Lyndon B. Johnson photo

The President's Remarks at a Reception Given in His Honor by Negro Presidential Appointees

December 17, 1968

Justice Marshall, Secretary Weaver, Chairman Alexander, my dear friend, Louis Martin, ladies and gentlemen:

I am so grateful to all of you, and not just for this presentation, though I shall treasure it, but because all of the young people who will come to the University of Texas Public Affairs School will have a chance to gaze upon it.

I am grateful, more importantly, for what you have done to prove what I have always believed: that ability, judgment, and loyalty are individual matters and they are not the special province of a single race or class.

What you have done for this country of ours--what you are doing for it now--is proof that the democratic idea is right. In this instance, I mean democratic with a little "d."

You, and thousands like you throughout the country, have broken the old stereotypes.

You have made our social system much freer, much more open, much more vital.

You in this room tonight are the vanguard. But behind you there are millions of your fellow citizens who are proud that a Negro-American is a Justice on the Supreme Court of the United States, that a Negro-American sits in the President's Cabinet, that Negroes are operating great programs, that they are leading aggressive commissions, that they are speaking for the President of the United States abroad, and they are directing the affairs of the capital of their country in the Capital City of Washington.

Yet, many of these same Americans--these millions who are so proud about these other things--they cannot get a decent job and they cannot care for their own families. Pride doesn't feed them.

I am proud to have had a role in matching many of you with great public responsibilities. I am glad that in the Johnson administration America began to attend to some of this urgent but long neglected business.

I deeply--deeply--regret that there are still millions and millions and millions locked in poverty, locked in on ill-paying jobs, locked out of America's promise.

Some of those millions--especially the young--want a place in this prosperous democracy that they just cannot find. Some of them feel that their only course is to attack the institutions of this society and all who lead it, including some of the great men on this platform.

How those institutions and leaders respond to them in the next few years is going to have a lot to say about the quality of life in America 5 years from now or 10 years from now.

If we turn a deaf ear to them, or if we try to patronize them, or if we simply try to suppress their impatience and deny its causes, then we are not going to solve anything.

All we are going to do, I think, is just compound our troubles. We cannot yield to mindless rage and destroying violence, but neither can we afford one single moment of complacency so long as there is hunger, so long as there is ignorance, and so long as there is joblessness among millions of our people.

Your appointments to high office, of course, gave me great personal satisfaction, but actually, they were only the very bare beginning. The real task and the real achievements lie ahead. I commend them to you in confidence and in hope.

As I stood here this evening, my heart was throbbing with great gratitude to those of you who thought enough about me to want to come here tonight.

I saw a good many things in the eyes and the countenances of the people out there in front. I saw more faith and more hope and more vision than I see in a good many places I go.

If they think you are naive, so be it. If they think you are so trusting, so be it. My mind went back to the days many, many years ago when a great lawyer was berated and betrayed and vilified because he came to the University of Texas to handle the Sweatt case1 at that great institution, and carried it to the Supreme Court of the United States so a Negro could go to college in this country.

I am so happy that we were able to take that same Negro lawyer and make him the Solicitor General of the land, and make him the Justice of the Supreme Court.

I sat in the Cabinet Room just a few months ago--not too many months ago-with 36 people present, and we talked about the great problem we had in this country of housing. In over 30 years we have built only 34 million homes. If we are to make it at all, we ought to build 26 million homes in the next 10 years; that is two million and six compared to less than a million a year in the past 30 years.

But the question was, are we going to build segregated homes. The question was, could every person in this country, if he had the money, live where he wanted to live, buy a house if he could pay for it, and where he wanted to buy it.

This is no criticism of the vision of those men. Some of them didn't say anything. Some of them said: "Mr. President, let's don't get around to this now. You sign the Executive order here and lets make some dashes."

I said: "No, I am not going to deal with this piecemeal. This is going to be a national commitment. It may be a long time before we ever get this to be the law of the land. But we will never get it to law unless we try. If you want to go with me and stay with me"--as they said in my country--"go with old Ben Milam." He said: "Who will go with old Ben Milam?" I said: "If you want to go with me, then let's send the message to the Congress and let's ask them for equality in our country, equality in housing."

