Jimmy Carter photo

Interview With the President Remarks in an Interview for "Black Perspective on the News."

April 05, 1978

REGINALD BRYANT. Mr. President, I would like to thank you for joining us on Black Perspective. I would like to introduce to you the gentlemen who will be joining me in asking the questions.

First, from Philadelphia, the associate editor and the columnist for the Philadelphia Evening Sunday Bulletin, Mr. Claude Lewis. And a gentleman who was indeed with us the last time we spoke, from the Chicago Tribune, their columnist, Mr. Vernon Jarrett.

I should like to say, too, that we are a living example of perhaps a campaign promise that you were able to keep. Since the last time we spoke, the proposition was that if you became President, you would make an attempt to be with us. Here you are, and here we are.


I should like to start the questioning, Mr. President, by asking you with regard to the African, South American tour that you just took, what impact you really think that your visit will have had. There has been some speculation that one of the reasons, for example, for going to Nigeria was because of the importance they represent with regard to oil imports in this country and with regard to the relationships of African problems of human rights and our own. What sense do you have of that?

THE PRESIDENT. Let me say, first of all, that I'm glad to be on the program again. This is my third opportunity to appear on the Black Perspective and News. I understand I'm the first President who's been interviewed by a black panel. And I think it's very appropriate that, in a rapidly changing world, with an increasing interest on the part of our own country in the predominantly black nations of Africa, that this be possible, in addition to the domestic considerations that also make it a very important opportunity for me.

I went to Nigeria not because of the oil situation at all. I think you know that Nigeria is by far the largest nation in Africa in population, with between 85 and 100 million people. Also, it's an increasing important nation as far as its influence on political affairs, economic affairs in the western coast, and in fact throughout Africa.

Two or three years ago we had practically no relationship with the black African nations, in fact had a very unfavorable relationship with Nigeria. I think that when Secretary Kissinger, under the previous administration, wanted to visit Nigeria, they refused to let him come into the country for a visit.

The reception this time was superb. There was a genuine demonstration of friendship, welcome, a sense of partnership between Nigeria and the United States, a recognition that our country now is not only deeply involved in the African Continent in a beneficial way but that we have espoused policies that found approval in Nigeria and among the frontline presidents, and that our approach to the possible resolution of the differences in Zimbabwe and Namibia are quite acceptable to those who live in the southern part of Africa who happen to be black.

So, I think the economics, politics of my visit were beneficial to our country.

As I pointed out during the visit, by the end of this century, 80 percent of all the people who live on Earth will live in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. That's less than 20 years. And we want to be sure that our friendships are solid, that the policies that I put forward representing the American people are good ones, that they are based on close consultation and advice from the African people, and that we espouse policies that accurately reflect the principles on which our Nation was founded.

I think this includes, obviously, peace in Africa. It involves genuine friendship and an equality of treatment, not as a dominant nation looking down on other countries—we need their help as much as they need ours—a hope that human rights in all its aspects, not only freedom from government domination and participation in government on their part but also an alleviation of hunger and an absence of education and job opportunities—food, clothing, health care might be alleviated. All these are good things.


MR. BRYANT. Mr. President, we're going to come back to human rights too, but let Mr. Lewis—

MR. LEWIS. I wanted to bring you a little closer to home. Every President in our history, I think, has suggested programs that should work to save the cities in this country Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford.


MR. LEWIS. You are proposing $8.3 billion for the cities. Why do you think your programs will work, and how are you going to get over the idea to the black community that you're really sincere? I think there's a lot of suspicion on the part of black people throughout this country about Presidential politics.

THE PRESIDENT. I can't say that we have a magic answer to the problems of urban America or poor America or black American citizens. I think there have been two or three differences. One is that this whole program was developed in close harmony with strong constituency groups, black leaders, mayors of the major cities—Maynard Jackson, Dick Hatcher, Ken Gibson, mayors like Coleman Young. Also we've worked very closely with the mayor of Los Angeles, who just happened to be black; but also the white ones, as well. So, it's a program that is built up from the bottom, not just handed down from Washington, based on practical experience.

