President Strider, members of this distinguished academic community, ladies and gentlemen. I hope I need not elaborate on the fact that I feel especially honored tonight. The list of distinguished journalists who have stood here before me is enough to make that obvious. And beyond that, I ask, what black journalist of any era could be but honored to receive an award in the name of one who gave his life in defense of his belief that slavery was immoral–and in defense of this belief that he had the right to publish his views.
Still, I hope I commit no offense to the memory of Elijah P. Lovejoy if I choose to speak tonight on the subject:
“The Blessings of Martyrdom-if Any”
It is not that I suggest for a moment that Lovejoy or Joan d’Arc or John F. Kennedy or Martin Luther King or anyone else was a fool to pursue his convictions to the point of death. Rather I ask whether those of us who profess to share their beliefs, to revere their memories, ever dedicate ourselves with enough enthusiasm to ensure that our martyrs did not die in vain?
With Lovejoy, of course, the question is double-barreled:
1. I stand here, tonight, 131 years and one week after Lovejoy’s death, wondering how far the black man has moved from slavery in that time. As we look at a nation still bitterly divided over race, still shamed from time to time by ugly aberrations of violence, would Lovejoy view us as immensely more enlightened than the Americans of his day? Or would he shake his head in despair and repeat the Hegelian cynicism that “we learn from history that men learn nothing from history”?
2. I ask myself whether men have used freedom of the press boldly enough, or wisely enough, during the last 131 years to justify even their paying tribute to a man who made the ultimate sacrifice. I remember that a mere two decades ago a black man could hardly get his name in a daily paper unless he stole something or raped someone. And the press was utterly derelict in informing the American people about the true state of race relations, the remaining vestiges of slavery, the brutalizations of segregation, the children facing “death at an early age”–psychological death, that is–in inferior schools and hostile surroundings. And even today there are newspapers in our great cities, some making claims to greatness, whose editors maintain that some kind of journalistic ethic requires them to identify racially every mugger, mobber, dope peddler or whatever. Some editors are still telling themselves that this will cause a reduction in Negro crime. I say it has no effect other than to fan higher the flames of hatred, the racial passions that threaten to wreck this society in the same way that passions over slavery wrecked it more than a century ago. Logic ought to tell them that it means nothing to write: “Jake Swenson, 35, white, was arrested last night in the sexual assault of a 15-year-old girl, also white.” Now you will not read that, but even if you did, it would mean little in a society dominated by a white majority. For whites are not going to read that story and say, consciously or subconsciously: “All whites are rapists–or potential rapists.” For that is a self-conviction. But let that story read: “Joe Smith, 35, Negro, was arrested last night in the sexual assault of a 15-year-old white girl.”
Now those racial designations have great social significance. The majority of readers, who happen to be white, have no difficulty getting their passions inflamed. It is easy for them to impute a measure of guilt to every Negro. For this involves no self-conviction.
That seems as obvious to me as night following day, but much of the press confesses not to understand it.
You have surmised, I am sure, that I shall speak tonight on the issues one must think of when Lovejoy’s name is mentioned: the issues of human dignity, of racial equality, of the responsibility of the communications media to enlighten and uplift society not only in this area, but all areas that represent a challenge to man’s wisdom and his morality.
Whenever asked to speak on the subject of American race relations, I always pressure myself on the point of how much optimism honesty will permit me to display. The more I press myself, the more I think of the Virginia woman who, a couple of years ago, was telling me that her school district finally had relented and permitted the school bus to pick up Negro children. She said she first became aware of this “concession” when her little girl came home from school all excited and said:
“Mommy, something strange happened on the way to school today!”
“The school bus stopped and let a little colored girl ride with us.”
“Well, how did you and the other white children receive her?” the mother asked anxiously.
“What do you mean, how did we receive her?”
“I mean, what did you and the other white children do when the little colored girl got on the bus?”
“Oh,” said the little girl, “we got her autograph!”
That white child and her friends had managed to simplify a fairly complex social problem. I submit tonight that we grownups continue to complicate a basically simple problem.
