Lyndon B. Johnson photo

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

December 12, 1963

Mr. Secretary and my fellow Americans:

I came here to express my personal respect and gratitude to you for the time that you have given to this effort and for your genuine and your conscientious endeavors to the end that we really make constitutional government in this country work.

It is, I believe, highly appropriate that this meeting today should take place in this historic and tradition-filled room. The handsome painting of President Lincoln, and the solemn mourning-black symbolizing the Nation's grief over the tragic death of President Kennedy provide a background that should truly inspire all of us--the company officials, the officers of the Federal Government who are in attendance, and all the people of the United States--inspire them to make every effort to banish bigotry and prejudice and bias from our thoughts, and from our conversation and, most important, from our every action.

I am well aware of the very promising results that have been achieved in moving toward full equality of opportunity by the 115 companies that participate in the Plans for Progress program. The following statistics which I am going to give you are from reports from more than 90 of these companies, and they demonstrate what progress can be achieved when there is an awareness and where there is a will:

--whereas the number of salaried employees in these companies increased a little over 13 percent in the reporting period, the number of nonwhite employees increased not 13 percent but 23 1/2 percent.

--in the reporting period, nonwhites employed in management categories increased by 46 1/2 percent.

--in professional and administrative jobs, the increase was 37.4 percent.

--in sales jobs, the increase was 53.1 percent.

--in technical jobs, there was a 31.6 percent increase.

These are significant improvements, but even more meaningful is the positive attitude and the spirit of wanting to improve the situation that can ultimately produce equality of opportunity. Within those companies whose reports have been received and tabulated, the ratio of white salaried employees to nonwhite dropped from 65 to 1 at the beginning of the reporting period to 60 to 1 now. We still have a long way to go, as is obvious.

But I should like to be absolutely clear on this proposition. The Federal Government will continue in its efforts to insure that employment, promotion, and personnel actions will be made on a nondiscriminatory basis.

No one should be employed because he is a member of a minority group, and no one should be denied employment because he is a member of a minority group either. The fullest use of this Nation's most vital resource--human beings--will be achieved only when the artificial standards of race, religion, or national origin are no longer used.

The Council of Economic Advisers has estimated that our gross national product would be more than $20 billion greater than it is if the full potential of our Negro citizens were at work in our economy.

We do not rely solely upon the Plans for Progress program which supplements but does not supplant the President's Executive order. The Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity, under whose sponsorship and initiative the Plans for Progress came into being, will continue its effective program of insuring compliance by Federal contractors with the nondiscrimination policies of our Government. My own identification and work with this Committee during nearly 3 years has been among the most meaningful and rewarding of the many tasks which I have been associated with in more than 32 years in Government.

There is now greater public awareness of the importance of the basic role of jobs and employment in the failure of many of our minority groups to share fully in the benefits of our economy and our society. The effort to reduce unemployment nationally through the creation of additional jobs is our immediate goal, as I told the AFL-CIO Executive Council. There should be at least 75 million jobs--and that will be a prime objective of this administration.

A basic factor contributing to the unique character of the United States has been the melding together of the widely varied groups that have come to this country with high hopes and with the desire to participate and to be a part of our national life. We are not true to our national heritage when we erect artificial barriers to Negroes or to Mexican-Americans or to Oriental-Americans, or to Spanish-speaking-Americans from Puerto Rico, to American Indians, or indeed to any minority group.

So when we do away with the statistics and the generalities and maybe the platitudes, what I have come here today and asked you to be present for was to applaud you, to thank you, and to tell you that you can be proud of the business life that is represented in this room. We will look forward eagerly to working with you in an attempt to eliminate irrelevant considerations of ancestry from the hiring practices of America and to leave as the only real test the consideration of merit and ability.

We live in a world where America is outnumbered 17 to 1. And if we were to divide that world by color or by race or by ancestry, we would be greatly outnumbered. And I think, perhaps, the best way to quickly illustrate what is really in our hearts is to remind ourselves of the Golden Rule, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

So when you're dealing with these people, in your company, or in your firm, or in your business, just remember they're some daughter's father, or some boy's mother, or someone's sister, or somebody's brother that you are dealing with. And except for the grace of God, it might be you--that they were dealing with you instead of you dealing with them. I have thought a great deal the last few days--I missed being an elevator boy just about that much, when my mother just reached up and made me go back to school after laying out for 2 years.

The less fortunate people of this country, the people who have suffered from bigotry and from hatred and from fear and from discrimination in housing and from discrimination in schooling and from discrimination in association, are not as fortunate as you are. But they have benefited a great deal because the company president, or the personnel manager, or the big boss in the last 3 years has said, "Let's hire people on the basis of merit." My name might be spelled differently from a majority in the community where I will live next year and I would like to think that I could be judged on my true value rather than on my color or my ancestry or my religion.

And I'm so proud of the advances we have made in this country. There are two great philosophies that provide leadership in the world today. And if we survive, and I believe we will, it is going to be because of our superior system of government.

Because the businessman can send out his capitalist dollar with the hope that he will get a reasonable return on it. And the manager that manages that dollar and manages the men that work with it, he can get up early and stay up late, develop ulcers, and hope for a bonus at the end of the year. But he has developed into the greatest manager that the world has ever known.

And finally the producer, the worker, who enjoys the highest standard of living of any worker in the world, who enjoys the highest rate of pay, he joins with the manager and with the capitalist and those three essential ingredients make up what we call the free enterprise system, the incentive system in this country. And it produces more for the individual, it turns out more in form of wealth, it has the best housing and the best clothes and the best food of any system known to man, and it is the thing that in the end analysis is really going to preserve and protect us. Our system is an improvement over any other system of government.

So when I hear these folks feel sorry for themselves, talk about how bad we are doing, and the pitfalls that are ahead, I'm ready and willing to admit that not all the problems have yet been solved because there are a good many over there waiting an answer from me this afternoon as to our position on them. But I am so proud that I live in a country where 70 million Americans are working, where the average wage is over $100 a week, where there is a minimum of bigotry and hatred and fear, where there is freedom of speech and religious worship, and finally where we can look upon thy neighbor and love him as we love ourselves.

And it's wonderful to meet here in this house that belongs to all the people and to have your leaders who can help lead all the people. And in the days ahead I'm going to need your counsel and your advice and your leadership and your prayers. We've got so much to preserve, so much to protect, and I want to protect it--and you do too or you wouldn't be here.

Thank you so much.

Note: The President spoke at 3:45 p.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House. His opening words "Mr. Secretary" referred to Secretary of Labor W. Willard Wirtz.

Excerpts of the President's remarks were released by the White House. The complete text is printed above as transcribed from a tape recording.

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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