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Public Papers - 1989

Remarks to the National Baptist Convention in New Orleans, Louisiana

1989-09-08

Now, what do you think of a man like Reverend Jemison who would make you come on after that beautiful music by Earl Taylor? [Laughter] Not only were his remarks deeply appreciated, but, Earl, wherever you've gone to -- here he is over here -- what magnificent joy, what magnificent music! Thank you very much.

To Reverend Jemison and Reverend Clark and Reverend Richardson; my friend, Dr. Ben Hooks, behind me here; and the board of directors: I feel honored to be here. And I brought some reserve troops with me. I brought three Members of the United States Congress. And to be sure that the Reverend knows this is not a partisan gathering -- [laughter] -- they are Democrats and Republicans, and I want you to meet them. Reverend Tauzin, Reverend Livingston, and Reverend Boggs: three of the great Congressmen with us here today. And also a member of the President's Cabinet, the Secretary of the Interior, Manuel Lujan, over here.

What a joyous meeting! So many Baptists in New Orleans, I expected, particularly at a crowd like this, to hear ``When the Saints Came Marching In.'' [Laughter] And I expect Reverend Jemison and Franklyn Richardson have learned their lesson, because they were at the White House not so long ago, and we finished a meeting there. Dr. Hooks was there -- and several other leaders here today -- celebrating a 25th anniversary so important to our country. But afterward, Reverend Richardson came out -- Franklyn -- and he said, ``Listen, hold up a minute.'' We elbowed the Secret Service away, and I said, ``What's on your mind?'' He said, ``Reverend Jemison and I want to extend you an invitation to come to our great convention.'' And before they could change their mind, I said, ``It's a deal. I'll be there.'' And here I am, and I'm very grateful to you.

You'll excuse me if I reminisce. The last time I was here was August 18th, a year ago. And I was running for President, and I addressed thousands of Republicans. And now I'm addressing many thousand Baptists; but the feeling, speaking before such a large audience, is about the same. Barbara, the ``Silver Fox,'' my wife, is not with me today. But she said, ``George, look, just pretend that you're standing in front of another Sunday school class.'' [Laughter] Well, I did teach Sunday school, but I never had one quite this big. [Laughter] And I never taught in one where the music was quite this magnificent. Thank you all very, very much.

And I'm proud to address a convention that, as Psalm 84 says, goes from strength to strength. It is important to our nation that this convention and what it represents goes from strength to strength. You know, I've come to New Orleans to tell you something, and it really is summed up by that motto of your convention. Your good works and your faith and your beliefs are an inspiration to this country. And you, in turn, draw your inspiration from your faith in a great church. And it was the first American Baptists in Rhode Island who led the campaign for religious tolerance. And it was the Baptists who played an important role in securing our freedom of religion in the American Constitution. And it was the Baptists who, as pioneers, built sturdy new churches on the empty prairies and the plains of the West. But it is another tradition that we honor in New Orleans here today. We honor your parents and your grandparents, who were also brave pioneers. They blazed the trails into another frontier, the freedom frontier.

And living in the White House -- privileged to live in it -- you can't help but feel it every day you live there. And upstairs is the -- known as the Lincoln Bedroom -- I'll share with you some historical trivia. Lincoln never slept in that room, I'm told, but nevertheless, it's called the Lincoln Bedroom. But he did sign the Emancipation Proclamation there, and you can't help but feel that sense of history and obligation and responsibility when you live in that beautiful house.

It took this convention, the leadership of your pastors and people, to extend the struggle for freedom to all men and women. It took leaders, of course, like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Wyatt T. Walker, E.V. Hill, Dr. Hooks, Jerry Moore, T.J. Jemison -- so many. And it took nothing less than another great awakening, an awakening to the promise of civil rights. This movement has blossomed. You know, one thing in the struggle for equality and opportunity: Your hopes and dreams are among the highest aspirations of my Presidency. You can't be President unless you feel that in your heart. We are on a journey to a new century; and, yes, from time to time, I am troubled by inequities that I see. But we have got to leave the tired old baggage of bigotry behind us, back there in our history.

