Dwight D. Eisenhower photo

Remarks at the United Negro College Fund Luncheon

May 19, 1953

Mr. Chairman, Doctor Patterson, Mr. Rockefeller, distinguished guests, and friends:

From time to time I find that it is one of my pleasant duties to meet with groups who are convening here in the National Capital for some public-spirited service. It has been my privilege to extend to them a welcome on the part of the Administration and the National Government. In none of these cases have I felt greater satisfaction than I do this afternoon.

By his or her presence here, each person attending this meeting shows their support for several things in which I passionately believe. One of them is support for the Constitution of the United States which, written in the recognition that all people are the children of God, made no distinction among them by reason of inconsequential factors over which they themselves had no control.

I believe those of us who preach so loudly about constitutional government advance our cause as we meticulously observe that particular factor or foundation of that great Document.

Another thing I have preached, as have many others, is against the theory that there can be any second-class citizen. I believe as long as we allow conditions to exist that make for second-class citizens, we are making of ourselves less than first-class citizens.

In other words, I believe the only way to protect my own rights is to protect the rights of others.

Everything that the Constitution accords to me, I must defend for others--or else finally there will be nobody left to defend me.

And now I want to tell you a little bit of a story that just happened the day before yesterday. I was down at Annapolis, and I inspected a Marine Guard. As I went around, I noticed there were several Negroes occupying different positions in this Guard. One of them had on the chevrons of a non-commissioned officer. I talked with the commanding officer of this group. I said, "Now here occurs one of those things that was always advanced as an argument when we were working for the cause of eliminating segregation in the armed services--it was said that white men would not willingly serve under a Negro superior." And here I noticed that it was evidently not true. The officer smiled, and he said: "I must tell you that this man, when it came to the making of non-commissioned officers, could not pass the rigid mental examination we gave. But his personality was so fine, his qualities of leadership so evident, his character and reputation in the company so great that we had to make special arrangements so that it was unnecessary for him to pass completely the mental examination."

As I see it, you people today who are supporting the Negro College Fund are not only supporting the idea that men are equal, but you are making it unnecessary for a man to appear in a competitive place in our country, whether it be in governmental service or anywhere else, and have less opportunity than has his brothers for the mental training that would have given him exactly the same opportunities in that company as any other. It spoke to me very eloquently of this lad's very exceptional qualifications.

And so, really, I came only to say I am delighted you are here, I applaud the work you are doing, and particularly to join with you in expressing my own very deep sense of obligation to the Rockefeller family--a family that has seen this type of need and has done something within the terms of private enterprise, private initiative, and spontaneous cooperation, not waiting on some kind of law to get a thing done that they saw needed to be done.

Now that the moment for saying "This is going to be only a brief word" is too late for saying it, I will say it! Thank you for the privilege of allowing me to come here, Mr. Chairman and Dr. Patterson. My very best wishes go with all of you in this great work, and success to you.

Note: The President spoke at the National Press Club in Washington at 1:10 p.m. In his opening words he referred to C. D. Jackson, Chairman of the 1953 United Negro College Fund Campaign; Dr. F. D. Patterson, President of Tuskegee Institute and of the United Negro College Fund; and John D. Rockefeller 3d.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, Remarks at the United Negro College Fund Luncheon Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/231816

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