Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks at a Reception for Participants in a Planning Session for the White House Conference "To Fulfill These Rights."

November 16, 1965

Mr. Chairman Randolph, Mr. Vice President, Mr. Attorney General, Chairman Abram, Chairman Coleman, distinguished delegates:

Last spring I spoke at Howard University about the next challenge to American democracy.

I said that it is to help the Negro fulfill the rights which, after a very long time of injustice, he is finally able to secure:

--To move beyond opportunity to achievement;

--To shatter forever not only the barriers of law and public practice, but the walls which bound the condition of man by the color of his skin.

I spoke at the twilight of a revolutionary decade.

America had awakened--after a century of uneasy slumber--to the cry for justice. Every branch of this Government had been brought into action. Ancient beliefs and customs were being transformed.

Yet millions of Negro Americans remained in bondage.

They are the jobless, the unskilled, the broken families that are housed in squalor-a prey to crime and violence, their children destined to the same bleak fate.

This administration is attacking these evils through our poverty program that we began last year, through our education program that we began this year, through our Medicare and our other health programs that are now being inaugurated. In numberless ways this administration is acting and not just talking.

But there is no single easy remedy. The causes and the results of past injustices are much too complex for that.

And that is why I have asked you to come here tonight, and to stay here for the next few days. You men and women that are gathered in this beautiful East Room, where Abigail Adams once hung out her washing, have given lifetimes of thought to this American dilemma.

Some of you are scholars of the heart who dreamed dreams of a new America. Some of you are administrators who must deal with Negro life as it is. Some of you are the captains of peaceful armies, who have led your people with great courage.

And I salute all of you. I welcome all of you to 2 days of intense labor for your country's sake.

The work that you do, and the recommendations that will be built on your work next spring, will vitally affect the future of over 200 million people.

For you will not be dealing with the abstractions of political science.

You will be dealing with human lives-and each human life lost through racial hatred, each life diminished by blind prejudice, saps the strength of this great land that we all love.

You will not be working in a vacuum. This administration, under the great leadership of this great man, Nicholas Katzenbach, has already put powerful and just laws on the statute books of this land. And I am here tonight to assure you that we have the determination and we have the resourcefulness to translate those laws into better lives for all Americans--this year and next year and for as many years as it takes to get this job finally done.

Now let us review tonight some of our accomplishments, and then let us look frankly at what remains to be done.

In the few weeks that elapsed since I originally proposed and signed into law the Voting Rights Act of 1965, this year, over 200,000 Negro citizens have been newly registered to vote. But many hundreds of thousands have not, and it is the "have nots" that we are concerned about from here on out. This is a challenge, I think, not only to your Government but it is a challenge to Negro leadership throughout this country. And I urge you, I plead with you, I beg you to work around the clock. Tell those who have been barred from the polls that a new day has come, that at last they may have a voice in shaping the destinies of their own land. That voice will be heard from the sheriff's office to the halls of Congress--but only if it is used.

One clear concern is the jury--the cornerstone of our system of justice in this country. If its composition is a sham, its judgment is a shame. And when that happens, justice itself is a fraud, casting off the blindfold and tipping the scales one way for whites and another way for Negroes.

Your Government has already moved and joined in three lawsuits which challenge a biased system of jury selection. In three counties, including Lowndes County, the United States has taken its cause to court, on the grounds that Negroes have been deliberately excluded from jury service.

But we must do more. We will do more. I have asked the Attorney General to prepare for me, to recommend to the Congress in January, jury legislation that is clear in its purpose and specific in its aim. That aim is to prevent injustice to Negroes at the hands of all-white juries.

We intend to make the jury box, in both State and Federal courts, the sacred domain of justice under law.

In the field of education, the common goal of white parents and Negro parents alike is the best possible education for their children, and it is a national shame that the vast majority of Negro children are schooled even worse than they are housed and fed.

Tomorrow I will ask the Commission on Civil Rights to turn its careful attention to the problems of race and education in all parts of this country. I am asking them to develop a firm foundation of facts on which local and State Governments can build a school system that is colorblind.

It has been 11 years--11 years since the Supreme Court decision in the Brown case.1 Eleven long years ago, and still while the decision is the law of the land, tonight it is not yet a fact. And I would hope that every school board in this land would examine its conscience tonight, for if not 11 years, then how long must it take ?

1Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kans., was one of the cases involved in the Supreme Court decision of May 17, 1954, declaring racial segregation in the public schools unconstitutional. The text of the decision is printed in United States Supreme Court Reports, 1954 (349 U.S. 294, 99 L. Ed. 1083).

In our assistance programs, we are seeking to make racial justice a positive purpose rather than a distant goal. I will expect immediate results from the letter that has just been sent out by the Attorney General. This letter calls on all agencies to ferret out discrimination in all assistance programs rather than just to simply sit and wait for complaints.

The plight of the Negro American can never be solved, though, just by laws alone. Despite all of the doors that we have opened in the past 10 years--and all the doors that we intend to open in the years ahead--there will be far too many who are unable to pass through them without our help. Because millions are trapped in ghettoes and shanties, millions are discouraged and hopeless. They will be as far from sharing in the promise of America as if they really inhabited another planet.

A guarantee of a job is useless to a man who cannot even read an application.

A college scholarship is useless to a child who drops out of school in the eighth grade.

The promise of a new skill is useless to a man who doesn't believe in the future.

A new classroom is useless to a child whose stomach is so empty that he cannot study, or whose eyes cannot recognize what he sees.

So the energy, and the fire, and the dedication that have gone into the American past, struggles for justice, and it struggles for it now, and it's needed for the day-to-day work that lies ahead of each of us.

I have asked you to come here to help me because this is not a job for one man alone. We need you to make these laws work. We need your guidance in what lies ahead. But most of all, I just must emphasize, we need your leadership for the Negro community in this country.

The tide of change is running with the Negro American on this mid-November evening. Neither the ignorant violence of the Ku Klux Klan nor the despairing violence of Watts can reverse it.

For this tide is moved by decency and by love and by justice. It rises in the breasts of a people whose mission on this earth is now what it was really in our own beginning. And that mission is for each of us a very personal obligation--a mission to strengthen the brotherhood of man.

Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 8:30 p.m. in the East Room at the White House before a planning session for the White House Conference "To Fulfill These Rights" to be held in Washington June 1-2, 1966. In his opening words he referred to A. Philip Randolph, President of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and honorary chairman of the meeting, Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, Attorney General Nicholas deB. Katzenbach, and to Morris Abram of Atlanta and New York City and William Coleman of Philadelphia, cochairmen of the meeting.

For the President's address at Howard University on June 4, see Item 301.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was approved by the President on August 6, 1965 (see Item 409)-

The President's message to the Congress on civil rights, dated April 28, 1966, is printed in the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents (vol. 2, p. 581).
See also Items 548, 615.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks at a Reception for Participants in a Planning Session for the White House Conference "To Fulfill These Rights." Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Filed Under



Washington, DC

Simple Search of Our Archives