Discrimination is not the only problem we face today. And just as you led America in the civil rights movement, so you're now leading communities struggling with another national problem. Is it crime? Not quite. Is it homeless? No, not by itself. Is it drugs? Yes, but it's even more than that. As serious as all these problems are, they are related to another one, the decline of the most basic institutions of all: the decline of the American family. Too many children in America are growing up -- no matter what community they live in -- without direction, without values, without esteem for themselves or anyone else. And so, our goal is simple, and it is vital: We must work together to save the American family. I feel it in my life, and I know the members of this Baptist convention -- you feel it in your lives.

Family life -- plus our faith -- but family life must be a major source of our strength. It is for Barbara and me, I can assure you. Strong families are bound by more than blood. They are bound for Christians by the precious memories of Christmas morning. They're bound by a toddler's first step or a grandfather's tall tales to his grandkids or the lasting pride of a graduation ceremony. And our families are bound together by something else: simple acts of learning and teaching; simple acts to instill the values of fairness, compassion, honesty, and hard work.

And of course, there are more single-parent families today then ever before. And difficult though that may be, most single parents are raising happy, well-adjusted kids with the help of family and friends. They've got to draw on their own inner strength. Imagine for just a moment the lonely plight of a single mother who has no help, has no money, has no ability to keep her kids from being totally lost -- lost to the unhealthy life of the streets. And so, to save the American family also means providing support for those parents who are struggling against tough odds.

And nor can we ignore the difficulties of poor couples with children. The challenge of strengthening these families requires both public and private efforts. And church leadership is meeting the challenge in ministries like that of E.V. Hill of Los Angeles -- I'm going to get in trouble here starting any names, but I've known Mr. Hill -- where hungry families find sustenance, in ministries where Baptists are providing families with everything from highchairs to a hand up.

You know that no matter how close-knit your family may be, the decline of the American family is not just someone else's problem. It is everyone's problem. Where's Jerry Moore? There's Jerry. When I was in D.C. General Hospital the other day -- I speak to him and the other reverends from Washington -- I went there, and there was a ward there. They called them boarder babies that were in there. Babies were born; mothers left them there. And who's looking after them? It's not the Government of DC; it's not the Federal Government. It's a group of black ladies who have gotten together. And they said: We're going to do this. We are going to see that these kids have a chance for love. And it's coming out of their own pockets. And we are all in this together.

You know, no matter how close-knit your family may be, I guess the bottom line is the decline of the American family is not someone else's problem; it's everyone's. And when one generation is raised without values, it starts this chain of misery that weighs down future generations. About half of all black families with children are headed by one parent, and many of these are simply overwhelmed. And because they're overwhelmed, more than 4 out of 10 black kids live in poverty. And because of this, it's becoming harder for your churches, no matter how hard you try, to reach so many promising young men and women. And how can you teach respect for a hard-earned dollar when that easy drug money flourishes out there on the street? And how can you teach that achievement is found in quiet moments and subtle rewards when a murderous materialism glitters -- the promise of gold chains, fast cars, and fashion clothes? And how can you persuade young men and women to have faith in themselves if their mother and dad have lost all faith?

In short, without strong families, how can values triumph over vice? And the answers can only come from right here, right from the heart of every parent. And the answers can come from you, from the people of faith, the people of our churches; indeed,7E7E7E from7E7E7E all7E7E7E people7E7E7E of7E7E faith,7E7E7E whatever their religion. And so, I came to New Orleans today to pledge my support as best I can, but to recognize your heroic efforts, your ministries, your efforts as parents or as church members.

First, we can work together in many ways to strengthen the family -- greater choice in child care is one that I feel strongly about, also education -- by replacing the crippling fear of crime with the promise of opportunity. Let me talk about child care just one minute. Often, while parents work, love and care come from extended family -- grandparents, aunts, uncles. And in many ways, the church community is the greatest extended family of all.