Secondly, it's a program that brought together all the departments of Government for the first time. We not only put forward some ideas on the increased spending, better programs, and so forth, but we reassessed and changed to some degree 150 different Federal programs that have been, in the past, designed to help the cities, but haven't been effective as they ought to have been.

We have built on direct programs that would help people in the cities who are poor. We have cut down the unemployment rate, as you know, about 1 1/2 or almost 2 percent this past year. But we've also tried to triple purchasing from minority-owned businesses.

We've put into the laws that were passed last year—the Congress did—a mandatory requirement that 10 percent of the contracts be allotted to minority-owned businesses. We've exceeded those goals.

We've tried to increase, and have succeeded again, in increasing the deposit of Federal funds in black-owned banks up to more than $100 million now. And we've exceeded our goal again.

We plan on setting up an urban bank which would give loans in special areas. We've advocated to the Congress under this program that tax incentives for employing difficult people to hire be rewarded and also prescribe investment credits on taxation for people who invest in the rundown urban centers.

So, I think the cohesion of the whole program, the fact that it was built from the ground up, that it modifies existing programs, it puts a lot of money in, and is targeted, are all new factors.

MR. LEWIS. Is there a mechanism to see that all these things are carried out? Many Presidents have made proposals, but they never reached the people that they were designed to help. Now that's the problem, and therein lies the suspicion, I think.

THE PRESIDENT. I know. Well, this program was put together not only with the mayors and Governors and the private sector leaders but with every Cabinet member who works with me. I was personally involved and approved every single program myself. And within the White House, Jack Watson, who coordinates among the Cabinet members on an everyday basis—and his responsibility is to work directly with the mayors and Governors of the Nation—will help to provide a White House influence now and in the future.

I've also called on the leading officials, both in the private and public sectors at all levels of government, to participate consistently and continuously in assessing how well the programs are administered.

So, I think these built-in factors in the program will help to ensure that if a program doesn't work, we'll know it doesn't and why; if a program does work, it's a kind of opportunity for improvement or enlargement that we can have in the future.


MR. JARRETT. Mr. President, may we address ourselves to the political arena for a moment? I was at the Urban League convention, when your friend Vernon Jordan attacked your administration, and I was also at the Congressional Black Caucus annual weekend, when you were also under sharp criticism. And I noticed that after each one of those attacks on you, you did come before black audiences, and some people said you scored a success. I want to ask you this: To just hazard a guess, do you believe that you have lost much of the black support, that 94 percent of the black voter turnout that won you the election? Do you think you've lost any of that yourself, despite what the leaders may say?

THE PRESIDENT. I might say that the leaders to whom you referred, I think at this point, are very supportive of me and my administration, what it has done, and the programs we've put forward.

I look upon the Urban League, the NAACP, the black mayors and other public officials, the Congressional Black Caucus, as forums from which their leadership can and should criticize my administration and other leaders in our country when we don't deal adequately with the needs of black and other minority people in this country. I don't find any fault with that. I think they have a responsibility and a duty to point out deficiencies in my programs. And I'd listen very carefully.

There's never a public statement made by any one of those leaders that I described, and others, that doesn't get instant attention in the White House.

MR. JARRETT. Many have spoken about disappointments, the fact that maybe in 13 States the black vote did make the difference. Do you feel that if an election were held today, that you could still capture that 94 percent of the black vote?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, let me say two things: First, I don't take anything for granted, and I wouldn't take the black vote for granted. That would be the worst mistake I could make. Secondly, I've done my best to earn the continuing support of black people, and I don't think that in the examination of what we have done we are subject to legitimate criticism. We're trying to do even better. So my answer to you would be yes, but I don't take it for granted.

MR. BRYANT. Mr. President, it would seem that there may be an easy test for the extent to which black support still accrues to you, because there are a number of congressional races that will be coming up, and certainly the South and the blacks therein will have some role in the election or the failure to be elected on a number of people.

It has been suggested that—and even in the context of my colleague's question-that while there may be money going into programs, there is not the recognition of the very disparate relationship that black people have to the economy.

