Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks to New Participants in "Plans for Progress" Equal Opportunity Agreements

January 16, 1964

Mr. Wirtz, Mr. Taylor, gentlemen:

I am deeply grateful to each of you and to the stockholders that you represent, and to the people that you serve, that you would have enough concern and dedication for your country and enough interest for the future of your company to come here and meet with us on this occasion which we eagerly hope will be of great value to all of us.

This is a meeting that I am very glad to attend even though Florida delegates kept me a little late.

The President's Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity will use this forum to explain to the country the Plans for Progress program.

The last time that I spoke to a similar group of company officials, this house, that belongs to all the people, was draped in black and filled with sorrow.

I said then that the somber hour in which we met could also furnish the inspiration for us to act. For us to act for all of us--company officials, Government officials, most of all, all the people of this great land--time to act and to make that extra effort to banish bigotry and bias from our thoughts, from our conversations, and what's much more important, from all of our actions.

May I express the hope that I can count on those of you who have come here today, and I can count on the companies whose representatives are present, to take that positive step, to move forward--toward our national objective of a land that is bright with hope, without the lonely shadow of prejudice.

The response has been gratifying. Today, 116 major corporations with more than 6,000,000 employees are participating in this program and the number grows each week.

A recent report on 91 of these companies showed that over their last reporting period, the ratio of white salaried employees to nonwhite dropped from 65 to 1 to 60 to 1.

Of all new employees hired by these companies, approximately 15 percent were nonwhites, contrasted with 5 percent of nonwhites that could have been expected to be hired on the basis of these companies' past ratio of whites to nonwhites. And most significant is the fact that these jobs are not all at the lowest level--Negroes and other minority group Americans are being placed and promoted to positions of responsibility. This was not accomplished by displacing other workers--rather it was the result of conscious adjustments in personnel practices making merit and ability the only real tests-practices that strengthened the individual companies, and, as a result, strengthen our entire economy.

This demonstrates that progress can be achieved when there is an awareness and a desire to take affirmative action. But it is obvious that we still have a long way to go. Our good start is not a reason to relax--it should be a stimulus to greater and more extensive efforts. Insofar as the Federal Government is concerned, we will continue our efforts to eliminate bias and prejudice as hidden conditions of personnel actions.

And the President's Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity, which initiated this Plans for Progress program to supplement its other programs, will maintain its effective program of insuring that Government contractors employ nondiscrimination practices.

My nearly 3 years service as Chairman of the President's Committee has been one of the most rewarding and one of the most meaningful tasks of my 32 years in public life.

And I can just almost guarantee each of you men that when your retirement time comes and you sit on your front porch in that rocking chair with your white Panama pulled down over your eyes and in retrospect look back over your days as a leader in your company, I can almost guarantee that one of your proudest moments and one of your greatest achievements will be the day that you took the leadership to destroy bigotry and bias and prejudice from the atmosphere of your own company. That will be a reward that will mean more to you than the satisfaction you get from a paycheck. That will give you a feeling of having done something to make this land what the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution said it was going to be. That will be something to keep faith with the forefathers who came here from all parts of the world seeking freedom, religious freedom, racial freedom.

If you men in this group can join the others that have already paved the way and cover six million employees and add to that total the group that you represent, we won't have to fight this battle in the streets. We will have fought it in our minds and we will have reached a logical and proper conclusion. And we will say that there is some truth in the statement that all men are created equal and there is some point in following the Golden Rule of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you.

My nearly 3 years served as Chairman tells me that the programs of this Committee not only give to our everyday life the nobility of purpose which the Constitution enunciated-but they advance the notion that free men in a free society are able to face problems and solve them, without whips or without whining or without force.

To the free world, looking anxiously at us and praying hopefully for us, we can demonstrate that our leadership is deserved and our concepts are enduring.

Nothing encourages or comforts me more than the visible attitude of leaders in the business community. These leaders, from every industry, from every segment of the business arena, want to eliminate false racial barriers to employment and promotion.

By your presence here today, I think you can say in voices that are clear in their sincerity, loud in their determination, that you are going to help speed that happy day when there is no need even to talk about such matters.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if all the world could realize that it was no longer necessary to come to the first house of the land to talk about treating all Americans alike instead of treating some Americans one way and some Americans another way? Remember, in the days when we have trials and tribulations and concerns and worries about our future, whether it is in the landing in Normandy, or Korea, or even our troubles in Panama, that boys of all faiths and all religions and all colors and all types stand side by side and fight together, stand side by side and die together, and actually there is no real reason why they should not stand side by side and work together and eat together.

