Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks at a Fund-raising Dinner for Howard University

May 20, 1982

Dr. and Mrs. Cheek, Rawleigh Warner, Nancy, you ladies and gentlemen:

Nancy and I are very happy, delighted to be here with you tonight. I know the generosity and the feeling toward this school that has brought all of you here, and it wouldn't be possible to name all who have been so generous, but maybe I could say that Mr. Rawleigh Warner, I think, epitomizes the kind of spirit that is so supportive of this school. His contribution tonight was $25,000 and Rich Devoss, $20,000, and I know that there were others that, as I say, were worthy of mention, but I will just stop with those.

We've been looking forward to this evening, or this afternoon, however you want to describe it. Nancy was lucky enough to get Dr. Cheek over to the White House for lunch last fall. Then he returned the favor and had her back here for a tour of the campus and the activities of the hospital center, which, being a doctor's daughter, she's very much interested in. And, of course, Mike Deaver's been personally involved in Howard's Fund-raising drive. So, we couldn't be more pleased than to be here, lending a hand, if that's possible, to all that you're doing.

And now, Dr. Cheek, as I look around, I must say this is a pretty impressive group that you've brought in. In fact, you're all doing so well for Howard that I just have to wonder, how would you like to organize a little fund-raiser to help us whittle down a trillion-dollar debt? [Laughter]

Now, don't anybody be frightened. If I may steal a line and paraphrase it a little bit from Shakespeare, "We came here today to praise you not to bankrupt you." [Laughter] We came to praise you for joining Howard University in an important step forward.

This university has offered all Americans, and particularly our young black Americans, invaluable opportunities to develop their talents and skills, training them for service to their professions, their communities, and their nation. Howard is widely recognized as the largest and certainly one of the finest black universities in the world.

Our administration is committed to the future of Howard and to the other historically black colleges and universities throughout our land. We must never forget that when educational opportunities were denied elsewhere, these institutions offered hope to our fellow Americans—young black Americans.

James Madison said that a well-instructed people alone can be permanently a free people. Well, it wasn't until 1867, in the aftermath of a tragic and violent war and Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, that America gave birth to a new era and to Howard University. This would be a center of learning to fulfill the promise of Lincoln, serving the people who had waited so long to enjoy what was theirs by birthright.

Lincoln was a simple man but he spoke great truths. He said, "No man is good enough to govern another man without that other's consent. This expresses my idea of democracy. Whatever differs from this is no democracy.

In the years that followed, Howard has fulfilled its mission—sending its trained graduates into the world to practice professions in all walks of life. Fifteen years ago, President Lyndon Johnson came to Howard to mark the celebration of the university's 100th anniversary, and he told the students, "The task is to give 20 million blacks the same chance as every other American: to learn and grow, to work and share in society, to develop their abilities, physical, mental, and spiritual, and to pursue their individual happiness."

His was a message from the heart, and his answer was a program of political action and economic redistribution to lessen the plight of those who had not shared equally the blessings of freedom. But as the wrongs were gradually redressed and barriers broken down, more and more people began questioning whether big government could guarantee economic abundance. It's one thing to ensure everyone's right to buy a ticket on the train—and that government must do. But that ticket isn't worth much if the train then can't leave the station.

Government has an essential role to protect those in need. But it's self-defeating to keep cutting smaller and smaller slices of pie from an ever shrinking pie. It is time now for all of us together to make a bigger pie for all our citizens and everyone having a bigger slice, and that's what we're determined to do.

Howard University, under Dr. Cheek's strong leadership, not only understands this need for a new direction, it has laid out a parallel mission of its own. It's called "The New Direction Fund," and its goal is to raise $100 million in the private sector within the next 5 to 7 years. The funds will go for endowed shares and distinguished professorships, increased student aid and scholarships, research, library resources, and other capital projects not funded by the Federal Government.

Howard University seeks to excel, to be the best. There are so many potential areas for growth and development. I spoke a moment ago of Nancy's visit to the hospital center, and I can tell you she was impressed with what she saw being done there in pediatrics and other areas.

Some people see Howard fulfilling a unique role. They see this university as an ideal orientation center for citizens and leaders of Third World nations coming here to learn about democratic institutions and our enterprise system.

And let me say a word, if I could here, about my first real attention to this university. I was Governor of California. And this has to do with the traditional function of any educational institution. It was back in those riotous days when no one was bragging about only living a stone's throw from the campus— [laughter] —when the buildings were being burned down, rioting was the order of the day. And then the surveys began to come in that were taken on campuses of very distinguished, prestigious universities in our country. And the huge proportion of the students—and it must have been disturbing to everyone in that generation gap period, anyone of another generation, to read of the huge numbers of students that denied there was anything good in America, that denied there was anything worth defending in America, and who pledged that they would not, if called upon, defend this country.

And then the surveyors got to Howard University. And suddenly there was great disappointment for those who had cheered the results on other campuses, but great joy for a lot of us on the shady side of the generation gap, because on this university campus the overwhelming majority said, yes, this is a country to believe in; yes, there are opportunities that we look forward to; and, yes, if need be, we would fight and die for this country because it's ours.

Each of you, I know, shares my belief in the principles of the free market—personal initiative, competition, responsibility, reward, and stewardship. Your presence here and your generosity demonstrate how willing you are to live up to your beliefs. We can't thank you enough for that.

And let's remember that we're working as partners, the public and private sector together. Our administration, I like to think, is also doing its part. On September 15, 1981, I directed Federal agencies to increase the ability of historically black colleges and universities to participate in federally sponsored programs. We've made significant progress.

Today, I'm pleased to announce the award of 10 grants from the Urban Mass Transportation Administration for almost $800,000 to black institutions for important research projects. Two of these grants, for a total of $142,000, are being awarded to Howard University. This university also received a grant from the urban transit agency to conduct an extended seminar for 15 professors from black institutions to prepare them to undertake research projects on transportation problems.

Well, I think now I've taken enough of your time. I want to thank, again, Dr. Cheek and all of you. And let me just say I hope we can meet again and again in furtherance of this very worthy cause.

So, thank you all, thank you for being here, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 6:21 p.m. in the Blackburn Center at the university. Dr. James E. Cheek is president of the university.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks at a Fund-raising Dinner for Howard University Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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