Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks at the Swearing In of Roger Wilkins as Director, Community Relations Service.

February 04, 1966

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen:

Seven years ago I had the privilege of introducing the first Community Relations Service measure in the Congress of the United States. I did so out of a lifelong belief that conciliation is always stronger than confrontation.

At that time I observed that such an organization would place heavy responsibilities upon the conciliator. He would have to be a very imaginative man. He would have to be a very understanding man. He would have to be a man of absolute integrity.

Such men, I told the Congress, are very difficult to find, but they are not impossible to find. We did find such a man in Governor LeRoy Collins, who I am proud to welcome here this morning.

And now I think we have found another such man in Roger Wilkins, who I am glad to have here to take the oath. Although he, as you can observe, is very young in years, Roger Wilkins has the experience and, I believe, the poise and the calm judgment which is demanded of a conciliator.

He has had extensive experience in social welfare. He has had experience in dealing with the problems of developing nations. The very able and beloved Attorney General Katzenbach tells me that he has experience that will be very valuable to him as a practicing lawyer.1 He has had now nearly 4 years' experience as a public servant. And above all, I believe that he has understanding.

1 The President would shortly thereafter recommend transfer of the Community Relations Service to the Department of Justice (see Item 59).

Not long after I announced my intention of nominating Roger Wilkins to be the Director of the new Community Relations Service, he was asked whether the fact that Roy Wilkins was his uncle had anything to do with this appointment. Now I want it known that to be related to Roy Wilkins is no small honor.

There are few Americans that I believe have worked longer, harder, more intelligently, or more effectively for racial and social justice in our country, and I consider him not only one of my close counselors, but one of the great citizens of this generation. But today we have met here in this White House Theater not so much to honor Roger Wilkins because he has a distinguished uncle; I think it is better that we should congratulate Roy Wilkins because he has such a distinguished nephew.

We place high priority on the task that we have given you, Roger. We have secured the services of a very wise and able man, Brooks Hays, to work with you. We have proposed a very sharp increase in the budget of the Community Relations Service, from $1.3 million to $2 million. We have proposed an increase in the manpower of the Service from 67 to 100.

We are shifting the focus of the Service away from business groups and enlarging its mission by having it report directly to the Attorney General of the United States.

With the approval of the Congress, Mr. Wilkins, as Director, will have the rank of Assistant Attorney General of the United States.

So, Roger, you have been given a very critical task, at a very critical hour, a critical period in your Nation's history.

More than a century ago, Abraham Lincoln said, "I believe this Government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free." Today, I believe that this Nation cannot endure torn by hatred, and bigotry, and racial strife. I believe that we are, at this very moment, at a crossroads in America.

And I believe that the destiny of our children and our grandchildren await its decision. That decision will not be made by a powerful, strong Federal Government here in Washington. Of course, that Government can and will help. That Government can and will right injustices. That Government can fill empty plates and it can try to help nourish eager minds.

But after all is said and done, as I just related to Mr. Heineman in the library, it is with the people in the communities of this Nation that really the ultimate decision rests and where the ultimate responsibility lies. It rests in their hearts. It rests in their sense of decency and fair play. Above all, it rests in their commonsense.

So it is to these people and their communities that you must direct the efforts of the Community Relations Service. There are high responsibilities here. You can carry them with our high hopes and with our warm confidence. Our prayers will be with you and our efforts will support you every step of the way.

[At this point the oath of office was administered by Secretary of Commerce John T. Connor. The President then resumed speaking.]

I have just finished a preliminary meeting with the chairman of the civil rights conference to be held this spring here at the White House. He is one of our most gifted businessmen, one of our most dedicated patriots. He is going to give every weekend and as much nighttime as necessary from now until late in the spring to organize the conference and bring the best people in the Nation here to the White House to discuss the civil rights problems that face us, to try to work out an agenda of not only problems, but solutions and programs.

I would like all of you who are interested in this field to know him, and I would like to publicly thank him for the great sacrifices he is making, trying to serve his country in this critical field in this critical period--Mr. Ben Heineman.

Note: The President spoke at 11:38 a.m. in the Theater at the White House. During his remarks he referred to LeRoy Collins, Under Secretary of Commerce and former Governor of Florida, Attorney General Nicholas deB. Katzenbach, Roy Wilkins, Secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Brooks Hays, Representative from Arkansas 1943-1959 and Special Assistant to the President 1961-1963, and Ben W. Heineman, chairman of the forthcoming White House conference on civil rights.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks at the Swearing In of Roger Wilkins as Director, Community Relations Service. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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