask you to join with me as a full partner in getting this legislation passed.

And finally, let me say that it's an honor for me to be with you. Our country's ideals and hopes, our country's concerns and fears are always present in the minds of people who are most deprived, who've suffered from years of discrimination, who've not yet realized the hopes and dreams that you and I have realized who are in this room.

Progress is still there to be made. It can only be made with commitment, with tenacity, with cooperation, and with courage. In years gone by, in the fifties and sixties, many of you in this room exhibited extraordinary courage in freedom marches and in insisting that the discriminatory laws of our Nation should be removed. That was a great achievement, but it is not enough. We must continue to reach the Promised Land and the land of great promise. In better health care, more equitable taxes, the control of inflation, the provision of jobs, better housing, better transportation to and from work, the care for the aged, better education—these kinds of programs are still being challenged as we try to make progress toward a better future.

With your help and your commitment and the courage that I've already described and with close cooperation, we can make these dreams come true. Some of us have realized these dreams already in our own lives, but there are millions of Americans looking to you for leadership. And with the partnership between you, the Congressional Black Caucus, and with me as President, there's no doubt in my mind that in the future we can make those dreams come true.

Coretta Scott King, come on up. Miss Black America, Miss Wright, come on up. These are two of my sweethearts. I want you to see them.

It's a pleasure for me to be with you. My wife won't be back until about 9 o'clock tonight, but she said to give you her best regards. And you can look on the stage and see why I was not concerned to know that she would be gone. [Laughter]

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 6: 07 p.m. in the East Room at the White House.

Jimmy Carter, Congressional Black Caucus Remarks at a White House Reception for Members of the Caucus. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/251715

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