Lyndon B. Johnson photo

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

January 22, 1964

I WANT each of you to know how welcome you are to this house that belongs to all of you. It seems to me that it is a little dark in here. If it is, it is because of the new budget and we are trying to economize on our light bill. It may surprise you, but the lights on this establishment are $4600 a month alone, so you can imagine how many checks will have to have deductions to even pay the light bill.

I am reminded of the story that the Postmaster General told me about getting a letter from a little boy who had lost his father and whose widowed mother was having difficulty making ends meet. He wrote a letter to the Lord and said, "Dear God: Please send mom $100 to help with the family."

The letter wound up on the Postmaster General's desk and he was quite touched by it. He at that time still had a little money left over from what he had earned at Prudential, so he took a $20 bill out of his pocket, put it in a Postmaster General's envelope, put an air mail stamp on it, and sent it to the little boy. About two weeks later he got a letter back that said, "Dear God: Much obliged for all you have done. It is a great help. We appreciate it. But we need another $100. If you don't mind, when you send it to momma this time, don't route it through Washington, because they deducted 80 percent of it there."

I have a little statement prepared here expressing my gratitude, but I think I want to say something else before I get into that. You businessmen have a very unique role in our Government, and a very special responsibility. You are the symbols of the free enterprise system. You are what makes the difference in the type of government we have and the type that our challenger has.

Someone asked me the other day if I didn't think I was making a rather dangerous venture when, contrary to the practice of the last few years, I sent a budget to Congress that didn't add $5 billion on to take care of increased population and increased needs, and by withholding that amount out of the economic bloodstream if I didn't think we would lack the financial stimulus necessary to give us the prosperity we wanted.

I said yes, that may be true. I have thought of that. I have carefully analyzed it and reviewed it. But I believe by trying to keep our budget this year as low as the one last year, by trying to arrest the advance and establish a ceiling, and by assuring the businessmen we are not going to keep our foot on his neck, and we are going to turn him loose to invest his capital and build new plants, provide new jobs, reward him and praise him instead of flout him and take revenge on him, I am betting that with the tax reduction and the $9 billion that will go into consumers' hands as a result of lowering the withholding from 18 to 14 percent, the lower corporation taxes we will have, although they are only slightly lower-I am betting that the free economy and private business can do for the economic bloodstream what the Government appropriations do.

Now if they don't do it, I know how to spend it, but I am going to give them that chance. And it is going to be many months before we know the answer.

But I sincerely and genuinely believe that any system that is just enough to give us the power that is ours today as the leading nation in the world, and that permits a son born of a tenant farmer, as I was 55 years ago, to rise to the place I now hold, I believe that is the system that is going to prevail among all the philosophies of the world.

I don't think it is our population, our resources, or even our industrial know-how that are going to be the predominating factors in our victory. I think the thing that, when the final gong is sounded, the thing that is going to determine whether we survive or not, is our free enterprise system.

I believe that the capitalist who sends his dollar out with the hope of getting a return on it, the manager that gets up at daylight and works to midnight and develops stomach ulcers handling the men and the money, and the worker who takes the sweat of his brow and hits that production line at a trot, taking pride in what comes off that assembly line--the combination of those three, all of whom get a slice of the pie, along with a Government that is friendly and helpful and encouraging, and providing incentive, making the fourth partner--I believe that they can outdo and outproduce and outwork and outright any collective system in the world!

I believe the individual reward that comes to each of those elements is such as to provide the incentive that will never permit any other philosophy to overtake us. I think that is the real reason or justification we had for selling wheat to the Russians. We had it rotting in our barns and the rats were eating it. We had all that our stomachs would hold and all we could store, and we did it with a third of the acres that they have.

I don't gloat over it, but it is satisfying to me to know that we have got to send our wheat over there to show them that we can feed ourselves and they can't feed themselves. So in the final analysis, if we survive this challenge of our century, it is going to be because of the responsibilities of the free enterprise system. And you are a symbol of it.

Now I came down here today to tell you not that you are just welcome in this house, but I am so proud that you are here. I am grateful to you and I want to express the gratitude of the President and the gratitude of the American people to each of you and to the thousands of stockholders that you represent. Why ? Because you have taken a very strong, a very positive, and a firm step forward in signing the Plan for Progress and joining the President's Equal Employment Opportunity program. You have allied yourselves and your workers with some 141 of the leading corporations in this Nation in a demonstration that the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States still mean what they say. You have worked to eliminate bias and discrimination and prejudice from American life.

We believe that you will increase your efforts in the immediate future. We believe that when you do, you keep firm faith with those forefathers who founded our great free enterprise system. We know we have the wealth, we know we have the economic power to lead the world. But we must never forget that in this world we are outnumbered 17 to 1.

We must have moral standards of the highest order and consciences that are always clear of any guilt of mistreatment of our fellowman or for any artificial reason. Then we can even more proudly say that our leadership is deserved and our concepts are enduring, and there is a reason why America is first in the world picture.