I remember one strong, loud voice that said: "Yes, we can do that and we will do it. It will go." I had great respect for him. It was Clarence Mitchell. He is here. He didn't have the highest title in the room, but he had torn down my door up there more when I was there.

In a matter of months, I am confident of the other 34. As a matter of fact, I certainly didn't think we could get it that soon. I doubt that anybody thought we could get it at all, and I am not sure that Clarence thought so, though we tried. All of us put our shoulder to the wheel. It is now the law of the land.

I was reading my wife's diary when I thought that she was downstairs entertaining. She was talking about the parade and the picketing out in front of the White House on March 7, 1965, in the days of Selma.

She was talking about the problems we faced. Then she talked about the message that I sent up--I took up--on the Voter's Rights Act, that someone, Justice Marshall, was kind enough to mention.2

She said: "There my husband was, stretched out on the bed, at 7:45 in the evening, and poor Jack Valenti was distraught. He was bringing in page after page of that speech as it came out of the typewriter, and he was practically redoing each page.

"He had to be in front of the cameras for the Nation and the Congress at 9 o'clock." She said, "Finally, when he got down to the point of one page, he said, 'Just tear that one up. I don't want any of it. I want you to say this: And then I looked into the eyes of those Mexican students that I taught back at Cotulla many years ago; poor Mexican children who had fear in their eyes all the time and want in their eyes. They didn't know why people didn't like them, but they just felt like they didn't.

"'I swore then and there that if I ever had a chance to help those underprivileged I was going to do it.

"'Little did it ever occur to me in 1928-40 years ago--teaching the Mexican children at Cotulla, whose fathers didn't have an income of $500 a year, that I would ever be President of the United States and be in any position to help them.'"

But then I said to the Congress: "Gentlemen, I want to let you in on a secret. I am President of the United States, and I am going to use the polls, and the popularity is not good for anything unless you use it. I am going to spend all the power I possess, or can get, to right that wrong and do something about it."

I recommended the Voter's Rights Act. And when I got through dictating that little paragraph, Mrs. Johnson says in her diary, she looked at poor Jack Valenti and said he was pale. I looked at the clock and had just about 20 minutes to get there. We got there. We didn't get it on the teleprompter. Well, that was not important. We did get it on the statute books.

Throughout this land last November, that action was reflected in the highways and the byways and the precincts of this Nation. It was reflected where it counts. Maybe it didn't elect the President. But it elected the sheriffs, the Representatives, the Senators, and it has begun already to elect a lot of people where it counts, where that power is, and in the places where people used to come in and tip their hat and bow and stoop.

They walk in now with their chin up, their chest out, and they mark their ballot in accordance with their own conscience.

I asked the Attorney General the offer day to tell me about the election and how it worked. He said: "We had over 600 observers out all over this land--less than 3 years after that act was passed--and we went to the worst places. We went where we thought we were bound to see intimidation and violations." He said, "Those 600 observers that went out have been unable to find one man to prosecute because it is a pretty accepted fact that Negroes can vote in this country."

So if that can happen in 3 years, oh, think about what a marvelous future we have got ahead of us if we will just use our time-not abide it, but use it.

There is one thing finally that I want to tell you. It gladdened my heart. I am not going back to retire. I am going back to go to work just where I left off.

One thing I am going to work on is trying to prepare young men and young women to lead their fellow citizens to do what I am doing, and what Justice Marshall is doing, what Secretary Weaver is doing, what Louis Martin and Cliff Alexander are doing, what George Weaver, Andy Brimmer and the rest of them are doing. We are going to try to turn out from the 50 States of the Union students from the colleges that give bachelor's degrees. We are going to look at all of those graduates.

We are going to try to find the best Negro students that come out of that college who have any interest in public affairs. We are going to try to find the best Mexican students who come out of that college. We are going to weight it a little bit because they have been underweighted all of these years. They need the leadership. They are shortest on leadership. That is going to be at the institution where Herman Sweatt was enrolled.

I went to New York the other night; one of the men I admire a great deal asked me to come up there, Mr. Whitney Young.