The salvation of this society–and its only salvation–is just what it was in Lovejoy’s day. It is to do justice. Simply that: to do justice. For the Negro. For the Puerto Rican. For the Mexican American. For the poor and hungry of Appalachia and the Mississippi Delta. For the disinherited of Standing Rock, White Earth and a host of other Indian reservations.
But the curse of this society may be that we know the makings of justice as perhaps no other society ever did, but those who hold power have never believed that justice could be as profitable as half justice, or injustice.
So we have remained a racist society. Sure, I know how it irritates many whites to hear this said, particularly to have it said by whites, as it was said most emphatically by the President’s Commission on Civil Disorders (the Kerner commission). But it is a racist society. Race colors almost everything for the average white American, from the concept of who is capable of flying his airplane, to who is wise and moral enough to preach to him, to who is good enough to belong to his country club, to who can and cannot kiss Phyllis Diller when he walks on her television show, to who is eligible to buy a house in the latest development in a Boston suburb.
And now Negroes, too, are becoming racists. And the crisis deepens. We are still a racist society. Unless we are willing to face up to that fact at the outset tonight, our tribute to Lovejoy can be little but a hollow pretense.
And we are still a society largely dedicated to the principle that “Them as has gets, them as has not begets.”
For all our talk about the graduated income tax, and for all the conservative screams in favor of imposing a 25 per cent tax ceiling, we still have a structure that rewards the rich and penalizes the poor.
As one who has been miserably poor, but who now knows a bit about the advantages of depreciation, long-term capital gains and oil depletion allowances, I know that the system is such that we invite demagogues at home and enemies abroad to exploit the angry frustrations of the masses.
And it is not just money. I recently wrote a column against capital punishment in which I quoted Clinton T. Duffy, the former warden of San Quentin, as saying: “I have never known a person of means to have been executed.”
So, for all this nation’s greatness, let us be honest and acknowledge that it falls well short of justice. Justice that is the key to its future greatness or decay.
There are some who would say that our society is in what the historian Toynbee would call its “time of troubles.” Some – our enemies in the Soviet bloc, especially – would say that racism, greed, corruption, injustice, indifference have combined to ensure the decadence, the downfall, of western capitalism. Despite the woes that I have cited, the shortcomings to which I have admitted, I say: nonsense! This meeting tonight is, or certainly can be, vibrant evidence that we still think, project, grow; evidence that we do still revere decency, admire courage, extol sacrifice.
I say we are capable of casting off the burden of hatreds bequeathed by our fathers and grandfathers. I say we are able to rise above greed and show genuine concern for our fellow men.
You know and I know that the cities of America are in a mess. The Chicagos and New Yorks and Detroits – and yes, the Alton, Illinoises, of America – are, on top of a hundred other burdens, social powderkegs. For the first time, the top management of business and industry, the power structure of these cities, is stirring and thrashing to see what they can do to ease the crisis.
Is it the spirit of Elijah Lovejoy that finally has infected them? Let me speak for awhile about what I think motivates these corporation executives. It is, after all, important to all of us, for the lives of all in this audience inevitably will be touched by the success or failure of their efforts.
It is really an unselfish, charitable concern for the underprivileged, the poor, that causes so many executives to respond to the government’s call for equal employment, for job training? I think not. I think the true situation was spelled out very clearly in a staff paper recently produced by Samuel M. Burt and Herbert E. Striner for the Upjohn Institute for Employment Research. They said:
“…many employers in business and industry have responded to the government’s programs, particularly the large companies, and have become involved in providing jobs and training opportunities because of several factors. One is their reliance on government contracts prescribing nondiscrimination in hiring and training. Another is the growing recognition that so long as large numbers of our population are poor and unemployed their potential as consumers of industry’s products lies dormant. A potent factor is the realization that the rising expectations of the disadvantaged can lead to uncontrollable chaos in our cities unless visible, positive, and massive remedial efforts are undertaken to break the cycle of poverty and failure. A fourth, and very important factor, is the need for industry, business, and the professions to resolve their manpower shortage problems in this time of almost ‘full employment’ when the least advantaged and the disadvantaged individuals of our nation are the only source of manpower available…”
I cite this not to impugn anyone’s motive. I wish simply that we acknowledge that we are all ruled by a measure of self-interest. Top management cares first about what happens to top management; then to Honeywell, to IBM, to Watts Manufacturing Co.; after that, to Tempe, Arizona, Philadelphia and Chicago; and after that, perhaps to Joe Smith, 17, angry young black slum-dweller.
