Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks at a White House Briefing for Black Administration Appointees

June 25, 1984

Well, thank you, and good morning. And I know that you've been listening to a lot of reports, and I hope mine'll be shorter than what you've had to listen to, because I don't imagine they've left me very much to talk about.

But I am proud to welcome to the White House so many of our partners in this administration. Special thanks goes to my friend Mel Bradley1 for organizing this event. Mel was with us in the California Governor's office, and he's doing a fine job here in the White House.

1 Special Assistant to the President for Policy Development.

You serve in positions of genuine importance in every branch of this government, from Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Sam Pierce, to Ambassador Alan Keyes, a member of our delegation to the United Nations, to Assistant Secretary of the Navy David Spurlock, to Mary Bush, one of our representatives at the International Monetary Fund, and to all of you who are here today.

Your jobs aren't easy. Long hours and constant criticism—some of it from the very people we're trying to help—are the rule, not the exception. But I know we all agree that the sacrifices and the trials are worth the rewards. Together, we're putting America back on the high road of progress, and in doing that, we're assembling a record that we can take to all Americans with pride.

Let me mention these three points of special concern.

First, education: This is the crucial tool that black Americans need to make progress. In the years before we took office, our nation's schools had begun to show unmistakable signs of crisis. From 1963 to '83—or to '81, college entrance examination scores underwent a virtually unbroken decline. Science achievement scores of 17-year-olds showed a similar drop. And most shocking, the National Commission on Excellence in Education reported that more than one-tenth of our 17-year-olds can be considered functionally illiterate.

We took office determined to change that. And since our administration put education at the top of the national agenda, we've seen a dramatic turnaround. In 1980 only a handful of States had statewide task forces on education. Today they all do. In addition, 47 States are considering new graduation requirements; 47 are studying improvements in teacher certification; and 17 are exploring merit pay for teachers. It all adds up to the most far-reaching education reform and renewal movement since the turn of the century.

In large part, because of our efforts, black children are beginning to get the educations they need to participate fully in American life. And as we go forward, let me assure you that we will remain committed to the future of our historically black colleges and universities.

These schools were very much on my mind when we started here, because they meant so much at a time when it would have otherwise been very difficult for so many to get higher education. And I was determined that they should not be left withering on a vine.

Back in September '81, I directed Federal agencies to increase the ability of these fine schools to participate in federally sponsored programs. And we've made significant progress. In the past 2 years, funding to these 103 schools has risen to $606 million. That's an 11.3-percent increase. Research and development grants and contracts have increased $282 million. And last fall we amended title III of the Higher Education Act so we can provide matching funds to help build college and university endowments. And I want you to know that we're working right now with Fisk University to help it find a way through its current economic difficulties.

Now, the second concern I want to mention lies at the very heart of the black experience in America—the struggle for equal rights. Contrary to a lot of demagoguery that we're hearing, our administration has moved with vigor and vision on this front.

In the enforcement of criminal, civil rights statutes, the Justice Department has filed 149 cases, including 24 against perpetrators of racial violence. We're energetically enforcing fair housing provisions and have proposed legislation to strengthen enforcement still further. Under our administration the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is collecting record amounts of back pay. And since we took office, the percentage of minorities and women serving as military officers or holding white-collar jobs has risen.

I believe these figures demonstrate a commitment to civil rights that is firm and far-reaching. But let me go beyond statistics to speak from my heart. I still believe in a simple principle I learned from my mother and father: Black or white, young or old, every human being is a sacred child of God, a person of infinite dignity and worth.

All Americans have the right to be judged on the sole basis of individual merit and to go just as far as their dreams and hard work will take them. And we won't have finished the job until, in this country, whatever is done to or for someone is done neither in spite of nor because of their religion or their color, their difference in ethnic background, or anything else; that we will— [applause] . In this job, I have no higher duty than to defend the civil rights of all the citizens of this country.

