Jimmy Carter photo

Remarks at a Meeting With the Congregation of the Concord Baptist Church and State and Local Officials in New York, New York

October 20, 1980

Thank you very much, my good friends, Senator Ted Kennedy, Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, Congressman Charlie Rangel, Dr. Taylor, and my good friend, Muhammad Ali.

Dr. Taylor, you're known both here and abroad as an eloquent and effective minister. You're not an easy man to follow in this pulpit— [laughter] —because I know the message of hope and glory that you expound from this place, to inspire the people in this congregation and throughout those who listen to your voice to a better life and a deeper commitment to the love of God and to our fellow human beings.

I'm also excited to share a platform with two of the greatest fighters of this century—Muhammad Ali and Shirley Chisholm. Shirley is not quite as big- [laughter] —but in her way, she's just as tough. [Laughter] And a few more weeks of training, Muhammad Ali would have been just about the size of Shirley Chisholm, I think. [Laughter]

I called the champion the night after the fight, and he told me that he trained too much, lost too much weight. But I think, as you know, and as Ted Kennedy has said, Muhammad Ali is the greatest.

As for Muhammad Ali, I just want to say: Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee, it's great at President to have the backing of Muhammad Ali [Laughter]

I've thought a lot about this church and about what it means to you, not only in the preaching of the gospel and meeting the spiritual needs of this congregation but also the educational needs of children, the needs for housing and services for the elderly, and the overall needs of this community. One of the great Americans of all time, a man whom I am proud to call my friend, who has been with me in Massachusetts, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, New Jersey, now here, be again with me tonight, be campaigning for me in Texas later on this week, was in Michigan earlier this week. I want to express my deep thanks to a man who carries on the true spirit and commitment of one of the greatest families who have ever lived in this country, and that's Senator Ted Kennedy. Ted, God bless you.

What he stands for is what his brother Robert stood for when he first proposed the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Project. He insisted that it would have to involve the homeless and also those who owned a lot of homes; the employees and the unemployed; and also the leaders of the community and the leaders of large corporations. He wanted to be sure that jobs and housing and training and opportunity would move hand-in-hand with those who were seeking jobs and housing and training and opportunity, into areas that were sinking into deterioration and desperation. Your success in pulling all these elements into one of the most significant rehabilitation efforts in this country or, indeed, the world would have made Robert Kennedy very proud. Together, you've helped build a lasting monument to him and to his dream of an America, which his brothers shared, with a decent life for everyone.

That dream has not yet been realized. It's still in the future, but we are moving toward it. And I'm proud that in this community, my administration has been able to help in some way to give better critical health services, young people more skills to do better jobs, provide thousands of new units of subsidized housing, eight new buildings for senior citizens, and to work very closely for you and with you in making plans for a better future.

Because we've come so far, you know how far we still have to go. We've created more jobs in the last 3 1/2 years than any other administration in history—in time of war or peace—l.3 million of the 8 1/2 million new jobs in this country are held by black Americans, and I'm very proud of that.

But that's still not enough, and now we have as my most important domestic proposal in the Congress in 1980 the youth bill, to provide 600,000 more jobs for disadvantaged young people with an expenditure of an additional $2 billion in the next 2 years. We've got it through the House already with the help of Charlie Rangle and Shirley Chisholm, and I don't have any doubt that we're going to get it through the Senate before 1980 is over, with the help of Senator Kennedy.

In addition, it's time, now that we have an energy program in stock, to make plans for revitalizing America's industry and giving American workers new tools, new factories. It's also time to take advantage of how we can build a better social and economic life, with equality for Americans still not realized by millions of our people.

I know, after talking with Governor Hugh Carey, who's with us today, and Charlie Rangel, that we must do something about the drug program in this community and up and down this coast. I wanted to announce at this moment that we have now completed plans on a major, concentrated effort, involving millions of dollars, already available to us in five northeastern cities—New York City, Newark, Baltimore, Washington, and Philadelphia. This will involve treatment of those suffering from drug addiction, intradiction to stop drugs coming in here from the Middle East—from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, through Turkey, and others—and also the prosecution of those guilty of distributing drugs. We need to put them in jail and keep them there.

These kinds of programs are typical of what Democratic Presidents have done for the disadvantaged and the afflicted people of this Nation in your lifetime and in mine. Think back in your own minds about the difference in your life, in your family's life, in the lives of those you love when people like Franklin Roosevelt were in office, or Harry Truman or John Kennedy or Lyndon Johnson, and then think about the difference when Republicans occupied the Oval Office.

Some of you are old enough, like I am, to remember the Great Depression years, when the Democrats put forward social security. The Republicans were against it. The Democrats put forward a 25-cent-an-hour minimum wage. The Republicans were against it. Later we proposed Medicare—the Democrats did.

My present opponent got his start in politics traveling around this Nation opposing Medicare, better health care for senior citizens. We believe in rebuilding our central cities, but my Republican opponent said that he prayed day and night that the Federal Government would never bail out New York City, and just recently, he has said urban aid programs are one of the biggest phonies we have in the system. He said about minimum wage, "The minimum wage has caused more misery," he said, "and more unemployment than anything since the Great Depression."

Unemployment compensation is important to a family that loses its source of income. Democrats' hearts have gone out to families who were in need. The Republican candidate says, "Unemployment compensation is a prepaid vacation for freeloaders." We believe in Medicare and social security. Senator Kennedy has been in the forefront, as you well know, for national health insurance, and I join him in that goal. But my Republican opponent says, and I quote again, "I am firmly opposed," he says, "to national health insurance."