When I walked in, he was talking. He wanted to save my time and get on with his speech so I wouldn't have to wait. He said that the Urban League and its supporters had decided that they wanted to raise $100,000--they had raised $100,000--and they were going to commit that to the Lyndon Johnson Public Affairs School at the University of Texas where the dean and the appropriate officials could select the outstanding Negro student--black student--in this country to come there and enroll.

He would be paid $5,000 a year, so he could get a master's degree in governmental affairs--if he desires, a Ph.D. in governmental affairs.

If I have anything to do with it, he is going to learn how to spell pragmatic and realist. That made me so proud that in just a decade or so, Justice Marshall could leave the campus at the university and go up to that big white building on the Hill, and Mr. Whitney Young could be sending back one of the outstanding young persons in this country to specialize in public affairs.

So I am going to be working at that. I hope that I will have a good many years of active life. But if we have 10, we will turn loose 2,000 of them on the country. And if they can get in as much trouble as I have gotten in, and if they can cause the fourth estate as many problems as I have--all of you will be busy. But what is important is that we recognize that we have got a long, long, long row.

There are going to be a lot of tired and bloody feet. We have just taken a step or two. You are just about like my little grandson over there. You just learned to mold a few words. You are just learning to walk.

The people who are kind enough to record what I say from time to time have heard this so many times. But it is so apropos of conditions in our country and in the world where people are trying to stay resigned to the status quo, that I want to tell this story again.

In the latter days of World War II, a temperance group of elderly ladies called on Prime Minister Churchill to complain about his drinking habits. They were very sincere women.

They said: "Mr. Prime Minister, we are informed that if all of the alcohol you have consumed during World War II could be emptied into this room at one time it would come up to about here"--and more than halfway to the ceiling of the room.

The Prime Minister deliberated. He looked at the floor. He looked at the ceiling. In his Chesterfield manner, he looked at the little lady, and he said, "My dear little lady, so little have I done, so much I have yet to do."

So it is a nice thing for us to congratulate ourselves that we have the first Negro on the Supreme Court, the first Negro in the Cabinet, the first Negro on the Federal Reserve Board, the first Negro ambassador, and just dozens and dozens of positions of great responsibility.

But we waste our time and we defraud ourselves if we spend much thought looking back on what has already been accomplished.

Unless and until every child born in this country has an equal opportunity to the food that is necessary to sustain him, to the roof that will protect him from the inclement weather, to a job that will permit him to live in dignity and decency, to an education that will make the most of whatever talents he may have--he has the right to all the education that he or she can take--and until he has health treatment where he will not have to have a guardian to look after him and nurse over him, and he can be a useful, productive citizen, in Mr. Churchill's words: We have much yet to do.

So I say let us not look back upon what we have done. It is infinitesimal. It doesn't amount to anything. It is a good thing to just kind of pep us up and show us what can be done. If there is a will, there is a way. But as I said about Lyn Nugent, he has just taken his first two or three steps.

Senator Yarborough called me the other day and said that he had heard down at the Astrodome that somebody in Time magazine had written that I was coming back to Texas to run against him for the Senate in 1970 and that he had said that that is what he expected to happen.

I was startled. First, I hadn't read Time. It gets to me early in the White House, but it takes a little longer to get to Johnson City. I hadn't read it. But I didn't know how to comment.

He said that he hadn't said that, and he wanted me to know that I shouldn't pay any attention to it. He couldn't understand how it happened.

I said, "I will tell you how it happened. They saw Lyn Nugent there today with me at the Astrodome when we walked out there. He is 16 months old. He is getting ready for you, Senator. He is going to take you on when he can qualify under the Constitution which will be 28 years and 8 months from now--to be United States Senator."

So during that 28 years and 8 months, I trust before Lyn Nugent comes here, that we will have most of these big problems behind us.

I came over tonight with one of my dear friends. His name is Preston Bruce. He was born a year after I was born. He has been in the White House serving faithfully many, many Presidents. I had a chance to appoint his son-in-law, Judge Pryor, to the Court of General Sessions not long ago. I am so proud of him.

Outside of my wife and my family, that give me great comfort in moments of need, this great American gentleman, Preston Bruce has kept me going. I wanted him to come here and be with me on this occasion and take a little pride in it.