Perhaps some of you here are members of the National Alliance of Businessmen. Perhaps some of you are unwilling to accept my declaration of the selfish nature of your endeavor, but I hope not. For unless we cease to kid ourselves, reality will forever be beyond our grasp. And it is reality with which we need most urgently to come to grips in America now.
Now, coming to grips with reality means that we face up to some myths that are being nurtured today with little less zeal than was the case in Lovejoy’s time.
The first is one that I hesitate to mention before such a distinguished gathering. But just in case my remarks get scattered beyond this campus, let me say that it is the lingering notion of racial superiority-racial inferiority that infects our populace. The notion that some are born to rule and others to be ruled. The notion that black men are the hewers of wood and drawers of water. This notion lies in the heart of any racist society, whether we speak of the U.S. during slavery, of Hitlerian Germany or of contemporary Mississippi. Look at the record in this society, though: wherever black people have been given anything close to an equal chance, they have met the challenge pretty well. And I’m not just talking about Joe Louis, Gayle Sayers or Elgin Baylor. I’m talking about the black engineers at Honeywell, the Andy Brimmers in government, the Ed. Brookes in politics.
I am even talking about some of the “unemployables” now being taken on by a few companies. Burt and Striner say that “Experience of employers in dealing with these ‘unemployables’ has demonstrated that when they are provided the opportunity to work and to be trained, plus compensatory education, health services, and other social services to the degree needed, they are as trainable, productive, and promotable as most other employees.”
Did you fasten onto that phrase, “compensatory education?” I hope so, for that is a key to the future tranquility of this society. There can be no real justice in America until we take steps to erase the effects of all the injustice that has gone before us.
Remember–I am still dealing with Myth Number One which asserts the alleged inferiority of black people. Well, there can be no doubt that the black man holds inferior status in America today.
Compared with whites, Negroes still are more than three times as likely to be in poverty, twice as likely to be unemployed and three times as likely to die in infancy or childbirth.
In the large cities of this country, more than half of all Negroes live in poor neighborhoods.
The median family income for the Negroes is only 59 per cent of the median family income for whites. Or, to put it more clearly, if a white family has $10,000 to spend each year, the comparable black family will have $5,900. The education gap between young whites and non-whites has been reduced to only one-half year–12.2 years of schooling for nonwhites compared to 12.6 years for whites. In 1960, the nonwhite median was only 10.8 years compared with 12.3 for whites.
This shows that the young non-white is aware of the importance of education. Nevertheless, non-white teenage unemployment still runs at a very high rate of 24.7 per cent, more than double the white rate of 10.9 per cent. And it is in that statistic that a lot of potential trouble exists.
Now this brings me back to the question of whether the press is doing an adequate job. We have just gone through a presidential election campaign in which “the white backlash,” or racial fear and hostility, played a large role, if not a dominant one. In newspaper after newspaper I read interviews of union members in Michigan, bankers in Minnesota, housewives in Illinois, asserting that they were going to vote this way or that because “the blacks are taking over the country”; or “the Negro is trying to go too far too fast”; or “so much favoritism is being shown the Negro these days that a white man doesn’t have a chance.”
Considering these facts that I spelled out above, it seems utterly incongruous that anyone could even pretend that the black man is taking over this country. Could it be that the press has devoted so much attention to reporting every inflammatory utterance by the Stokely Carmichaels and George Wallaces that it never gets around to giving the “dull” facts–such as the still-glaring difference between the income of a white family and that of a black one?
We have succeeded in pouring out all manner of statistics to raise fears of violent crime. And this I cannot criticize. None of us wants to fall victim to robbery, yoking, assault. But have we sufficiently enlightened this society to the fact that there are ways of wounding people deeply without using a stick, knife or gun?
I can remember being denied a glass of water in a drugstore in my hometown in Tennessee because the fountain clerk could not find a paper cup. And what black American has not been turned away from an apartment or a house for sale, either with a patently phony excuse or outright racial insult? These and many other brutalizations have continued, even after achievement of Lovejoy’s goal of ending slavery. And they lie at the heart of today’s disorders.