I don't know how long it has been since you engaged in a little introspection. I don't know why you have to wait until next Thanksgiving or Christmas comes or some tragedy befalls you in your own family for you to realize how fortunate and blessed you are. I don't know why you can't say, "Except for the grace of God, I might be in his place and he might be in mine."

And think about how you would like to be treated if you lived in a land where you could not go to school with your fellow Americans, where you could not work along the side of them, where you could travel from Texas to Washington, across many States and not be able to go to a bathroom without hiding in a thicket or dodging behind a culvert. Ask yourself how you would feel if those conditions applied to you and that will give the answer to what you might want to do in your own company.

Be one of the leaders in America. Be one of the champions of freedom in the world. Apply this democratic spirit that we take so much pride in. Use this free enterprise which gives us the superiority that we have in the world. And try to use those forces to bring about conditions that you would like for yourself and for your fellow man.

The 50-odd days that I have been in this job, I have met with thousands of people-more than 3 thousand. I possess no unusual powers of any kind, least of all persuasion, but I would like to be known and remembered more for my concern for my fellow man than for any other thing. And somehow or other I believe that your children could point to their daddy and take more pride in that than they could in how much you accumulated in the way of worldly goods.

So here in the symbol of free government, in the first house of the land, the White House of the Nation, let's roll up our sleeves and tighten up our belts and go back to our companies and say that we don't feel any superiority because of the way we spell our name or because of the color of our skin or because of where our ancestors came from. The Johnsons may be in the majority tomorrow, but they may be a pitiful minority the next day. And what happens to them can happen to you. And in this world we are already outnumbered 17 to 1. So let's not rely upon our great economic power and the great wealth we possess to do justice. Let's do it ourselves, so when we go to bed we will have a clear conscience. And when we do that we will rightfully be entitled to lead the world. We'll lead them because of our moral standards and not because of our economic power.

Labor has come to this house in multitudes. We have had two meetings of the Executive Council, the AFL-CIO, from all over the Nation and they have joined us in praising our program and in trying to clean up their own ranks and improve their own situation.

Businessmen have come here on the National Advisory Council, the National Business Council. A hundred of them had dinner here the other night and we talked about the problems that free enterprise system faced and the harassment that they suffered and sometimes the punitive measures that were taken against them. And I have said to them that we are not going to have anybody around here with his foot on your neck. We are going to try to move forward and help you to help provide that job that we need so hard.

But when we ask you to provide it, provide it on the basis of merit and not on the basis of how a fellow spells his name, provide it on what can you do for your country instead of what country do you come from, provide it on the basis of what you stand for, for America, instead of the color of your skin. And it will give you a better feeling; it will give your company a better reputation; it will give your Nation a better future.

So I wanted to take a moment out to--it stimulates me and inspires me to look at these leaders of industry. And I wanted to come and personally ask you, don't make any discrimination on whether white men or black men go to the same bathroom; they all have the same problem. Don't feel superior about where they drink a glass of water or what church they go to or what region they live in. By practicing that kind of superiority all you do is to build up in this country a system the kind of which we have gone to war several times to destroy.

Abraham Lincoln signed the Proclamation of Emancipation a hundred years ago. And he took the chains off of the slaves, but he did not free the Negro of prejudice that people have of the color of his skin. And it is up to you to pick up where Lincoln left off. It is up to you to achieve in the days ahead what we have been waiting for a hundred years.

And how long, how long, how long will people peacefully wait? And the best way for you to give me an answer to that question is to ask yourself how long you would peacefully wait if, because you were white or sandy or red or pink, they would not let your child go to a school in the neighborhood where you had paid taxes for 30 years? How long you would peacefully accept that they would not let him go in and get a cup of coffee? How long you would accept things if he could not go and pay his same money that is worth as much as anybody else's and see a movie?

Oh, they will let him march side by side in the Marine Corps, they will let him fly in the copilot's seat in the bomber, they will let him stand at the missile launching pad and endure and indulge all the dangers of hell and war; but when he comes back home, some of them are second-class citizens.

Well, the businessmen lead this country. You set the example and by your acts they shall know you. And you are going to be one of 200 companies that step out here and take this lead and bring about 10 or 15 or 20 million people, and then the other 60 million are going to come along with you. And, oh, what a wonderful day that will be when truly all men are equal!

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 4 p.m. in the East Room at the White House. His opening words referred to Secretary of Labor W. Willard Wirtz, Vice Chairman of the President's Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity, and Hobart Taylor, Jr., Executive Vice Chairman.

Early in his remarks the President referred to the "Report to the President--The President's Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity," dated November 26, 1963 (Government Printing Office, 1964, 150 pp.).

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks to New Participants in "Plans for Progress" Equal Opportunity Agreements Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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