And last, I want to mention the economy. Here, again, we in this administration are acting with energy and determination. We've helped disadvantaged and dislocated workers by enacting the Job Training Partnership Act. Indeed, in our last budget, I requested $3.6 billion for the JTPA, money that during 1985 will serve some 2.2 million individuals. We've supported minority businesses, establishing a program that over the next 10 years will call for the purchase of $22 billion in goods and services by the Government from minority firms. For the truly needy, we've enlarged the safety net, increasing spending for such items as medicare and medicaid and food stamps and housing.

To bring jobs to economically troubled places like inner cities, we've proposed a fresh idea. It's called enterprise zones. But some Democrats are blocking this proposal in the Congress, even though many State and local governments have established their own enterprise zones after they saw us trying for 2 years or more to get this program through the present Congress. Now, these zones have created thousands of new jobs. They've shown what a big success our own enterprise zones can and will be if only those do-nothing Democrats in Congress will step aside and let us get on with the job. They may have successfully blocked us so far, but we're not going to give up. They'll find we're still around.

To reduce teenage unemployment, especially black teenage unemployment, which is the highest segment of unemployment in the country, we've proposed a youth employment opportunity wage for the summer months. When I think back to my own boyhood, I remember how each summer I used to look for a job and get a job, and starting when I was 14 years old. And there wasn't anyone around to tell them that if I was willing to accept the pay that was offered that I couldn't take the job. Of course, I didn't earn as much as a full-time working man, but it was good money to me. And I was providing genuine service to my employers.

I'm convinced that it's only common sense to enact this opportunity wage and help young people get summer jobs, needed discipline, and experience. And they won't be taking jobs away from permanent, adult workers. But they will be, as unskilled and new in the job market, working at a rate that I think would be commensurate and fair for their position in the work force. Today they're unemployed because many of the jobs that would be available do not afford the minimum wage and what it has risen to. After all, why should the Federal Government stand in the way of a young man or a woman who is finding their first job? I might add that at their recent conference, America's black mayors gave our opportunity wage proposal a firm endorsement.

Despite the importance of all these efforts, one change our administration has brought about is doing more to help black Americans than all of the programs put together, and I'm talking about economic expansion. Today, inflation is less than half. As a matter of fact, it's down to about a third of what it was when we took office. Retail sales and factory orders are up. Since the expansion began, the unemployment rate has shown the steepest drop in 30 years, and over 6 million Americans have found jobs. And more Americans are working now than ever before in our history, and more jobs are being created at a faster rate here than in any other major industrialized nation.

Yes, black employment is still—or unemployment is still too high. But as I pledged last year to the National Council of Negro Women, I intend to see to it that every American regardless of race, religion, or gender benefits from this recovery. Today black unemployment is dropping even more quickly, I'm glad to say, than white unemployment. And our economic program will go on creating jobs if we control government spending and if we keep taxes where they belong, which is down.

Together, we've begun to create a genuine opportunity society, a nation where every citizen has the chance to do good, honest work and prosper. Last November when I signed into law the national holiday commemorating the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I quoted his stirring words about the fate of black and white Americans: "Their destiny is tied up with our destiny, and their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone."

Well, no, we cannot walk alone. And that's why you and I are working to improve the destiny of all Americans—to make it possible for our people to walk together into a glorious future of freedom and prosperity. I'm convinced that if each of us gives this great cause our best efforts, then our dream will come true, and in Dr. King's words, "All of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning, 'Land where my fathers died, Land of the pilgrims' pride, From every mountain-side Let freedom ring.'" [Applause] Thank you very much.

Now, I know we're running into lunch hour. We shouldn't do that, but I just have one last thing. First of all, I thank you for all you're doing for the country. God bless all of you. And if you didn't mind taking a few more minutes, I'm going into the Blue Room there, and then you can come through, and I can get to say hello to each one of you individually, and we can have our picture taken. All right.

Note: The President spoke at 11:45 a.m. in the East Room at the White House.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks at a White House Briefing for Black Administration Appointees Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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