And I've seen that spirit of family and love permeate the day-care center at Shiloh Baptist Church in Washington, which I went to see not so many months ago. And your great church has already taken a load off the shoulders of a lot of the working parents -- some single, some together. And as we work to solve the child-care problems of this country, I am determined to protect Shiloh and every other church-sponsored child-care center in America. The church must stay involved, and it must not be pushed out by well-intentioned Federal legislation. And in that spirit, I offer some ways that the Government can help.

I believe in the child-care tax credit focused on those who need such assistance the most -- and I'm talking about the low-income family. But this approach is different from past programs. It would empower parents, not the Government, to choose the best care for their children -- be it a grandparent, a neighbor or, yes, a local church. And we need to give the parents a choice in their children's care, not take it away.

I recognize honest differences on this question. Some in Congress do differ with me. But perhaps it's time that we say this: Just as we should support single-parent families, we should also support two-parent families where one parent chooses to care for the children at home. And my proposal to the Congress does just that. I really believe in my heart of hearts that it is wrong to discriminate against church-sponsored child care. And when it comes to child care, we need more churches involved and not more government intervention. We need more congregations with love and concern helping to take care of the kids, not more government regulations. Yes, we need certain regulations so kids can't go into places that are unsafe -- be left there. But the excesses of regulation must not erode out the participation of the Baptists or whoever else it is that are concerned enough to try to help these kids.

And I guess every President should, from time to time, reiterate his -- or maybe her's someday -- profound -- not for the next couple of years, okay? [Laughter] No, but I do believe that a President should reiterate, if he feels it -- and I do -- the belief in separation of church and state. Presidents must feel that, but church-related centers that keep our kids in an environment of love and sound values must not be denied to parents who choose them.

But, on we go. Child care for families is by itself not enough. Families need opportunity. And so, again, I would urge support for these enterprise zones to bring opportunity to the barren lots of South Bronx, or to inner Baltimore, or to the streets of Watts, to farm towns, and to every community in need.

And I renew my proposal here today before this magnificent audience for tenant management of public housing. We cannot deny any of our people the autonomy and the dignity that they deserve. And speaking of tenants in public housing, they deserve something else: a safe place to raise their children and live their lives. And so, I ordered an additional million to HUD the other day to evict the drug dealers from public housing. Let's give these kids a fighting chance.

You see, there's one thing I'm sure of: If the 15,000 or whatever it is here today -- your friends, your families, your neighbors decide, when America decides that enough is enough, the dealers will not stand a chance. And I am determined to see America make that decision while I am President of the United States.

Today's job market -- and if you will excuse a personal note of pride, I salute my wife for her effort in working with some of you all in this very room toward the goal of full literacy. They see the job market changing. Another 10 years -- not going to be a question of whether there's a job for everyone. The question's going to be, demographically: Is there somebody qualified to take the existing job? It's changing that fast. And so, the market will not settle for anything less than an aptitude for full literacy and an aptitude for skilled labor. And those who are incapable -- and they are great in number -- will fall, unless we're careful, further and further behind.

So, what's the answer? I see you pointing the way. For a century and a half, these churches demonstrated the liberating power of learning. No one better exemplifies this tradition than the Reverend Henry Rose. Born into slavery, liberated at age 21, he walked all the way from Texas to Virginia, worked on the railroad until a Baptist society sponsored him at a little seminary school. Reverend Rose was so poor that when he graduated he had to wear a boot on one foot and a shoe on the other. But Henry Rose had something better than a matching pair of shoes. He had knowledge; he had pride; he had faith in God. And as a Baptist minister, he founded five churches and two schools, establishing institutions with great traditions of service that live on to this day. And there is a lesson for us in this remarkable man's life. If he could beat the overwhelming odds of slavery, oppression, and blatant prejudice to lead a community, then any obstacle can be overcome; and we must not forget it.

