Jimmy Carter photo

Remarks at a Meeting With Southern Black Leaders in Atlanta, Georgia

September 16, 1980

THE PRESIDENT. Thank you, Andy and Mayor Jackson, Congressman Patten Mitchell, my friend, Cameron Alexander, Reverend Dr. Roberts, Coretta King, Daddy King:

REVEREND KING. Right here. [Laughter]

THE PRESIDENT. I was going to describe to you in my opening remarks how far we've come, but I think Maynard Jackson did it better than anyone that I know when he, as a black mayor, referred to a white President as a Georgia boy.

[Laughter] I think he pretty well wrapped it up, don't you? [Laughter]

And I can actually say it gave me a warm feeling to hear it.

As I was coming in the church a while ago, I was asked a question by a newsman about the importance of this meeting, and I've been thinking about it since I decided to come down here. Several mentioned this. I could not improve on the speeches that have been made so far, and I wish I could sit in on the speeches after I leave— [laughter] —because there are some things that are going to be said that I would really like to hear. But I'll depend on you all to give me a report.

If it hadn't been for Daddy King and his beloved wife, I would not be President. Had they not had their son, Martin Luther King, Jr., I would not be President. Had he not been a man of courage and vision and tenacity and faith, I would not be President. And had it not been for the people in this audience—I started to say congregation—I would not be President. You all had confidence in me in 1976, when very few people knew who I was, and there was an actual stigma attached to a southern white politician, a Georgia Governor, that you helped to remove.

I have had continual need for you. Once during the campaign I made a remark about ethnic purity, and it almost crippled me fatally. I didn't know what to do. I got a call from Andy, and I got a call from Daddy King; I got a call from many of you. And I decided to come home to Atlanta, had a rally in the downtown square. Four or five thousand people came. All I wanted to do was what happened. I got on the stage, in front of the TV cameras, and Daddy King held my hand. And the people all over the Nation saw it, and it healed the wound that I had done to myself. So, I'm aware of the importance of this meeting, and what was said at the very beginning by Jesse Hill is accurate.

This meeting this morning could very well decide the outcome of this election and, more importantly, but significantly, the future of this country. When my Presidency has not always satisfied every one of you—and I acknowledge that's a fact-my phone has been open to you and others that are not here this morning. And you have never failed to use it. I get quick telephone calls, and they're returned. But if my opponent should be elected, you're going to have a hard time getting a telephone call answered at the White House. And if my opponent is elected, I doubt that there will ever be a Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday. And there ought to be one in this country.

Daddy King is a great politician. He's a great preacher. He's a great family man. Now he's become a great author. He's just written an autobiography, and I hope you'll all buy it and read it. I was hoping he'd give me a copy; he hasn't done it yet. I'll have to buy one like you will. [Laughter] But in the end he says that, "I was put here, as the old folks say, on a purpose." Maybe I was elected President on a purpose. Our country was created on a purpose. Freedom was born in the human breast on a purpose. Courage was created among human beings on a purpose. And we have an obligation to carry out that purpose.

I know that Daddy King's son once said, "Man . . . is not very flotsam and jetsam in the river of life, but he's the child of God." And it's important that in this Nation at least, as an example for all the rest of the world, that politicians don't forget that. That worth of an individual human being in the eyes of God and in the eyes of one's fellow human beings—that's been forgotten in the past.

In this region for too long, politicians who hoped to be elected to the office of county commissioner or mayor or Governor or Congressman or Senator had to divide blacks from whites and had to blame the poverty that afflicted our Nation among white people on the black people and vice versa. But it wasn't necessary to talk to blacks much, because they didn't have the right to vote. And there are some people sitting here who helped pave the way for those rights, which must be protected and preserved—John Lewis, in the audience, Joe Lowry—I'm going to visit him right after I leave here at Martin's headquarters—and Daddy King.

Back in the early thirties, Daddy King decided, according to his book, that he needed to have the right to vote for President, because the President's decision affected his life and the life of people he loved. He went to the county courthouse here. There were two elevators: one for white folks, one for colored folks; had signs above them so you wouldn't make a mistake. One of them was working up to the registrar's office. I don't think you need to think long to figure out which one was working. So, Daddy King said, "Well, I'll just walk up the stairs." When he approached the stairs, there was a policeman standing there, and a sign was there, by the stairs, that said, "White Only." He kept going back time after time after time, day after day.

Eventually the "colored" elevator was working, and he was able to get to the registrar's office. The registrar told him about the poll tax. Daddy King was willing to pay the poll tax, but he found that you didn't have to pay it not just for only yourself but for all your ancestors who had lived in Georgia and hadn't paid their poll tax. And finally, that obstacle was removed by the Federal Government.

