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Remarks on the CBS Radio Network: "Bridges to Human Dignity, The Concept"

April 25, 1968

Every age has its special set of problems, and every problem has its special catch-phrases. Today, we commonly speak of "the urban crisis." And yet the problems wrenching America today are only secondarily problems of the cities. Primarily, they are problems of the human mind and spirit.

Over and over again, we ask ourselves whether our cities can survive, whether they can remain livable, whether the races can coexist within them, whether poverty and squalor must inevitably consume the inner city. In asking these questions, we are asking, in effect: how long can Americans ignore the race condition?

How long can we endure the discord, the prejudice, the dependency, the difficulty of bringing white and black together in peace?

The challenge confronting America today is as broad as the world and as complex as humanity itself.

It is a question of whether the pain, the injustices, the angers that stem from a century of fear and misunderstanding, now can at last be put behind us.

It is a question of whether we believe in the essential dignity of man, and if so, whether we are prepared to act on that belief.

For years now, the focus of talk, of debate, of action, has been on "civil rights" — and the result has been a decade of revolution in which the legal structure needed to guarantee equal rights has been laid in place.

Voting rights, schools, jobs, housing, public accommodations — in all these areas, new laws have been passed, old laws struck down. Segregation, Jim Crow, "all deliberate speed," freedom rides — these terms which aroused such passion a few years ago, have lost much of their relevance as basic goals have been won. The old vocabulary of the civil rights movement has become the rhetoric of the rearview mirror.

And yet these victories have not brought peace or satisfaction or the fullness of freedom. Neither have the old approaches of the 30's — the government charities that feed the stomach and starve the soul.

No "More of the Same"

For too long, white America has sought to buy off the Negro — and to buy off its own sense of guilt — with ever more programs of welfare, of public housing, of payments to the poor, but not for anything except for keeping out of sight: payments that perpetuated poverty, and that kept the endless, dismal cycle of dependency spinning from generation to generation.

Our task — our challenge — is to break this cycle of dependency, and the time to begin is now. The way to do it is not with more of the same, but by helping bring to the ghetto the light of hope and pride and self-respect.

We have reached a point at which more of the same will only result in more of the same frustration, more of the same explosive violence, more of the same despair.

I have said recently that the fiscal crisis now confronting America is so great and so urgent that only by cutting the Federal budget can we avert an economic disaster in which the poor themselves would be caught calamitously in the undertow.

The reality of the national economic condition is such that to talk of massively increasing the budget in order to pour additional billions into the cities this year is a cruel delusion.

But this does not mean that because we cannot do more of the same, we must do nothing new. Only those who are locked into the solutions of the past, who measure progress by billions spent rather than by results achieved, will let themselves be stopped by a budgetary wall.

Activating Our Resources

In the long run, I think history will judge it fortunate that the United States was forced by economic crisis to turn to people, rather than government: forced to explore new and imaginative means of activating the real resources of America. For the plain fact of the matter is that all the money in the world wouldn't solve the problems of our cities today — whether those are thought of as problems of race, or of housing, or of education, or even as problems of poverty.

We won't get at the real problems unless and until we rescue the people in the ghetto from despair and dependency.

There's no pride at the receiving end of the dole, and unless and until there is pride in the ghetto — personal pride and racial pride — we're not going to get anywhere in tackling the real problems of a real world.

Let me be very clear. As we look down this final third of the twentieth century, a period in which the population of our cities will double, the costs of both physical and human regeneration will increase greatly. No fiscal sleight-of-hand can restore and renew the cities without our having to pay the bill. And governments at all levels will have to join with private enterprise in meeting that cost.

But this is long-term.

Right now we face a short-term fiscal crisis, a crisis that William McChesney Martin, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, calls the worst in a generation. Unless we save the dollar, we may have nothing left to save our cities with.

At such a time, it is gross irresponsibility to promise billions of new Federal dollars for the cities or even for the poor. One thing worse than not keeping a promise is making a promise that cannot be kept.

If the ghettos are to be renewed, their people must be moved by hope. But hope is a fragile thing, easily destroyed and even more easily weakened — and nowhere is it more fragile than among those whose hopes over the years have been repeatedly raised only to be cruelly dashed.

What we do not need now is another round of unachievable promises of unavailable Federal funds.

The Bridges Needed Now

What we do need is imaginative enlistment of private funds, private energies, and private talents, in order to develop the opportunities that lie untapped in our own underdeveloped urban heartland.

It costs little or no government money to set in motion many of the programs that would in fact do the most, in a practical sense, to start building a firm structure of Negro economic opportunity.

We need new bridges between the developed and underdeveloped segments of our own society — human bridges, economic bridges, bridges of understanding and of help.

We need incentives to private industry to make acceptable the added risks of ghetto development and of training the unemployed for jobs. Helping provide these incentives is the proper role of government; actually doing the job is not — because industry can do it better.

This is one kind of a bridge.

Another bridge is the bridge of black success — a bridge that can only be built by those Negroes who themselves have overcome, and who by their help or their example can show that the way to the American Dream is not barred by a sign that reads, "Whites Only."

A third bridge is the development of black capitalism. By providing technical assistance and loan guarantees, by opening new capital sources, we can help Negroes to start new businesses in the ghetto and to expand existing ones.

Educational bridges can be built, now, at little cost — bridges of tutorial help, of business training, of remedial assistance, using volunteers who in case after case have shown themselves both willing and effective.