Yes, I know we have a responsibility in improving education, and I hope the proposals I've sent to the Congress will do that. We've got to give parents and students greater choice. And when you choose one school and leave a bad one behind, that bad one's going to change. There are examples of that in many of the cities in America where choice has been put into effect. I'm talking magnet schools. And this means public and private partnerships like ``Say Yes To Education,'' which sends impoverished minority students to college. And this means increased support, which I'm proud to do my best on for historically black colleges and universities.

Education is more than schooling: It is nothing less than the communication of values. And once again, my respects for leading the way. Just look right here in New Orleans, where the Greater Liberty Baptist Church is preparing many young men for adulthood through its Black Manhood Training Program. That's a church thing. Government's not doing that -- the church -- men and women of that church got together and decided this is what we're going to do. I call it a Thousand Points of Light, and people in this country are beginning to understand now what I mean when I say we must be involved in the lives of others.

To get to school, to get to work, to get to a child-care center, families must also be free to walk the streets without fear. And today freedom from fear -- no, you know it as well as I do, it means freedom from drugs. And that is why Tuesday night I announced our nation's first comprehensive, coordinated, all-out assault -- a national strategy, a way to attack the drug menace on every front.

I believe that the Congress wants to work with me on this. Yes, I understand nobody's going to do it exactly my way. I would be very closed-minded if I said you can't have this change or another, or we can't make this part of it better -- another. But this is no time for partisan carping. We have come out with the first national strategy, and I want the support of every Member of Congress: Democrat, Republican alike. There's a lot of times we can play partisan politics, and I'll get in there with the best of them. Don't like it too much, but now that I'm President, I kind of wish they'd do it my way. I recognize that there's differences here, but not on this one, not as our country tries to come up with a national strategy and then fight the narcotics that are ripping off and killing the kids of this country, their very soul. Time to come together -- the first time in our history -- pass a national strategy to fight drugs, and I'd welcome your efforts and your support on that behalf.

Let me come back 1 minute to New Orleans, because when I was coming down here, the Congressmen reminded me -- and Congresswoman Boggs as well -- that things are going -- you know, we've got some problems in New Orleans, like every city in the world. Of course, there are problems, but people are rolling up their sleeves right here. Drug-free zones have been set up to help make New Orleans a safer place. West of here, 60 miles or less, Thibodeaux, Louisiana, a local police set an example -- I want to say that maybe the first such police force in the country that set what they call a drug-free police force by volunteering out there to take drugs [drug tests] and be sure the other police officers stay off of drugs. That's exactly the kind of united effort that we need if America is going to win the war on drugs. There are 100 million Points of Light out there, and I've just cited two of them here.

To provide child care, improve education, to create opportunity, defeat drugs -- these are steps to strengthening the family that require nothing less than a sustained national effort, a national partnership. I believe government can and should be a strong partner, but I also believe that the answer, or the solution to the social problems facing us, ultimately depend on what you and your communities do.

And I like what's been tested and found to be true, and your faith has been tested. And your values -- your values have been found to be true. And it is your faith in those values that America is turning to today. And so, I know there are a lot of problems out there, but I am an optimist. I believe we can reach out to families in need. I believe we can see a strengthening of the many patterns of family life. And I believe we will see a sharing of values, values rooted in the conviction that we as individuals and as families are engaged in a single, wonderful enterprise called America. America -- let us never forget it. We are one nation under God.

And Reverend Jemison said that on my shoulders rest the hopes of so many, but I have what you have: I have faith in God. I have conviction about family and family values, and I will not let you down. God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.

Thank you very much. Thank you. Back to work. This was pure pleasure.

Note: The President spoke at 2:39 p.m. at the New Orleans Convention Center. In his remarks, he referred to Theodore J. Jemison, C.A.W. Clark, and W. Franklyn Richardson, president, vice president, and general secretary of the National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., respectively, and Benjamin Hooks, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Following his remarks, the President traveled to Camp David, MD, for a weekend stay.

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