Even the white American of the greatest honor and integrity is unlikely to be aware of the extent to which we have drilled color consciousness into our children.
Have you given much thought to the fact that if you want to keep someone out of the Waterville Country Club, you never “whiteball” him; you blackball him. If you want to make a fast buck off the indiscretions of an acquaintance, you never “whitemail” him; you blackmail him.
People liable to censure or punishment you never put in your “white book”; you list them in your black book.
The form of bubonic plague which spread over Europe in the 14th century and killed an estimated fourth of the population is never called “the white death”; it is “the black death.”
If a financial panic occurs on Friday, Sept. 24, 1869, or any misfortune occurs on any Friday, do you call it “white Friday?” No it becomes “black Friday”!
Oh, I could go on and on and talk about the scoundrels you call “blackguards,” the family failures you call “the black sheep,” the malicious men you call “black-hearted,” the Calcutta prison cell they called the “black hole,” that tragic 24 hours people refer to as a “black letter day,” the people under suspicion whom we put on our “black list,” the less-than-perfect employee whom you give a “black mark”.
But I have said enough to indicate how the white world and its media have conspired, sometimes innocently and sometimes maliciously, to make the word black a symbol of inferiority, of evil, of tragedy, of contempt, of suspicion. Little wonder, then, that so many white Americans should be confused about whether to speak of me as colored or Negro anymore-that they should wonder whether to refer to Americans of African descent as “blacks.”
Normally I would dismiss this exercise in semantics as just so much foolishness. Because it does not really matter what you call me if you won’t give me a chance to educate my children, to hold a job equal to my ability in order that I might care for those children and fulfill my other obligations to society, and enjoy all the other rights and obligations of first-class citizenship. But I do not ridicule this bit of semantics, for I know that it represents an effort to erase three centuries in this country (and generations more elsewhere) of making people believe that black is anything but beautiful. I recognize that black consciousness is a manifestation of American black people struggling anew to achieve pride and dignity.
I get disturbed only when some nitwit wants to carry black consciousness to the point of deluding black youngsters into believing that pride and dignity can be achieved simply by standing in the streets cursing “Whitey.” As long as the “black is beautiful cult” remembers that achievement is essential to any real dignity or pride, and that this requires hard study and hard work, I am with the “black is beautiful” people 100 per cent.
It is going to take some doing, however, to erase from the collective mind of American society this notion that the color of a man’s skin is an automatic gauge of his intellect, his industriousness, his morality.
The mere mention of that word “industriousness” brings me to Myth Number 2. That is the inclination of much of the affluent part of our population to believe that they got where they are by dint of hard work while 26 million Americans live in poverty because they are lazy, or prefer to exist the way they do. Incidentally, 18 million of America’s 26 million poor people are white.
I would have enough money to erase poverty in this country if I had a million dollars for every time someone has said to me: “Well, you managed to get away from poverty without a lot of government handouts. Why can’t other people do it?”
That is supposed to be an invitation to me to adopt some self-righteous, Horatio Algerish posture and join the senseless crowds condemning the poor as unworthy of anything other than what they have.
Well, I don’t underrate the importance of hard work, of industriousness, of desire to succeed. But I lived amidst poverty long enough to know how it tends to sap ambition, to breed despair. It is only the very exceptional and/or the very lucky who escape all the traps, hurdle all the barriers and achieve what we Americans call success. Whatever you choose to say about me, I know that I have had my share of luck. Would you believe that I found a $20 bill the very morning that I was to drop out of Tennessee A & I State College in Nashville because I had run out of money? Well, $20 just happened to be the registration fee for a quarter. I took that $20, paid my tuition, and consequently happened to be on the scene when the Navy decided for the first time in history it would permit Negroes to take the nationally competitive examinations for entry into the equivalent of officer’s candidate school.
Sure, I had to be able to pass the examination. But I first had to find that $20 or I would have been toting suitcases at Brown’s Hotel in McMinnville, Tenn., unaware that such an examination was taking place and, probably by that time, uncaring.
Some very able buddies of mine got caught in the traps.
