George Bush photo

Remarks at the United Negro College Fund Dinner in New York, New York

March 09, 1989

Thank you, Michael Jordan, for that introduction. Barbara and I are delighted to be with you, speaking before the olives, the celery, the raw carrots. [Laughter] But we've got to get back to Washington fast -- [laughter] -- the Senate is still in session, and our dog is pregnant. [Laughter]

I want to just add my voice of congratulations to Gus Hawkins and Larry Rawl and Paul Simon. You honor three good people. And I want to thank Hugh Cullman, who gives so much of himself to the United Negro College Fund, and, of course, salute Chris Edley, a friend of longstanding. You know, Paul Simon once wrote a song called simply, "Old Friends." And I'm delighted to see my old friends Bill and Vi Trent here with us tonight.

You know, as Michael said, my association with the UNCF got started there at Yale University in '48. And Bill Trent came up to New Haven and talked to a lot of young idealistic people about his vision for higher education, and he did a superb job. And so today, when he and Vi flew up with me on Air Force One, I had this great feeling of nostalgia. And his 79th birthday I think is tomorrow, but in any event, it's great to be with this old friend way down on the end of the line. Also with us on Air Force One was another executive director of the UNCF, Art Fletcher, who's here somewhere. But we had good representation. And you talk about the hard sell, they're still doing it. [Laughter]

Tonight, flanked by old friends and, in a real sense, family -- because my brother, John, is active in this crusade, and I consider many of you here family -- I am grateful for your company. During my student days at Yale, I first saw the fund invest in higher education and in America. And then, as now, it insisted that excellence become a way of life and a higher learning a bequest. And as an undergraduate, I came to grasp what Churchill talked about when he said, "Personally, I am always ready to learn, though I do not always enjoy being taught." [Laughter]

Well, for nearly half a century, this fund has taught so that America could learn, and the gentler impulses of mankind was high on the teaching agenda. And you have helped society's disadvantaged cast off despair and poverty. And through such friends as Bill Trent and now Chris and then Frederick D. Patterson -- and, yes, he is still sorely missed -- you have endorsed liberty, opportunity, and the dignity of work.

But most of all, you really have shown how the conscience and education can fulfill the promise of America: to right wrong, to love freedom, to demand equality for all. And for that, I congratulate you. And yet I challenge you, too. Black and white, together -- we know that America will not be a good place for any of us to live until it is a good place for all of us to live.

Most Americans, I'm convinced, believe that government can be an instrument of healing. There are times when government must step in where others fear to tread. My friends, I share those beliefs, and as President, I will act on them.

I'm delighted that my Secretary of Education, our distinguished Secretary of Education Larry Cavazos, is with us here tonight, sitting over here. For America, it seems to me, means pride -- individually, culturally, racially. And America means, in the words of Dr. King, that "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." And it does mean opportunity for those who need jobs and who dream of owning homes. And it means the hope that tomorrow will be brighter than today. How can we best inspire that hope and secure the promise of America? I do believe that the answer is in education. Education knows no barriers, accepts no limits. Education is a ladder; it embodies self-respect, not dependency. Education can give minorities a greater voice and then make sure that that voice is heard.

Since 1944, when Dr. Patterson founded the UNCF, your voice has resounded from colleges like Tuskegee and Morehouse and Spellman and Fisk. And I'm going to hurt a lot of feelings here tonight, because I was in a receiving line, and I was so impressed with the names that came flowing back as I met the presidents of these distinguished universities. Black colleges have ennobled such Americans as Leontyne Price, Frank Yerby, Azie Taylor Morton, and our next Secretary of Health and Human Services, my dear friend, Dr. Lou Sullivan, who is here with us tonight.

