Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks at the Swearing In of Walter E. Washington and Thomas W. Fletcher as Commissioner of the District of Columbia and Assistant to the Commissioner

September 28, 1967

Mr. Justice Fortas, Mr. and Mrs. Walter Washington and family, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Fletcher and family, distinguished Members of the Cabinet, Members of the Congress, Members of the Court, ladies and gentlemen:

More than ceremony summons us here to the East Room this morning.

We celebrate a new era for the Capital City as we meet here to swear in Walter Washington as Washington's first mayor, and Thomas Fletcher as his deputy.

The citizens of the District have waited almost a century for this day to come, and all that it symbolizes.

This is the day--and this is the year--that the District emerges into the world of the 20th century government.

With the recent reorganization plan, the Nation's Capital was liberated from the outworn practices of past years. That reorganization plan equips the city with new machinery to let its government serve the needs of its people.

But the best machinery can function effectively only in the hands of the best men.

I looked across America to try to find these men. And I think we found them-men with the strength and the character and the vision to deal with tough problems. And now, this morning, we commit those problems to their capable hands.

No one here, for a moment, minimizes these problems.

The District's new day comes at a time of real crisis for every American city. And Washington, D.C., the Capital City, represents the American city.

It is alive with promise. And more than any other, it houses the heritage of our history.

But beyond the monuments, urban erosion eats at a city's heart and at a city's hope.

The needs are clear to all of us: safety on the streets and in our homes; driving crime from our midst; health and education for our children; a decent roof over every family; a good job for every person who is willing to take it. Then every resident can share the pride that stirs every visitor to our Capital.

The leaders who will help to solve those problems know the challenge. They are uniquely qualified to act because their careers have been spent in action, in meeting the needs of cities and the needs of their people.

Together, this team has the energy and the experience to deal responsibly with the great urban and human problems of our time. Together, they will focus those talents on our national Capital City.

Mr. Fletcher wrote an outstanding and distinguished record as city manager of San Diego, California. He brings to his task a deep knowledge of how modern city administration and fiscal planning can work to the benefit of the people.

Mr. Washington brings unsurpassed skills as a city executive. He is taking a very large reduction in salary and making sacrifices to come here to accept this draft from his President. He is an authentic leader and he has devoted a lifetime of effective and inspired work in the cause of good housing, one of our most critical urban needs--to say nothing about what he has done for beautification in the District of Columbia. He has lived and worked on the streets of his home city. And he had said that he is going to travel those streets again, in pursuit of the progress that the people want and the people need and the people desire and expect.

Mr. Mayor, your walk will be long and arduous, but I believe it will be rewarding.

You will walk with the eyes of the Nation on you.

Everything you do will be known. You will live in a goldfish bowl as most of us .public servants do. But, Mr. Mayor, and Mr. Deputy Mayor, we wish you well--and bid you Godspeed.

[At this point, Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas administered the oath of office to Mr. Washington and Mr. Fletcher. The President then resumed speaking.]

Mr. Mayor and Mr. Fletcher, you won't be walking alone. I am sending to the Senate my recommendations for the District of Columbia City Council.

In filling this Council, it was our goal to find among the 800,000 residents of the District of Columbia nine exceptional men and women to work with you, to work on the team, to assist you in leading the government of the Nation's Capital, to represent the people at all times in this new venture in government that we are undertaking.

We have spent weeks in considering recommendations made to us by organizations, in searching and consulting with the best authorities that we could talk to. We have reviewed hundreds of records and files. We have sought and obtained not only your recommendations, Mr. Mayor and Mr. Fletcher, but those of civic, labor, religious, and other leading nonpolitical groups.

Today I am happy to announce the names of those that I recommend to serve on the Council. And if the Senate is willing, they will serve on the Council.

As Chairman, a distinguished Washington attorney, a political scientist, a teacher, a wise counselor, a leader in bringing educational television and modern transportation to the Nation's Capital, Council Chairman Mr. Max Kampelman.

As Vice Chairman, a crusader for effective government, for broader opportunities, for better housing for all the people, the pastor of the New Bethel Baptist Church--the Reverend Walter Fauntroy.

Very deeply involved in the life of the city, honored as an outstanding citizen, an innovator in the field of programs for the young people of the District and director of one of Washington's most successful youth projects, the Roving Leaders--Mr. Stanley Anderson.

A leader in church activities, a fighter against discrimination, an eminent attorney, Mrs. Margaret A. Haywood.

A second-generation Washingtonian, a leader in the District's Head Start program, a worker for better housing, Mr. John Nevius.

President of the Washington Urban League, a respected member of the community, an outstanding lawyer, a past president of the National Bar Association, Mr. William Thompson.

A labor leader who knows the problems of the workingman, who fought for the minimum wage, who has spent a lifetime of service in the cause of labor, a man who has made many contributions to helping his fellow man and to improving his city, Mr. J. C. Turner.

One of 13 children, a lifelong resident of the District, and at present an executive at IBM, he finds the time to teach high school dropouts at night, Mr. Joseph Yeldell.

A longtime Washington resident, an editor, a civic leader, active in the District's family and child welfare program, Mrs. Polly Shackleton. Mrs. Shackleton this morning is observing conditions in Montreal as a background for what she is going to be called on to do here and cannot be present.

These nine citizens, we believe, will be a genuine voice for the people of Washington. We think they represent this city. We believe they know and understand and will certainly learn all about its urgent problems.

I hope the Senate will act promptly so that the new city government can move rapidly from promise to performance.

With this team, Mayor Washington, you and your Deputy Mayor Fletcher can now show America what concerned and aroused municipal leaders can do. You can improve the lives of your fellow citizens. You can transform this city into a proud home for all the people.

Some of the most enlightened Members of the Congress, who at great sacrifice to themselves, have fought for years for a better government for the District of Columbia, are here this morning. We are grateful to all of you for having come.

Now, Mr. Mayor and Mr. Deputy Mayor and City Councilmen, it is up to you to get with it. And you had better learn these Congressmen and Senators.

Note: The President spoke at 10:52 a.m. in the East Room at the White House. In his opening words he referred to Associate Justice Abe Fortas of the United States Supreme Court, who administered the oath of office.

On October 11 the White House announced that Max Kampelman, named by the President as Chairman of the District of Columbia Council, had requested that his nomination be withdrawn because of problems related to his law practice. John W. Hechinger, the announcement said, would be nominated in his place.
See also Items 341 and 377.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks at the Swearing In of Walter E. Washington and Thomas W. Fletcher as Commissioner of the District of Columbia and Assistant to the Commissioner Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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