In 1964, he called the Civil Rights Act, and I quote him again, "bad legislation." A few months before elections, Republicans try to change their spots. They put on a different cloak, and they start pretending they are for people who are aged and who need social security, or sick and need Medicare, or working and need the minimum wage, or unemployed and need unemployment compensation, or needing to have their health care insured and have been against health care.

But recently, when he was asked about his basic attitudes after changing all his positions, he said, "I'm still where I was over the past 20 years." [Laughter] And I predict to you that after November the 4th, he'll be right back where he's been the last 20 years—in Hollywood as a movie actor. But he'll be there only if you remember history and you recall what happens to those you love if you take the outcome of an election for granted or depend on the candidate and his public friends to do the work without your help.

You know how hard black and white leaders both worked to give black citizens of this Nation a right to vote. And you also remember in history what has happened when Democrats, who were supposed to be loyal to our party, sat back because of confusion or timidity and did not vote or did not work. One of the most vivid memories in my mind is 1968. The Republicans nominated Richard Nixon for President. The Democrats nominated Hubert Humphrey for President. Many people, as you well remember, had been for Senator Gene McCarthy, and when Hubert Humphrey got the nomination to replace Lyndon Johnson as President, a lot of Democrats said, "Hubert Humphrey's not perfect. I'm not going to help him. Let him shift for himself." So Hubert Humphrey never went to serve in the Oval Office; Richard Nixon did. [Laughter] It was not the fault of the Republicans who supported Richard Nixon. That was their duty, that's what we expected them to do. The fault lay in Democrats who forgot what the issues were.

Domestic issues are crucial to us, but that's not the sum total of our national character. When I came into office, the national policy of our Government was to stay away from Africa. Henry Kissinger wasn't even permitted to visit Nigeria. We were propping up the white government of Rhodesia. But I turned to a great black leader, Andy Young, and I said, "Andy, we're no longer just a nation with the big four to deal with. We've got 150 nations on Earth to deal with, and although ours is a great country with a great soul, a lot of people don't know about it because we've put on a different face outside the border of our land." And Andy Young and now Don McHenry have the trust of people who are yellow and brown and black throughout the world. And we stood staunch in spite of tremendous political pressure against the retention of the white supremacy government in Rhodesia, and now we've got a democracy in Zimbabwe with a freely elected black Prime Minister.

Well, I don't claim that our Government is perfect. I don't claim that my administration is perfect. But you see my friends behind me on this platform. You know our record so far. You know that' I've said many times, I would never have been given a chance to be elected President had it not been for Martin Luther King, Jr., and others. And many times in my own church at home we've sung the old hymn, "There is a Balm in Gilead; sometimes we get discouraged and think our work's in vain." But I tell you that together, as Democrats, we have moved forward. We're on the right road. We're making good progress.

In her statement endorsing me, Shirley Chisholm began by saying she'd made her decision based on the realities of this campaign and the state of the country at this time. And then she noted we'd not accomplished everything we'd set out to do, but that we'd only set goals on some things, but that we had also proposed specific, workable ways to reach those goals. And she pointed out that some of those goals had not yet been reached because the Congress has not yet been willing to accept them. But we'll continue to press forward the next 4 years. We've come a long way. We are not finished yet.

I'm from the Deep South, and I have seen the need to have the permanent voice of distinguished, idealistic, competent, dedicated black leaders to carry on what I believe in after I've finished my term in office. So in this first 3 1/2 years-I haven't been President long yet—I've been able to nominate, and Senator Kennedy as the chairman of the Judiciary Committee has been able to get confirmed, twice as many black judges in the Federal district courts as all the Presidents put together in the last 200 years. And we're not through yet. And we haven't lowered the standards. Every one of those nominees has been a source of pride to me and to the Nation.

This church can prove that it makes a difference to be involved, that despite difficulties that face us, you can make a difference—in the education of your children, in the lives of senior citizens, in better houses, better blocks, better communities. The civil rights movement succeeded because thousands of people felt that they could make a difference, if they kept on until the laws of our Nation were changed, the customs of our Nation were changed. It hadn't been changed for more than a hundred years since slavery was officially eliminated from this land. Those discriminatory laws and practices fell before the marching feet of courageous, dedicated people who knew they could make a difference. You did what you could and persuaded others to join you.

In just 2 weeks, Americans must make a choice about our future. In the past, too many have stayed at home, convinced that their vote would not make a difference. I mentioned 1968 when we lost, but in 1960, if 28,000 people in Texas had voted a different way and a few in Illinois had voted a different way, then John Fitzgerald Kennedy would never have been President of this country.

The ones who make the decision on election day are often the ones who do not work and who do not vote. It's not enough to have rights; we must use them. The next years can be a time of great progress, a time when we move past all the old prejudices and all the old past indifference, when we put our people to work—all our people to work, building a better America, economically strong, but also strong in our faith in each other, strong in our commitment to freedom, to justice, to opportunity.

So, I'd like to ask you, like Shirley Chisholm, to look at the realities of this campaign and the state of our Nation at this date and then come out and vote and help us keep our lives on the right road.

The last in what was to be his final campaign, the Presidential primary in California in 1968, Senator Robert Kennedy made a speech at Fisherman's Wharf, and in closing he said, and I quote him, "I ask you to recognize the hard and difficult road ahead to a better America, and I ask you to vote for yourselves." "The people," he said, "must decide this election and they must decide so that no leader in America has any doubt about what the people want." "For your sake and for the sake of your children vote for yourselves tomorrow," he said.

I would ask of you the exact same thing. Keep us on the road to a better America. On November the 4th, vote for your children. Vote for yourselves.

Thank you very much, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 4: 25 p.m. in the sanctuary of the church, which is located in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn.

Jimmy Carter, Remarks at a Meeting With the Congregation of the Concord Baptist Church and State and Local Officials in New York, New York Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/251400

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