During my nearly 3 years as Chairman of this Committee,1 I have observed and learned. It has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my 33 years of public life. I believe most of you feel as I do: that you would like to be remembered not for your financial statement as much as for your human concern, your feeling for your fellowman, and for doing what is right and what is just. Working with this Committee has given me an outlet to express my concern for humanity.

1 The President's Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity.

The Committee and the Federal Government are going to continue their efforts in this field. We are going to continue to work to insure that Government contractors employ nondiscrimination practices. The Government itself is going to continue its efforts to remold itself into an ideal employer.

We want to get the most available from all of its employees and we want to deny none the opportunity to advance according to merit and ability. Our system, as I said, has made us the greatest nation in the world. Now we must turn that system, with its magnificent force, to the task of bringing about conditions that each of us would like for himself or his family or his friends.

It stimulates me and it inspires me to meet with the leaders of industry who provide a great part of the leadership of this country. The fate of the Nation is directly affected by the concern that you show for our national aspirations and by the manner in which your decisions reflect it. You set the example, and the example you set is followed down the line to many small enterprises in this Nation. It is your policies that your supervisors carry out. It is on your factory lines, in your locker rooms, in your cafeterias, in your recreational facilities, in your communities, that your leadership shows through.

So let us be sure that it is the best leadership. Let us be sure it is the most just leadership. Let us be sure it is the most human leadership.

One hundred years ago a great Republican President named Abraham Lincoln freed the Negro of his chains. But we know, and each of us honestly knows in our own heart, that today we have not freed him from the bigotry that exists because of his color. There is no real reason nor no real justification for it. Actually, none of us get any satisfaction out of feeling superior to our fellowman because of our race, or because of our religion, or because of our color. And if we proceed on that basis, some day we are going to find that we are in the decided minority and that it is going to be practiced against us.

So I said the other day in meeting with a group that we should not ask any immigrant to this country--it is all right for us to say, "What can you do for your country?" but it is never fair to say, "In what country were you born?" And it is all right for us to say, "What skills do you have and what qualifications do you possess ?" but it is never fair to say, "What is your church, or what is your color, or what is your region?" Because that is why America was founded-to get away from cross-examination of such subjects.

Now there has been a time when I was regarded as somewhat friendly to the employers of this country, and believing in them. I hope that feeling will always be true. When I took over this committee, Secretary Goldberg, who was my associate and my very wonderful colleague in the work, said "For every corporation that you get to voluntarily go out and say they will drive discrimination underground and bury it, I will get a labor union to join us."

Well, I was proud to say that I got a hundred corporations before he got a hundred labor unions. Both have made rather remarkable strides forward and both have made good records. But there is a lot still to be done.

One of the great women that I know lives in my home, whose advice I probably value more than anybody's except my mother and wife. She is a college person, highly trained. If she has a title, I guess you would call her Chief of Staff of my operation. But she finds that when she comes from Texas to Washington, she can't go to a bathroom without taking 3 or 4 hours out of a drive to go try to locate one in certain sections of the town--or getting out on the highways and dodging the cars at night. She finds out that she never knows when she goes into a cafe whether she can get a cup of coffee or not--not because of lack of dignity, because she is possessed with more of it than the President; not because of lack of money, because she is thrifty and frugal, has invested it and has savings; not because of lack of ability, because she commands the respect of people who have the power to get the best. But it is all because of color and because of tradition and because of custom.

Now you would not want that to happen to your mother, or your wife, or your daughter. But you can passively, nonchalantly go on into your air conditioned office, have your secretary take your coat, and let it happen in your plant. That is what we have tried to do something about. Thank God we have done something about it, with your help and God's help. And we are going to do more about it.

That is all I have to say to you, except, again, to thank you and tell you that Russia has more land than we have, more people than we have, and more resources than we have, but she doesn't have the system we have. Now let's perfect this system of ours and let's make it a model for all the world. Let's make it a pride and joy.

If men can stand side by side in Korea, and Viet-Nam, and along the Berlin Wall, and die together regardless of their race or their religion, or the country of their ancestry, if they can do that in the uniform of this country, protecting our flag, then they ought to be able to walk down the assembly line together or cafeteria line together, or go to the same water fountain.

What you businessmen do is going to be picked up and copied down in every little community in this land. And I know it is going to be good. I am an optimist. I think this country is not only the greatest in all the world, but we have just begun to grow. The rest of this 20th century is going to be so marvelous that it is indescribable today. But the thing that is going to be best about it all is not that we just have a strong government, but that we have a solvent government. Because you can't have military strength--and we are going to have it, superior to any--you can't have it unless you are solvent. And we are going to be solvent because we are taking the steps that insure that.

But we are also going to be compassionate, because strength and solvency mean nothing if you are a miser and if you are oblivious to all the world around you. We are going to follow the Golden Rule in our leadership in Government and in our leadership in industry. We are going to try to put ourselves in the other fellow's place and see how we would like to be treated if we were black or brown, if we were Irish or Baptist, if we were northerners or southerners, if we were Catholics or Jews.

We are going to apply that standard, that rule, to us. We are going to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Then think about what a glorious and grand and wonderful land this is going to be!

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke in the East Room at the White House at 4 p.m.

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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