For example, it's been said by some that inflation is the major problem in the country. And I would suggest here, without too much fear of being corrected, that black people don't think that; that it's unemployment and that it's the ability to be a part of the economic system, that there is, if you will, an economic apartheid; that, coupled with some loss of favor, some disillusionment among black people may possibly be evidenced. Are you taking a look at these congressional races, and do you think that is a barometer of where you stand, perhaps, with black America?

THE PRESIDENT. I think to a substantial degree the outcome of the congressional elections this year will be a measure of my administration's approval among the voters, yes.

We've made good progress in unemployment. We've more than reached our goal in 1977 for reducing unemployment, even though nobody thought we would. And even in 1978 in the first couple of months the unemployment rate has continued to go down. It's just a little above 6 percent now.

MR. BRYANT. Excuse me. That is with regard to nonblack unemployment, which was higher to begin with. So a reduction of 1 percent is—puts it at 11.

THE PRESIDENT. I understand that. The unemployment rate among blacks has also dropped about 1 1/2 percent, but it started out so high that it hadn't felt as good a percentage benefit as the whites.

I might say this: Our public service job program, which has been increased 150 percent, is heavily oriented to the more disadvantaged person. And in our CETA programs now we're getting much more toward the employment of minority citizens, who were ignored in the past.

Also, I think it's obvious that when you reduce the unemployment rate overall in the country, then the special government programs that are designed to help the private sector can be focused more and more specifically on those who are the first to be fired and the last to be hired in the private sector, which is quite often the minority citizens.

So, I think although we have made some progress so far, we have still got a long way to go. And with the lower unemployment rate now, we can focus our attention much more on the black citizens, particularly young black citizens who are heavily affected adversely.

MR. BRYANT. Does your administration acknowledge an unfavorable distribution of the wealth in this country?



MR. LEWIS. Mr. President, even if all of your judgments have been right up to now, how can a President be effective when he lives around and among so much alienation, such as the blacks, the farmers, the Jews, the intellectuals, labor? I mean, all of these groups seem to be unhappy with President Carter's policies. How can you be effective if you lose this kind of broad-based support?

THE PRESIDENT. I think this has probably been the case with all previous Presidents. At least in my lifetime it has. I just finished reading a new biography of President Truman, you know, written by Robert Donovan. And compared to Truman's problems, my administration has been a gravy train so far. [Laughter] He really had tough problems and severe criticisms. His popularity dropped down to less than 23 percent.

Well, you know, I think any President is a focal point for criticism, and legitimately so. I'm the leader of the Nation. I don't try to put the responsibilities off on someone else.

I think another thing that cuts both ways is that when I came into office, a lot was expected of me. You know, had Nixon or Ford done as much as we have done already, it would have been a tremendous beneficial and appreciative reaction to it. But since people expected so much from a new Democratic President after 8 years, that when we have done good things, legitimately, people expect even more. And I think that this is part of being President. I don't deplore it.

I don't want to rest on my laurels. I don't want to spend my time the next 3 years of my administration bragging about what we have done. I want to spend the next 3 years saying, "How can we do better?" and listen very carefully to somebody that criticizes me and say, "Are they right? Is this program working or not?" I think that's a better attitude to have. I don't feel badly about that.


MR. LEWIS. I think there's a growing feeling among certain segments of whites across this country that blacks are getting too much. I wonder, do you feel that there's discrimination against white people and how

THE PRESIDENT. No, I do not. I think the position that we took in the Bakke case, I think the position that we've taken in orienting Federal procurement programs, contracts for public works, public service job programs, the reorganization that's coming forward in the equal employment opportunity area in Government, is going to be of great benefit to blacks and other minority groups in the future. And I don't think that we've done too much at all.

When you look at the statistics, although we have made progress, as I pointed out before, we still have a very embarrassing disparity in income, job opportunities, unemployment rates, focused with its adverse effects among the minority citizens.