I am convinced that the overwhelming majority of human beings share common aspirations for themselves and their children. Some parents may be shackled by ignorance, or circumstance, but no one wants his child to live in dirt and degradation–bitten by rats, gnawed on by hunger, preyed upon by sex fiends, dope peddlers and other predators of society.
There is no tranquility possible short of helping people to rise out of this kind of surrounding.
And that brings me to Myth Number 3. That is the myth that progress for the disadvantaged must be largely a “bootstrap” operation. It is still popular in America to refer to oneself as a “self-made man.” Well, there just aren’t many self-made men around anymore.
I owe so much to the GI Bill that there is just no point dreaming that I am going to say that the 26 million poor people don’t deserve some government help.
I scream as much as anyone come April 15 when I have to make my piece with the Internal Revenue Service. But when I go to speak at what two decades ago was just a small teacher’s college, and I see huge new buildings, and 10,000 or more students moving busily across campus, I remember that there are today a million and a half youngsters in college who would not be there but for the aid to higher education act. And I feel proud that my taxes might be providing the education for a couple of youngsters from less fortunate circumstances. For those youngsters represent the only real security this nation can have in a very hostile world.
So, let me speak briefly, then, about what it is that educators, as well as top management and industry, can do to alleviate social tension and racial strife in America. But let it be understood that I for one do not believe the job can be done through free enterprise alone. It will require an all out effort by government, at every level, plus all that business and industry can do–and even after that, something more.
Let us face, first, the fact that the job hierarchy available to many Negroes in business and industry is extremely narrow. For example, look at what Dr. Herbert Northrup said about the aerospace industry in his study of plant mobility of the Negro:
“As the last hired and the most recently promoted, Negroes have found that their gains were washed out time and again. Yet in each cycle, further gains were made up the occupational ladder; today’s have been the greatest. A long-run view can, therefore, tend to be optimistic. Yet the institutional factors affecting Negro employment and upgrading in the aerospace industry are formidably negative. The average Negro employment in the industry will surely remain below 10% in the foreseeable future, and upgrading of Negroes will move at a slower pace than employment because the educational skill qualifications, which the industry cannot waive for the obvious reason of human safety, are still lacking in our Negro population.”
This is a picture very similar to that in many other industries. Even with the broad expressions of “top management’s concern for his fellow man,” the day is simply not foreseeable when the black American will have anything close to equal employment status in most areas of American industry.
Top management seems totally aware of this. This is why industry and business leaders in Washington, Philadelphia, New York, Los Angeles, etc. have pledged capital expenditures of tens of millions of dollars to arrange for the development of Negro owned, managed and operated businesses in central city ghetto areas. Also, no doubt, this is why president-elect Richard Nixon has emphasized “black entrepeneurship” as the basic approach to solving the problems of economic insecurity within the black community.
Let me make it clear that I applaud most heartily the sudden profusion of self-help ventures within the black community. I welcome every evidence of black capitalism that shows any signs of success. Let me remind this audience of just one such endeavor in order that we all might appreciate how important it is.
In Cleveland, a major force in this self-help revolution is the Negro Industrial and Economic Union (NIEU), started two years ago by former Cleveland Browns football hero Jim Brown. Brown wanted Negroes to develop the habit of helping each other in thousands of practical ways. So Brown talked other athletes into joining him in getting NIEU started, with then-Cleveland Browns lineman John Wooten as executive director.
Again, “ordinary” blacks became members, with their dues used for dozens of self-help loans. Mrs. Sarah Kelley borrowed money with which to buy clothes that would permit her to take a post-office job and remove herself and her five children from the welfare rolls. Some Negro youngsters borrowed the cash they needed to remain in college. Kenneth Golston borrowed money to start a food catering concern that now provides jobs for a dozen black people.
And, in a case that shows how the positive effects of self-help spread like ripples in a pool, 39-year-old Nathan Beavers borrowed $2,000 from NIEU in January when Namax Builders, Inc., which he heads, was new and on the verge of collapse. Namax had just received a contract from U.S. Gypsum Co. to rehabilitate 54 apartment units in the Nough area, right in the heart of the district scarred by rioting and burnings in 1966. The Catholic diocese of Cleveland, through its Better Homes for Cleveland Foundation, had granted another contract for the rehabilitation of another 150 apartments in the same area.