Before I close, I want to say something else. When I came into office I thought that I was a trustee for President Kennedy. He had asked me to go on the ticket. He had fallen.

I thought I should try to pick up where he left off and put through his program. We put it through. We put it on the books. I took his Cabinet as I found it. I didn't change one. I took his commitments as I understood them and carried them all out--personal, jobs, legislatively, and otherwise.

You heard a lot about the Democratic Committee. But we had Mr. Bailey and Margaret Price over there. I took them, too. Both of them had been pretty rough on me in Los Angeles in 1960. Most people didn't understand that a President wouldn't sweep clean with a new broom. But I thought I was kind of acting as a trustee and I had an obligation to do that. I found that those people were faithful to me and worked for me as they did for President Kennedy.

But I think the most merited tribute that I can pay to any man, one who has not held any official office in this administration, but who has been one of the wisest and the most tireless counselors I have had when he is not on the golf course--he is a fighter for social justice, and he is a practical man of public affairs. On behalf of every man and woman in this room, and every black man and woman and boy and girl in this land and in the world, I think we ought to be very proud of Louis Martin.

I would like to talk all night. But I have talked too long and I must go on back to my desk. I just want to say this: I don't know what trouble Louis is going to get into. He got me into a good deal. But you have heard about the difficulties of the administration, you have heard about the corruption, and you have heard about the people abusing your confidence, and you have heard about the lack of qualifications of a lot of people.

This has been talked about to all of you. But if the Good Lord is willing and I can live another 30 days to go out of this office as it is--you look at these hundreds of employees that I have put here from the Supreme Court to the Federal Reserve, from the Equal Employment Opportunity to the Cabinet, from the Secretary of Labor to the National Labor Relations Board, and you look at that long list that runs into hundreds and you will not find one that ever abused the President's confidence or ever betrayed him or ever brought any blush of shame to his cheek.

That is an improvement over what we have had in the past. So I just hope all of you will bear that in mind and will help the new President any way you can to make this a more equal country, a better country, and a more prosperous country.

I used to sit over in the EOB [Executive Office Building] early in the 1960's with Marjorie Lawson. She was trying to guide me and help me on finding employment for Negroes. I don't know how long Louis Martin will survive with an independent editorial policy, under the change in administrations in this country.

He would survive all right if I were still here. But when he goes out and goes to speak his mind, I don't know how long he is going to survive. But I have talked to Marjorie. I have talked to Cliff Alexander, the Chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and they have assured me that they will be on the lookout for a job for Louis and see that he has equal opportunity.

1 Case tried before the United States Supreme Court by Thurgood Marshall in 1950 which led to the admission of Herman Marion Sweatt to the University of Texas Law School. See Sweatt v. Painter, United States Supreme Court Reports (339 U.S.. 629).

2 See 1965 volume, this series, Book I, Item 107.

Note: The President spoke at 8:04 p.m. in the Federal City Club at the Sheraton-Carlton Hotel in Washington. In his opening words he referred to Thurgood Marshall, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, Robert C. Weaver, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Clifford L. Alexander, Jr., Chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and Louis Martin, outgoing Deputy Chairman of the Democratic National Committee. During his remarks the President referred to, among others, Benjamin Rush Milam, an Indian trader, soldier, and empresario, Clarence Mitchell, Director of the Washington office of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Jack Valenti, former Special Assistant to the President, George L-P Weaver, Assistant Secretary of Labor for International Affairs, Andrew F. Brimmer, member of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, Whitney M. Young, Jr., Executive Director of the National Urban League and member of the board of trustees of the Urban Institute, Patrick Lyndon Nugent, the President's grandson, Ralph Yarborough, Senator from Texas, Preston Bruce, veteran White House doorman, William C. Pryor, associate judge of the District of Columbia Court of General Sessions, John M. Bailey, former Chairman, and Margaret Price, former Vice Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and Marjorie M. Lawson, former judge of the District of Columbia Juvenile Court and former Vice Chairman of the President's Commission on Crime in the District of Columbia. Prior to his remarks, the President was presented with a desk set inscribed "To President Johnson in deep appreciation from the Negro officials you appointed."

Lyndon B. Johnson, The President's Remarks at a Reception Given in His Honor by Negro Presidential Appointees Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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