MR. LEWIS. Mr. President, just a followup: Mayor Rizzo of Philadelphia has threatened to launch a white effort, an ethnic effort, bringing white people together because black people are getting too much. What do you think the effect of that is going to be on America?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't think there will be any effect on America.

MR. LEWIS. You don't think that will—

THE PRESIDENT. No, I don't think so. Most Americans, particularly myself as a southerner, can still see the very difficult circumstances under which minority families live on the average—there are obvious exceptions both ways—because of past legal discrimination, plus the illegal discrimination that still exists in some areas. That's why, under civil service reform, under equal employment opportunity program reform, we're trying to root out those last vestiges of discrimination in government and set a pattern for the private sector.

This morning I had a meeting with a man who will head up the National Alliance of Businesses to provide jobs for particularly disadvantaged people in the private sector, completely removed from government, in addition to what we are doing in government.

I think we have a long way to go to repair the damage that has been done in the past by discrimination.


MR. JARRETT. Mr. President, there's not a single black leader in this country, however low on the totempole that he or she may be, who does not show a profound concern about the Humphrey-Hawkins bill.


MR. JARRETT. We know that you had some reservations about it even when you were campaigning for the Presidency. Are you at this moment willing to call together the leaders of the Democratic Party to launch a massive assault on unemployment through Humphrey-Hawkins? Or is this something that you've had to just almost back into through the different amendments that have come up? Is there going to be a real serious campaign from your office to get that bill passed?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. We're completely committed to Humphrey-Hawkins. And I think, as you know, that was a proposal that had been in the Congress for years. It had been sitting around having a great difficulty getting out of committee, getting on the floor for a vote, because of the absence of support in the past from the White House.

When I got in office, it had support from the White House. We worked with Senator Humphrey before his death, with Gus Hawkins in the House, my own domestic staff did. And we put together a proposal that we can support enthusiastically, which we are supporting enthusiastically, which the Democratic leadership in the House has supported enthusiastically, which can pass the Congress and which can be implemented. And I think we've removed all those aggravations that were brought about by delay and are moving expeditiously.

My prediction is the Humphrey-Hawkins bill will pass this year.


MR. BRYANT. Mr. President, it seems that some of the things that have been mentioned so far that have led to some dissatisfaction or at least disappointment with the administration thus far, to which you have responded that, of course, it's difficult. And even though you've made some strides comparably to the Republican administration, it doesn't seem like much. Is there anything that you're prepared to do that would dramatically-I hesitate to use the word "drastically," but dramatically—show where your commitment and interests are?

We are 10 years away from the Kerner Commission report, which indicated we had an America that was divided, black and white, separate and unequal. And now we literally have a third member of that group, that is, the underclass, the permanently disadvantaged, irrevocably lost in poverty and economic strife.

Is there something that your administration can do that would perhaps even entail some political risk on your part, but that would dramatically show where Jimmy Carter and the Democratic administration is with regard to black people in America?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I would really rather be measured by the actual achievements of my administration and not just on public relations stunts that might be dramatic, but not bring in any real dividends.

MR. BRYANT. I'm not suggesting a public relations stunt as much as something substantive and real that would get to the people at the bottom of this broad-based pyramid that we live in, that—

THE PRESIDENT. But when you start examining the results of our programs-better health care for young people under our CHAPS program; better housing under the newly revived Housing and Urban Development Department—Pat Harris is the head of it—a drop in the unemployment rate among minority groups, which I think is going to be accelerated in the future in a very beneficial way; Federal Government deposits in black banks, contracts to black businesses, purchases from black suppliers; these kinds of things, plus the opening up of new job opportunities with the equal employment, civil service reforms—I would rather be measured on what we actually do as proven than to try some bold initiative that might just be a public relations stunt and not result in tangible benefits for black citizens.

And that's what I'm willing to be measured on. I think that in this fall election, many of the Members of Congress will have their performance assessed by black voters. I hope they will say, "What did you do that helped my people?" And I think that's the best measuring stick for it.