But Namax Builders could not have met its payroll until the time came when it could draw money against the two contracts if Wooten and NIEU had not provided the $2,000 loan.
That small loan has gone a long way in Cleveland.
“We began with three employees,” Beavers said. “We now have more than 70. If you count subcontracts, we are feeding more than 120 families every week. We have $2.3 million worth of work on the books and are negotiating for $17 million more in contracts.”
It is those subcontracts that Beavers mentions so casually that illustrate the real hope of self-help. McKinney Plumbing Co. was a struggling concern of three men when Namax got its big break. Now, with some $200,000 worth of work passed along from Namax, McKinney has become a 16-man operation. American Steel and Fabricating Co. got $26,000 in subcontracts from Namax and rose from a 2- to a 6-man operation. Richardson Electric Co. grew from 3 to 12 employees on the strength of $80,000 in subcontracts from Namax. A young man who had been “fiddling around” in the tile business suddenly found himself a going concern after receiving a $40,000 contract from Beavers.
Now Clevelanders have formed the Society of Registered Contractors, with Beavers as president. This group expects soon to receive a $500,000 grant from the Ford Foundation for bonds, loans, training and other assistance that will permit other entrepeneurs to repeat the Namax experience over and over.
Beavers, a graduate of Howard University in Washington, D.C., speaks proudly of the seven key, experienced men who run his operation. But he is proudest of the hard-core unemployed whom Namax has lifted from the streets of Cleveland’s ghetto and made respectable, self-supporting citizens.
“Men who were just crap-shooters on the city streets are now proud members of the community,” said Beavers. “We took one man from the ghetto and made a first-rate carpenter out of him in six weeks. And what is so impressive is that the workmanship and loyalty of these people is a bit better than that of the employees who come through more normal channels.”
The blessings of one $2,000 NIEU loan have been spreading through Cleveland’s ghetto the way the measles or whooping cough once roared through. Nevertheless, I cannot escape the feeling that many of the white leaders of business and industry are turning to black capitalism in the hope or expectation that it will lift from their shoulders a burden that they know they ought to assume, but one that they find exceedingly heavy and often quite bewildering.
The president of the Chrysler Corporation recently wrote the following about his company’s experiences with a small group of hard-core trainees: “Training the hard-core unemployed – even for factory work – is more difficult than imagined and there are no overnight solutions . . . it can involve teaching a man how to catch the correct bus, or how to get up in the morning, or getting him glasses so he may learn enough reading for simple jobs . . . These people . . . have to be taught the letters that spell common colors to they can read the instruction cards that tell them to put a blue or green steering wheel on a car as it comes down the assembly line . . . .They must learn simple addition so that they can count boxes of parts they take off a supplier’s truck . . . Some sign an ‘X’ for their names . . . .We have had to overcome fear and resentment, hostility and a history of failure.”
The president of Chrysler was implying what many other business leaders have said flatly: that the cost to companies for each disadvantaged individual trainee is extremely high in terms of remedial education and social services and may indeed be prohibitively high for most companies if these services are to become long-range continuing parts of their personnel programs.
Is it realistic, then, to expect new Negro-owned and managed enterprises to take up any substantial part of the burden of motivating, training and promoting the hard-core unemployed? I say if it is a burden for a huge Chrysler corporation, if it is financially unfeasible for smaller but quite stable corporations, how in the world can a struggling new Negro business do the job? Merely to survive, those new businesses will need to select, for the most part, the best qualified employees and trainees that they can find. This will still leave for industry as a whole the challenge to do something for and about the remainder. If black enterprises have selected the best of the hard-core unemployed, it will mean that industry at large will be receiving lesser qualified individuals. Thus there is lilkely to be less fervor, excitement and enthusiasm for solving this problem on the part of the personnel managers, the office managers, the plant superintendents, the foremen who really do the hiring, training, upgrading and promoting of people.
Even in companies where top management has the deepest concern for his fellow man, implementation of that concern is difficult. And a major reason is one I have just alluded to: the fact that subordinates in personnel and in the operating levels do not share that deep concern.
I saw during four and one-half years in government the extent to which the people in personnel and in the middle management levels can foul up the bureaucratic processes and obstruct change.