And Daddy King went back as a young man, and they explained that there were 30 questions he had to answer, questions that a political science professor at the University of Georgia could not answer. They were still on the books when I became State senator. That first speech I made in the State senate was to do away with those 30 questions. And in Daddy King's book, he said a lot of black people learned a lot about government trying to answer those 30 questions. It's paying off now.

He never dreamed that eventually his son would be a world hero and that we would have black mayors in Atlanta and Detroit, Los Angeles, many other great cities—Birmingham now—many other great cities around this country. He never dreamed that his granddaughter would be in the Georgia legislature, that his daughter-in-law would serve at the United Nations, that Andy Young would be the spokesman for this country, among more than 150 nations on Earth, and would spread the Gospel that was preached on this pulpit throughout the world and that politicians who lead other nations would listen and would say, "So that's what the United States is. I was getting the wrong impression when Richard Nixon was the President."

These changes have been made. We've come a long way. We haven't yet reached the Promised Land that was spelled out so clearly for us by Martin Luther King, Jr., and by many of you who were also very courageous and very tenacious in spite of the most difficult possible obstacles.

We're no longer divided, white from blacks. We no longer see so many of our babies die, black and white. We no longer see so many of our young people leave the South because there was no alternative, black and white. We no longer see the devastation of poverty and disease and discrimination sweep through our communities, both black and white. We've made progress. We still have a long way to go.

I've appointed all those people that Andy described, and I can tell you this: I have not had to lower the standards of quality and excellence and commitment in order to do it. I haven't done them a favor; they've done me a favor. And I'm not through yet. We've got a lot of other appointments to make.

We've had economic difficulties the last few years, as Andy pointed out. But in spite of those obstacles, we've added 8 1/2 million new jobs to the American economy. Employment among black people has gone up 22 percent in the last 3 1/2 years. 1.3 million of those new jobs are held by black people; another million by people who speak Spanish. We've focused those jobs on those that need them most, and the plans for the future are much greater than that. And our Nation hasn't suffered. These are not make-work jobs created in Government. These are permanent jobs, solid jobs, career jobs.

We've got a proposal in Congress now to add two more billion dollars to put our young people to work, because we've got so far to go in that respect—a way to tie together the high school graduates and the trade school graduates with the jobs available in that community and make sure they know how to hold a job when they get there and to help tide over that salary payment for those few months as they become qualified. It's going to meld together labor and education now, for a change, and we'll have a much brighter future because of it.

We've solved to a great degree the problem of not having an energy policy. And we'll have $88 billion in the future to have help for poor people to pay their energy bills and to have a better transportation system to get to and from work and to create new technology and an exciting life and a dynamic life for our country, to rebuild America's industry and to give our workers tools with which to be more productive. And we are opening up the world, now and in the future, for additional trade.

I was in a little steel mill last week in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, the most modern steel mill in the world. The workers there produce more steel per year, each worker, than any other place in the world, and they are selling steel rods to China cheaper, halfway around the world, than Japan can make them and ship them a couple of hundred miles across the China Sea. It's the kind of thing we can do.

That valuable relationship with a billion people in China and millions of people in Zimbabwe and other areas of the world that are now our friends is very valuable to everyone here. One of the most emotional meetings I have ever had was with Prime Minister Mugabe in the East Room of the White House just a few days ago—the new Prime Minister of Zimbabwe. This was a terrible political struggle—Parren Mitchell and Andy Young know it—because of tremendous pressures from an ill-informed American public, concentrated on me in the Oval Office, not to stand for democracy, not to stand for majority rule, not to stand for the elimination of racial discrimination all the way over in the dark continent of Africa. But with your help we stood firm, and now there's a freedom there and a democracy there and a majority rule there that's an inspiration to the entire world. And I'm proud that Andy Young was there to help us make this come true.

You've seen in this campaign the stirrings of hate and the rebirth of code words like "States rights" in a speech in Mississippi, in a campaign reference to the Ku Klux Klan, relating to the South. That is a message that creates a cloud on the political horizon. Hatred has no place in this country. Racism has no place in this country. Daddy King says in his book, "Nothing that a man does makes him lower than when he allows himself to hate anyone. Hatred is not needed," he says, "to stamp out evil. Despite what some people have been taught, people can accomplish all things God wills in this world. Hate cannot."

Just briefly, let's look to the future. I see a future for this country to be strong, to be united, to be confident, to be inspired, to be even more free, to be employed in useful work, to be well educated, to be united, to be filled with love and compassion one from another. I see a future in this country where those that fought hard to achieve civil rights will continue, in the Federal Government and all other governments, to administer the very laws that they were willing to risk their lives to achieve.

I see a Federal court system that's filled not only with a desire for justice but a desire for understanding of the special deprivation of justice that still prevails in this country against those who are poor or inarticulate or not well organized or not well educated. We've got a long way to go in the Federal courts where, still, money available to have competent lawyers is an obstacle to true justice. But whenever I appoint a black judge or Hispanic judge or even a woman judge, I know that they not only have committed in their own hearts a vision of what this Nation ought to be but a special knowledge of the effects of past discrimination that are still there as a means to prevent equality of opportunity.