Bridges of understanding can be built by revising the welfare rules, so that instead of providing incentives for families to break apart, they provide incentives for families to stay together; so they respect the privacy of the individual; so they provide incentives rather than penalties for supplementing welfare checks with part-time earnings.

From Welfare to Dignity

We must make welfare payments a temporary expedient, not a permanent way of life; something to be escaped from, not to. Our aim should be to restore dignity of life, not to destroy dignity — and the way welfare programs are too often administered today, their effect is to destroy it. They create a permanent caste of the dependent, a colony within a nation.

In another nationwide radio address next Thursday I will spell out a number of specific programs for building these bridges, and also others. The point about all of them is that they can be done now; they don't require billions of dollars that the government doesn't have, and they don't require waiting until billions more become available. They are not the whole answer. But they are part of the answer — and a vital part, without which no amount of money can do the job.

These are the kinds of approaches that get directly at the matter of dignity and pride and self-respect; these are the kinds of approaches that can break the shackles of dependency, just as the laws of the past decade have finally broken the shackles of bondage.

Human Rights, Property Rights

Much in this area can be done through private initiative — for example, by groups such as John Gardner's forward-looking Urban Coalition. What they require is commitment, by private citizens as well as by public officials.

It's long been common practice among many to draw a distinction between "human rights" and "property rights," suggesting that the two are separate and unequal — with "property rights" second to "human rights."

But in order to have human rights, people need property rights — and never has this been more true than in the case of the Negro today. In order to enjoy the human rights that ought to be his, he has to acquire the property rights on which to build. What do I mean by property? Many things — but essentially, the economic power that comes from ownership, and the security and independence that come from economic power. Rights are never secure unless protected, and the best protections for a person's basic rights are those he can erect himself.

Black extremists are guaranteed headlines when they shout "bum" or "get a gun." But much of the black militant talk these days is actually in terms far closer to the doctrines of free enterprise than to those of the welfarist 30's — terms of "pride," "ownership," "private enterprise," "capital," "self-assurance," "self-respect" — the same qualities, the same characteristics, the same ideals, the same methods, that for two centuries have been at the heart of American success, and that America has been exporting to the world. What most of the militants are asking is not separation, but to be included in — not as supplicants, but as owners, as entrepreneurs — to have a share of the wealth and a piece of the action.

And this is precisely what the central target of the new approach ought to be. It ought to be oriented toward more black ownership, for from this can flow the rest — black pride, black jobs, black opportunity and yes, black power, in the best, the constructive sense of that often misapplied term.

Black Enterprise

Philosophies, wars, power structures, all have turned historically on the basic questions of ownership — who owns the means of production, who owns land — for the simple reason that with ownership goes power, prestige, security, the right to decide and to choose.

We should listen to the militants — carefully, hearing not only the threats but also the programs and the promises. They have identified what it is that makes America go, and quite rightly and quite understandably they want a share of it for the black man.

For a long time, we too have been talking about preservation of the private enterprise system, about enlisting private enterprise in the solution of our great social problems, about profits as the great motive power of our fantastically productive economy. What many of the black militants now are saying, in effect, is this: "We believe you, and now we want a chance to apply those same principles in our own communities."

Our reply should not be to reject this request, but to seize upon it — and to respond to it.

The ghettos of our cities will be remade — lastingly remade — when the people in them have the will, the power, the resources, and the skills to remake them. They won't be remade by government billions; the sad history of urban renewal, for example, has shown how often this results in an actual decrease in the number of housing units available for the poor, with one slum torn down and another created — because the basic conditions of slum life haven't been changed. These conditions are what we have to get at — the human and social conditions, the conditions of the spirit — and these in turn rest in large part on our laying in place the economic structure that can support a rebirth of pride and individualism and independence.

Free Enterprise in the Ghetto

For the individual, a job is the essential first step — whether toward independence, toward family responsibility, or toward advancement — but even jobs have to be provided within a framework that establishes dignity and the pride of the black man as well as the white.

It's no longer enough that white-owned enterprises employ greater numbers of Negroes, whether as laborers or as middle-management personnel. This is needed, yes — but it has to be accompanied by an expansion of black ownership, of black capitalism. We need more black employers, more black businesses.

Integration must come — but in order for it to come on a sound and equal basis, the black community has to be built from within even as the old barriers between black and white are dismantled from without.

We have to get private enterprise into the ghetto. But at the same time we have to get the people of the ghetto into private enterprise — as workers, as managers, as owners.

The Demand for Dignity

At a time when so many things seem to be going against us in the relations between the races, let us remember the greatest thing going for us: the emerging pride of the black American. That pride, that demand for dignity, is the driving force that we all can build upon. The black man's pride is the white man's hope — and we must all, black and white, respond to that pride and that hope.

These past few years have been a long night of the American spirit. It's time we let in the sun.

It's time to move past the old civil rights, and to bridge the gap between freedom and dignity, between promise and fulfillment.

It's time to give a new dimension to our American concept of equal justice under law — time to give an answer of the spirit to America's crisis of the spirit — and it's a time to face our challenges not in despair, but with zest — not with a heavy heart, not bowing sullenly to duty, but as an opportunity for America to redeem and enrich its heritage.

Ours is a chance today to change America, and, by our example, to help America change the world.

APP NOTE: From section two of the volume "Nixon Speaks Out" titled, "To Make Our People One".

Richard Nixon, Remarks on the CBS Radio Network: "Bridges to Human Dignity, The Concept" Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/326763

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