Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks to Members of the National Citizens Committee for Community Relations

August 18, 1964

Governor Collins, .Ambassador Dean, Mr. Manger, Mr. Wheeler, ladies and gentlemen:

On this occasion you come to begin work as important as any that has ever been undertaken by any Americans--in any time. You deserve the fullest gratitude of your President.

I believe that the occasion deserves, and the times require, that what is said now be spoken without thought of favor or without fear of consequence.

From long habit we speak too often in whispers, when we speak of race. We cannot evade our responsibilities now by speaking evasively, or softly, or illusively of what has become the central challenge of our society and its success.

Our national house stands strong and secure today. In that house, 190 million of us live together as no people of any nation have ever lived before--well paid, well clad, well housed, well schooled, well endowed in all things material and all things spiritual.

We cannot believe, and we cannot conceive, that life in our national house could ever be other than it is today. But we would do well, always, to recall the words spoken in another time by another President, "A house divided against itself cannot stand." That was true a century ago. It is no less true today.

Across our national house a long shadow is being cast. At the high noon of our success, the sun is being dimmed by the darkness of division, division that need not be, division that must not prevail. And that is what requires some frank speaking.

The shadow falling across America is not the shadow of race itself. It is the darker shadow of indefensible counsel about what America's response should be, about what our responsibilities are, and what are the challenges which race presents.

In the white community, and in the Negro community, counsel is being offered today which has no place in this land of ours. In both communities men are being told that no answer is better than any answer, that no progress is better than any progress, that no peace is better than any peace.

Whatever our race, whatever our region, we of this generation must understand what this counsel means and we must understand where this counsel leads. For, if we follow the logic of this counsel to its irresponsible conclusion, we would come inevitably to agree that no house is better than any house, that no America is better than any America in which our own wishes and will do not prevail alone.

This is not the course that we choose.

Division is not our destiny.

Failure at home is not to be the fate of our Nation which has succeeded so nobly in the world.

A time has come to cease telling ourselves and the world that the destiny and the fate of this Nation will be decided by street rioters and night riders.

A time has come to cease this cynical guessing of who will be helped and who will be hurt by disorders and disobedience and disrespect for the decency of our society.

All will be hurt, none will be helped, if responsible citizens sit on the sidelines regarding the stability of our society as a spectator sport.

So, then, let us together soberly face the facts before us. A problem older than any of us, older even than our Nation, as old as the history of man, himself, has come upon us to test our system and to challenge our society.

There are two courses open to us. We can meet the challenge, or we can turn away from it. We can master the problem, or we can leave it to master us.

Well, we have made our decision. We have chosen to meet it by the answer of law,

The law enacted by the Congress says simply that voting booths and classrooms, that public parks and public places, programs supported by public funds, shall be open to the public, all the public, on an equal basis.

This is not a law to select neighbors, or to dictate associates, or to control human relations. This is not a law to impose the power of the central Government upon the State governments of the land.

The provisions of this law merely validate for all people the national provisions of law already in force. And laws of this kind are in force with regard to public accommodations in all but 19 of our 50 States already. In most of the States, the State law that has been enacted, in many instances a long, long time ago, is much more comprehensive than the national law that was passed a few weeks ago.

The provisions of this law represent not the views of one party, but of both parties; not the views of one philosophy, but of all responsible philosophies.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 would not be on our books today, except for the support that it received from the members of both parties: the Republican Party and the Democratic Party in both the Senate and the House. Conservatives voted for it, liberals voted for it. So we demand, and we are going to have, respect for law and order in this land. That respect begins with the law which is the law of our land today.

But respect for the law requires respect for ourselves. Self-respecting Americans will not--and must not--permit the destiny and the direction of their Nation to fall into the hands of those who seek our division.

And this means one thing: If we are to keep our system secure and our society stable, we must all begin to work where all of us work best. And where is that? That is in the communities where we all live today.

So that is the real challenge before us, as we meet here this afternoon in the shadow of the White House in this lovely Rose Garden.

Wherever we live, we must ask ourselves:

Are we prepared to give up our prosperity and our peace and let our prejudices make paupers of us all?

Are we of this generation to be remembered for allowing America's progress to run aground on the shoals of race? The answers are "no."

A nation of courage and compassion, a nation of commonsense, must not and will not allow its greatness to be degraded by those who work only for its division.

The question before our Nation is not how whites will vote, or Negroes will vote, next November. The question is, how shall we work together and succeed together for the next 100 Novembers to come?

We all know that the Emancipation Proclamation was signed 100 years ago, but emancipation was a proclamation, it was not a fact. So, upon you in your own communities fall the great task of these times, the task of fostering understanding, the task of securing observation and compliance, the task of assuring justice for all Americans. And that is a very great task.

I wish you well. I pray for our success together; that this house in which we live shall stand and shall endure for all times to come. And let us, in our understanding and our tolerance and our patience, forgive those that know not what they do. Let's turn our cheek to those who would spread smear and fear and try to create problems that should not be developed.

Let us look at this land we love and be constantly reminded that the spotlight of the world is upon us and we are under that microscope and we are living in a goldfish bowl.

Let us ask ourselves if our every act, our every public declaration and exhibition, is being guided by the Golden Rule, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

I secure the strength that permits me to endure the responsibilities that are mine from associating with good and great men and women who are willing to do what you are doing today, giving your very all to try to preserve the unity of this Nation.

I shall never cease to be grateful for men like Governor Hodges and Governor Collins who feel and who care and who love humanity, and who made great personal sacrifices in order to come here and work in the vineyard with us to try to heal the wounds and to avoid the pitfalls that they could see in this atmosphere.

I shall always be proud that I am a citizen of a country that can produce an Arthur Dean who, without any hesitancy, could leave a great law practice and say, "Where my country needs me, I will be." And to Mr. Manger and Mr. Wheeler and to each of you I again express my deep gratitude for all that you have done and all you are going to do on behalf of all the people of this country. I want to say "thank you" from a grateful heart.

Note: The President spoke at 5:10 p.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House. His opening words referred to LeRoy Collins, Director of the Community Relations Service, Department of Commerce, and former Governor of Florida, Arthur H. Dean, chairman of the National Citizens Committee for Community Relations and former head of the U.S. delegation to the disarmament negotiations in Geneva with rank of Ambassador, Julius Manger, executive vice chairman of the Committee and president of the Manger Hotels, and John H. Wheeler, vice chairman of the Committee and president of the Mechanics and Farmers Bank, Durham, N.C. Later in his remarks the President referred to Secretary of Commerce Luther H. Hodges, former Governor of North Carolina.

At the invitation of the President, the National Citizens Committee for Community Relations--a committee composed of national leaders in business, labor, education, and religion, working toward a broad national consensus in support of the Civil Rights Act--met in Washington with officials of the Department of Commerce to discuss methods of encouraging voluntary compliance with the law.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks to Members of the National Citizens Committee for Community Relations Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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