And I see an America where young people don't have to worry about employment. I don't know of anything that's more devastating to a nation than to have a 17- or an 18- or a 19- or a 20-year-old young person, having struggled through high school, sometimes at great sacrifice to the family, having been given talent and ability and ambition and hope by God, week after week after week not be able to find a way to use their talent or that ability—becomes a matter of loss of self-respect and then following that, discouragement and despair and then alienation and then a sense of lashing out at the system that deprived that young person of a chance to be useful in God's world. We've got to continue that effort, and that is still a question in doubt. We have a youth bill in the Congress right now, a $2 billion youth bill to create that kind of opportunity for many of our young people.

And we've got another bill in the Congress that hasn't yet been passed, that many of you have worked to achieve, to create fair housing implementation. We had a fair housing bill passed in 1968. It hasn't been implemented. It's passed the House; it's in doubt in the Senate. I had a long conservation with Senator Kennedy yesterday on Air Force One, coming back from Texas. He said, "Mr. President, we've got to work together to get that bill through the Senate. It's now come out of my committee, and we'll be marshaling our forces to get that fair housing bill passed." He and I agreed on the phone it's the greatest civil rights legislation in the last 10 years.

You've not yet been adequately marshaled to put those Senators on the record. And I'd like to ask you this morning, if you don't do anything else in the Congress, to help get that fair housing bill passed. It's important to the future of our country to eliminate the last legal impediment of the right of our people to have equal opportunity by choosing where they want to live. This is extremely important. And the last point I want to make to you is this: Andy Young, Don McHenry, Pat Harris, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Drew Days, Clifford Alexander, many others are now working with me in the Federal Government. I consider all of you to be my partners, as well. I know the importance among those who look to you for leadership for your voice to be heard in shaping our Nation's future. The decision is going to be made on November the 4th about what kind of future we will have.

And I ask you to study the platform of the Republican Party. It's not going to be possible in my judgment, although I hope I'm wrong, for me to face head on in a public debate Governor Reagan, the Republican nominee. He's now been deprived by his staff of the opportunity to speak out on the issues. He didn't do too well with the Ku Klux Klan or China, as you know. [Laughter] He was making some progress on evolution, but he cut that off. But it's going to be hard for the people to understand what this election is all about unless you tell them. And collectively, this group in this room can remember what happened to Daddy King and his son and many of those you love as they struggled for the right to vote and how important it is for people to register and take advantage of that right, that cost so much, which is so easily ignored.

And I see a nation at peace. Peace is not something that comes to the timid or to the weak. Our Nation is strong-strongest on Earth. Militarily, economically, politically, morally, ethically, our Nation is the strongest on Earth. And if we are strong, the weak need not have so much fear. And if we are at peace, then the world has a much better chance to stay at peace.

If we abandon the commitment to control nuclear weapons—which has been a part of the administration of every President, Democratic or Republican, since the time of Eisenhower and Truman—as has been advocated by the Republican nominee, then the chances for the avoiding of a nuclear war in the future will be severely reduced. I'm not predicting war, but I tell you that it's very important for us to stay strong and at the same time search for peace with the Soviet Union and with every other union or nation on Earth that wants to avoid a nuclear holocaust.

I'll do my part. The Vice President could make the same speech to you that I've made this morning, and you would have confidence that he was speaking from the heart. You know that. And my Cabinet officers—Andy and all of you know them—have the same philosophy that I have, and those that I've appointed to major positions in the Federal courts, and otherwise, share my commitment that I've described to you so briefly this morning. And all of us will do our part. But I have to tell you that the most important factor is what you do and others like you who are not running for office—at least not running for President, thank goodness.

But you see the importance of the outcome of this election. We are indeed talking about two paths to the future. And I believe that our path, your path, is the one that must prevail, but it can very well not prevail, unless you do your share.

You remember 1968, how a divided Democratic Party deprived Hubert Humphrey of a chance to serve as President and put Richard Nixon in the White House. A few votes, a few more speeches, a few more radio tapes and TV advertisements could have prevented the Nixon administration taking place. That's what we face this year.

Our party has been remarkably unified since the convention. Senator Kennedy is campaigning for me and with me. We'll be together on the 22d in Los Angeles, raising money. But that unity is not enough, unless there's an enthusiasm and a commitment and a sacrificial spirit to help me solve these difficult issues, for which there are no easy answers, now and in the next 4 years.

You've got a friend in the Oval Office, and if you'll help me, I'll be there as your friend for the next 4 years.

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 9:34 a.m. in the Ebenezer Baptist Church.

Jimmy Carter, Remarks at a Meeting With Southern Black Leaders in Atlanta, Georgia Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/251139

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