Letters to the Secretary of Defense and to the Chairman, Committee on Equal Opportunity in the Armed Forces, in Response to the Committee's Report
[ Released June 22, 1963. Dated June 21, 1963 ]
To the Chairman, Committee on Equal Opportunity in the Armed Forces: Dear Mr. Chairman:
I appreciate the intensive and constructive effort that you and the other members of the Committee on Equal Opportunity in the Armed Forces have given to one of the Nation's most serious problems. As your initial report suggests, the Armed Forces has made significant progress in eliminating discrimination among those serving in the defense of the Nation. Your inquiry indicates, however, that much remains to be done, especially in eliminating practices that cause inconvenience and embarrassment to servicemen and their families in communities adjoining military bases.
Your recommendations should have the immediate attention of the Department of Defense and I have asked the Secretary of Defense to report to me on your recommendations within thirty days. Enclosed for your information is a copy of my letter to the Secretary.
The timeliness of your report is, of course, obvious, and I hope you will convey to the other members of the Committee my appreciation for the constructive report that has been prepared. I am confident that the Committee will bring to its remaining tasks the same high degree of effort, competence and understanding that characterizes your initial report.
JOHN F. KENNEDY
[Honorable Gerhard A. Gesell, Chairman, The President's Committee on Equal Opportunity in the Armed Forces]
To the Secretary of Defense: Dear Mr. Secretary:
Because of my concern that there be full equality of treatment and opportunity for all military personnel, regardless of race or color, I appointed a Committee to study the matter in June of 1962. An initial report of my Committee on Equal Opportunity in the Armed Forces is transmitted with this letter for your personal attention and action.
We have come a long way in the 15 years since President Truman ordered the desegregation of the Armed Forces. The military services lead almost every other segment of our society in establishing equality of opportunity for all Americans. Yet a great deal remains to be done.
As the report emphasizes, a serious morale problem is created for Negro military personnel when various forms of segregation and discrimination exist in communities neighboring military bases. Discriminatory practices are morally wrong wherever they occur--they are especially inequitable and iniquitous when they inconvenience and embarrass those serving in the Armed Services and their families. Responsible citizens of all races in these communities should work together to open up public accommodations and housing for Negro military personnel and their dependents. This effort is required by the interests of our national defense, national policy and basic considerations of human decency.
It is encouraging to note that the continuing effort over the last fifteen years to provide equality of treatment and opportunity for all military personnel on base is obviously having far-reaching and satisfactory results. The remaining problems outlined by the Committee pertaining to on-base conditions, of course, must be remedied. All policies, procedures and conditions under which men and women serve must be free of considerations of race or color.
The Committee's recommendations regarding both off-base and on-base conditions merit your prompt attention and certainly are in the spirit that I believe should characterize our approach to this matter. I would hope your review and report on the recommendations could be completed within 30 days.
I realize that I am asking the military community to take a leadership role, but I believe that this is proper. The Armed-Services will, I am confident, be equal to the task. In this area, as in so many others, the U.S. Infantry motto "Follow Me" is an appropriate guide for action.
JOHN F. KENNEDY
[Honorable Robert S. McNamara, Secretary of Defense]
Note: The Committee's report, dated June 13 and entitled "Initial Report: Equality of Treatment and Opportunity for Negro Military Personnel Stationed Within the United States" (93 pp.), was released with the President's letters.
For the President's letter to the Chairman upon appointing the Committee, see 1962 volume, this series, Item 257.
John F. Kennedy, Letters to the Secretary of Defense and to the Chairman, Committee on Equal Opportunity in the Armed Forces, in Response to the Committee's Report Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/236733