The Kennedy administration was a year and a half old when the Civil Service Commission made clear to all government agencies the determination of the young president to make the Federal Government an example of the equal opportunity principle that he espoused. The CSC surveyed things in June of 1962 and turned up some interesting facts:
From a strict numerical standpoint, Negroes were doing well in government. They made up 13 per cent of the 2,252,334 employees although Negroes make up only 10 per cent of the nation’s population.
But you began to smell something when you stuck your nose in far enough to see where those Negroes were employed. More than 18 per cent of those occupying the lowest-paying, least-desirable jobs the government has were Negroes. They were in GS grades 1 through 4.
In the choice GS-12 through GS-18 posts there were a mere 1,407 Negroes, or only .8 of one per cent of the total employment in these grades.
Kennedy, President Johnson and their top aides could make a meaningful impact on the top grades by using political and semi-political appointment privileges. By June of 1967 they had added more than 3,000 Negroes to the choice GS-12 to 18 jobs. But a group that made up 10 per cent of the population still held only 1.8 per cent of the good jobs.
And what had happened down in the low paying categories. The percentage of black people there had gone up to a whopping 20 per cent.
I do not want to underestimate the importance of what Kennedy and Johnson did with regard to government employment. In fact, it is difficult to overestimate their contribution to fair employment insofar as certain practices are concerned.
They destroyed, for example, the unwritten rule that a black man could be put into the number two spot in important agencies, but not the top spot. You will recall that I went to Washington as the number two man in State’s Public Affairs Bureau. I was to chuckle later about the fact that some of the people preparing for the budget hearings before Congress were maneuvering to keep me from being a witness. They believed Congress simply would not be persuaded to give money if a Negro did the pleading. Later Lyndon Johnson would make me head of an agency with 13,000 employees with the job of talking Congress out of some 200 million dollars a year.
So the presence of the Robert Beavers, the Andrew Brimmers, the Clifford Alexanders and others in top, decision-making jobs certainly created a new image of the black man as a government employee. It had its effects through the ranks, as the John Feehan story illustrates.
But the current state of things in government is testimony to the fact that the bureaucracy was never really cracked.
It is being cracked in private industry only where top management shows not only concern, but an absolute determination to see that changes are made and that a genuine contribution to national order is made.
Top management is going to need the best advice it can find. It ought to hire some black people at levels high enough to influence middle-level managers.
But, of course, some of the best advice we get is not advice we pay for. We get it from our peers-at the luncheon club, on the golf courses, chatting at a dinner party. Essential to any solution of our domestic crisis is a beating down of the barriers so Americans can talk to each other under conditions of mutual admiration and respect.
Unless we learn to communicate through and across what have for so long been impregnable social and racial barriers, all of these programs are doomed.
Elijah Lovejoy tried to communicate with Americans in his day. Not only did they not want to hear; they did not want him to speak. So they killed him. And the country drifted to inevitable tragedy.
My concern tonight is that so few care to speak with Lovejoy’s courage and wisdom. And so very, very few want to listen. What tragedy is it that we drift toward?
Colby College remembers alumnus Elijah Parish Lovejoy through the annual Lovejoy Award, which honors journalists who demonstrate courage, integrity, and craftsmanship.
Born in Albion, Maine, Lovejoy graduated from Colby in 1826. On Nov. 7, 1837, in Alton, Ill., the newspaper editor and publisher was killed after he refused to stop publishing anti-slavery editorials. He was called America’s first martyr to freedom of the press by John Quincy Adams.
Current Lovejoy Selection Committee Members include Matt Apuzzo ’00, reporter and investigative correspondent, New York Times; Nancy Barnes, senior vice president and editorial director, NPR; Sewell Chan, editorial page editor, Los Angeles Times; Marcela Gaviria, producer, PBS FRONTLINE; Neil Gross, Charles A. Dana Professor of Sociology, Colby College; Martin Kaiser, former editor and senior vice president Milwaukee Journal Sentinel; Mindy Marqués, vice president and executive editor, Simon and Schuster, former editor, Miami Herald; and Ron Nixon, global investigations editor, Associated Press.
For more information, visit colby.edu/lovejoy