It is said that the woman who Time calls the Silver Fox -- [laughter] -- was responsible for Lou Sullivan's being appointed to this Cabinet, and I'll give her some credit. [Laughter] I want to gun down the rumor, though, that I appointed Lou Sullivan to be Secretary because when as president of Morehouse Medical School he was working my wife to death as a board member. And it's rumored I just wanted him to get out of there to let up on her -- not true. [Laughter]

As you know, in September 1981, President Reagan signed that Executive Order 12320, committing the Federal Government to increase its support of historical black colleges and universities. And our goal was to identify and eliminate unfair barriers to participation in federally sponsored programs. And our means was to involve the private sector and to motivate the 27 Federal agencies which provide nearly all the Federal funding.

And did it work? Did it ever -- in fiscal '81, historical black colleges received $545 million; fiscal year '87, $684. And moreover, research and development, which includes funds for nonscientific institutional development, comprised nearly half of all funding for historically black colleges. Our White House Science and Technology Advisory Committee fostered science, math, and engineering programs and curricula. And this comprehensive HBCU effort has attacked the four horsemen of the American night: illiteracy and inequality, indigence and fear. Great beginnings -- crawling before we walk and then run. Great beginnings, and now let's build on them. And we have done much, but there remains so much more left to do.

My friends, 8 weeks ago I think it was, there in the White House complex, I met with the presidents of many of the colleges represented here tonight to probe exactly where we are going and how. And we discussed faculty development and merit scholarships, community college grants and institutional planning. And from that meeting, and others like it, came six new initiatives which will help do nationally what you have done historically: enrich education so that education can enrich our lives. And after listening to your presidents, I proposed that Congress fund $60 million over 4 years in endowment-matching grants. We put our money on the table. And now I want to challenge the private sector. It's a beginning. We need the help of the private sector; the time has come.

And secondly, if excellence breeds achievement, that excellence should be rewarded in grade schools, in high school, and at our colleges and university. And so, I want Congress to create a $500 million program to reward America's merit schools, the schools which improve the most.

And thirdly, I want it to create special Presidential awards for the best teachers in every State.

And next, I want to see the expanded use of magnet schools to give parents and students the freedom of choice.

And I've also proposed a new program to encourage alternative certification: to allow talented Americans from every field to teach in America's school classrooms. Consider that today, in many areas, a John Updike or an Alex Haley could not qualify to teach high school creative writing. There is something wrong, and we've got to change that system. My point is that when rules are so inflexible that creativity and talent and imagination aren't welcome in our schools it's time to change those rules.

And finally, through a new program of National Science Scholars, I seek to give America's youth a special incentive to excel in science and math. The National Science Foundation predicts a shortage of 400,000 scientists by the year 2000. Through excellence in education, we must and will reverse that trend. And I see the historical black colleges as an enormous resource to do just exactly that.

And yet I recognize that these proposals -- all of this isn't enough; it never is. As Americans, we never are satisfied. We know that when a dream comes true it gives rise to even bigger and better dreams. And so, my appeal tonight is that we work to build a better America. I feel deeply in my heart about the United Negro College Fund. And I came up to tell you, at this highly successful dinner that Hugh and Chris and Michael and others here at this dais and all of you out there worked so hard on to make so successful, I want to help. I want the United States Government to help. And Barbara and I as individuals want to join you in this enormous power of the private sector to do all we can to help you achieve your goals and your ideals.

And thank you all, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 7:51 p.m. in the Imperial Ballroom at the Sheraton Center Hotel. In his remarks, he referred to Michael H. Jordan, Hugh Cullman, Christopher S. Edley, William Trent, and Frederick D. Patterson, member of the board of directors, chairman of the board of directors, president and chief executive officer, first executive director, and founder of the United Negro College Fund, respectively. Representative Augustus F. Hawkins of California; Lawrence G. Rawl, chairman of Exxon Corp.; and entertainer Paul Simon were given the Frederick D. Patterson Distinguished Leadership Award. Following his remarks, the President returned to Washington, DC.

George Bush, Remarks at the United Negro College Fund Dinner in New York, New York Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Filed Under



New York

Simple Search of Our Archives