MR. BRYANT. The sense of my question comes out of the polarization declaration that the mayor of Philadelphia made, which indeed will appeal to some people, and there will be dramatic things happening in terms of the relationships possibly getting worse. That's the sense of why I asked the question.

THE PRESIDENT. I understand. I think there's one other point that ought to be emphasized that we've mentioned in the first few minutes of the program, and that is what has been America's change in attitude toward black Africa. I don't think anybody can deny that there's a tremendous new interest among all American citizens, black and white, in the peaceful and prosperous life that can exist in the southern part of Africa, with an end to apartheid, the end to discrimination, majority rule in those black nations, a good friendship, a sense of equality between white leaders, like myself, and the black leaders, like those who live in Africa.

I think this is a new thrust that's not just initiated by me as a lonely public official, but which mirrors accurately what the American people have long wanted to do. I think that in itself is a very dramatic indication of our new interest in fairness and equality, not just in our own country but around the world.


MR. JARRETT. There's also a fear that this new interest on the part of the United States, with or without you being in the Presidency, could have a negative effect too, in that the United States has a tradition of supporting the more conservative, in some instances outright reactionary regimes, as long as they were pro-United States, even though they were and their own people.


MR. JARRETT. IS the United States now going to judiciously make some decisions and not necessarily go out supporting some dictator who happens to love us and proclaim his anticommunism out loud, and then we will rally to him?

THE PRESIDENT. I really feel that this question has already been answered to a substantial degree by our new relationship, say, with Jamaica, our new relationship with Nigeria, our new relationship with the people who struggle for majority rights in Namibia, in South Africa, in Zimbabwe, by the new friendship that I have with people like Nyerere and like Obasanjo. These kinds of benefits have been coming to our country already in the short period of time of 15 months. And I think that the answer is, as I said before, this is not something that I do in isolation, but I think I accurately represent the new interests of the Congress and the people of the United States in dealing with the developing nations of the world on a fait' basis.

MR. JARRETT. It doesn't bother you too much that Nyerere is a Socialist, for an example?

THE PRESIDENT. No, it doesn't bother me. I think he's a nationalist. I think he's looking for what is best for his people in Tanzania. I think he's a very strong, dynamic leader on a worldwide basis, and he's a very valuable friend of ours.


MR. LEWIS. Many people feel that the President of the United States is more concerned about human rights outside of the United States and not enough concerned about human rights at home. What is your reaction to that?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't think that's an accurate assessment. I think that our whole international emphasis on human rights would be undercut and fruitless if we didn't set an example in our country of being very insistent that human rights be protected here. And also, it's important for us to acknowledge that we still have a long way to go in giving our people genuine human rights, not just political rights but also the right to, as I said earlier, to an education, to health care, to good housing, good clothing, good place to live.

So, I think that we've got to set an example in our country. Otherwise the other nations just won't pay any attention to us.

MR. JARRETT. Have you considered making a statement in support, for an example, of the Wilmington 10, even though that's a State judicial matter?

THE PRESIDENT. The only thing that I have been willing to do is to let our Attorney General investigate the circumstances under which the trial was held.

As you know, the Wilmington 10 are now going into the Federal Courts to make an appeal. And I think it would not be appropriate for me to make a preliminary judgment from the executive branch of Government as to what the Federal judiciary ought to do. Justice, yes; interference in the specifics of the case, no.

MR. BRYANT. Gentlemen, I'm afraid that we're out of time. You've been President for a year and 4 months, and we've had 27 minutes to discuss that, which is clearly impossible. I hope that we'll perhaps have an opportunity to do this again at some reasonable time.

THE PRESIDENT. I hope so. You had some very tough and very good questions. I think we exposed a lot of the interests that I have in the report on my administration and in a very brief period of time, thanks to you.

MR. BRYANT. Thank you, Mr. President.

Note: The interview began at 2 p.m. in the Map Room at the White House. It was taped for later broadcast on the Public Broadcasting Service. Mr. Bryant is producer of "Black Perspective on the News."

The transcript of the interview was released on April 6.

Jimmy Carter, Interview With the President Remarks in an Interview for "Black Perspective on the News." Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/244942

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