Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks at the Swearing In of Howard J. Samuels as Under Secretary of Commerce.

November 30, 1967

Mr. Howard Samuels and family, Secretary Trowbridge, Mr. Justice Fortas, Members of the Congress, ladies and gentlemen, and friends:

I am here this morning to hand new challenges to a man who has really made a career of challenges.

Howard Samuels has been facing up to challenges all of his life.

In the public schools of upstate New York.

In the classes of MIT.

In the Army before Pearl Harbor, when he was fighting with Patton across Europe.

Lieutenant Colonel Samuels, age 26, came back from war with an idea and with a dream. He began his own business in an abandoned old schoolhouse. The rent was $35 a month. He and his brother built a corporation from that. It is now this Nation's largest producer of plastic packaging.

So, Howard Samuels leaves this success behind--because another and a larger challenge has brought him to his Nation's Capital.

He takes high office this morning in a department that once spoke only for business. Now it speaks to business about the real business of America--the well-being of all the American people, including the business people.

So Mr. Samuels, your President wants to challenge you--and to challenge American business--to do more to solve the stubborn problems that plague this Nation and that keep us worrying at night.

Let me mention just two of those problems in the brief time this morning:

One is the shame of America. It is the slum America--the nameless subcity of the poor that exists in every State. It is a sprawling hovel where 20 million Americans--to percent of all of our people--today live in tenements, in rural shacks, and tar paper shanties.

There are nearly 6 million of these so-called homes in this, the richest land in the world. Law and decency condemn them. Yet they stand--supported by our inaction, and also supported by, I am afraid, our indifference. They stand 30 years after President Franklin Roosevelt signed our first public housing act. They stand despite all that the last five Presidents have done to try to wipe this shame from the face and from the conscience of the wealthiest people on earth.

So much for challenge one. The second challenge is to try to hire and to train the half a million hard-core unemployed. That is what we are talking about--500,000 hard-core unemployed.

This is our forgotten labor force. It is an unenlisted legion, a neglected resource of a rich and a productive America.

They are the last in line. They do not share in America's abundance because they are the handicapped, they are the unskilled, they are the untrained, and they are the slighted victims of indifference and of discrimination.

Some of us think and hope that all they are asking of us is a chance. We are trying as hard as we know how to give them that chance--a chance to work at a good job at a decent wage.

But we do need help. Government just can't do it alone. We need the energy, we need the genius, we need the imagination, and we need the initiative of the businessmen of America who have built this great free enterprise system into the most powerful economy in all the world.

Last month I asked the distinguished Secretary of Commerce, Mr. Sandy Trowbridge, to get our businessmen involved, to get them involved in hiring or training these castoff Americans. The Secretary turned to our country's 500 largest firms and asked them for help.

Twenty-three of these 500 said they would help.

Twenty-nine said they would not help.

Eighty-five said they were interested.

But the men on the highest levels sometimes just deal with the cream of the crop. That still leaves, after Mr. Trowbridge worked all these days, 70 percent for you, Mr. Samuels. They have not committed themselves. We are going to put you in the nose of the cone, in the goldfish bowl, and we are going to see what you do and what the 70 percent of the 500 do about helping us do something for these half million hard-core unemployed.

I believe the businessman can become concerned, if he knows the facts. But the average businessman is, first of all, always concerned first with his own business. He is busy with his own affairs. The pity of that is a terrible, accidental callousness to the greater business of all of us--a very dangerous thing. His business is not going to ultimately be any better than all of our business.

Tomorrow morning, we will begin the 82d consecutive month of growing prosperity in America. In less than 7 years, corporate profits after taxes have increased 93 percent--almost doubled in the last 7 years-corporate profits after taxes.

So I summon American business this morning, as I did yesterday at the luncheon here in the White House. I summon them in their surge of prosperity, to try to look back at its wake: to look hard at the nameless slum city of the poor and to look hard at this forgotten labor force--and try to help the leaders of commerce join the leaders of the workers in doing something about it. Government can supplement their efforts but cannot supplant them.

Now, before we administer the oath, I must remark upon your wonderful family of eight children. I think it is right that a man who will help to run the Census Bureau should have such a large and attractive family.

So in the language of commerce, "It gives a man a piece of the action."

Note: The President spoke at 11:47 a.m. in the East Room at the White House. In his opening words he referred to Secretary of Commerce Alexander B. Trowbridge and Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas, who administered the oath of office. Later he referred to Gen. George S. Patton, Jr., Commander of the 15th U.S. Army in Europe during World War II.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks at the Swearing In of Howard J. Samuels as Under Secretary of Commerce. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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