Remarks at the 40th Anniversary Dinner of the United Negro College Fund

October 11, 1984

Thank you, Christopher Edley, for that kind introduction, and thank you all for a heartwarming reception.

It's a pleasure to be here tonight with Effi Barry, who chaired this dinner, and with so many friends and supporters of the UNCF. Nancy and I consider it a high privilege to serve as your honorary chairpersons, and I know that she would have been with me here tonight, except they've got her down in San Antonio, Texas. Politics may make strange bedfellows -- they're kind of breaking some up now and then. [Laughter] Especially in campaign years.

But Vice President Bush has other things on his mind, as you can well imagine -- [laughter] -- but he asked me to give you his regards tonight. The United Negro College Fund has meant a great deal to George ever since he became an organizer for the Fund during his student days at Yale.

Education has always had a special place in the hearts of black Americans. Great figures like Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington grew up at a time when, in many parts of the country, it was actually against the law to teach black children to read and write. Yet, they overcame these injustices to become among the greatest educators our nation has ever seen.

In our own time, no less a figure than Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., stressed the importance to black Americans of good education. Dr. King said, ``We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline.'' And he understood that no activity requires more discipline or confers greater dignity than the training of young minds.

Education has meant so much to black Americans because for so long, they had to fight for it. Just a few decades ago, almost 1 American in 10 lived a life that was separate and unequal because of the color of their skin -- excluded from public life and from many of the professions. And throughout those hard years, millions of black Americans saw education as a shining hope for advancement. And it was the colleges you worked so hard to sustain -- Tuskegee, Spelman, Fisk, and so many others -- that turned that burning hope into a blazing reality.

I remember how, during the war, I narrated a film -- I was in the Air Force myself, but they kept track of what my occupation had been before -- I narrated a film about black pilots being trained at Tuskegee Institute. They were brave young men. And one of them would go on to become a great general, a great patriot, and a national hero -- Chappie James.

I'll never forget how impressed I was by their esteem for Tuskegee and by their deep love of learning. And I slip in here a little bit and tell you that I'm extremely proud that just recently they made me an honorary member of the Tuskegee Flyers. Now, that's quite a step for a former lieutenant of horse cavalry.

But over the years, America's black colleges and universities have come to hold a unique place in history -- a place that makes them worthy not only of our praise but of our loyalty and devotion. For many years, you in the United Negro College Fund have served these colleges and universities with just that, true loyalty and devotion. You've provided these schools and their students with millions of dollars in crucial funds. You've played a vital role in enabling their enrollment to grow by some 10 percent in the last 15 years. And each year there are 45,000 students on campus who are either receiving support directly from you or attending colleges that you help to maintain. Now, that's a record of which you can be mighty proud.

Our administration joins you in supporting our black colleges and universities. In September 1981, as you were told, I signed Executive Order 12320, committing the Federal Government to increase its support of historically black colleges and universities. In fiscal year 1982 these schools received Federal assistance totaling $564 million, and in fiscal year '83 we increased that level to $606 million.

Just as significant, my Executive order also called on the Federal Government to encourage the private sector to give these vitally important schools still more support. The self-reliance and opportunity that we want for America's black colleges and universities are just what we want for all our black citizens -- indeed, for all Americans. We're working to create enterprise zones to help disadvantaged Americans, especially those in our inner cities, to get off welfare and onto the economic ladder. We're supporting the youth employment opportunity wage to help teenagers find jobs. And across the board, we're striving to create vigorous, long-term economic growth.

We believe that opportunity builds prosperity, and that prosperity means a better life for individuals, for families, and for the institutions, like black colleges and universities, that Americans cherish.

A genuine opportunity society -- that's what we're trying to build, and that's what the United Negro College Fund is all about. Just think, the black colleges that you support have awarded degrees to half of all black business executives and 85 percent of all black physicians. And your support has been vital to nearly half of these institutions.

One of the most profound aspects of your work is to help black and white Americans come to realize that, in Dr. King's words, ``their destiny is tied up with our destiny and their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.''

No, we can't walk alone. So much of our country's future lies in the dreams of students who depend on the United Negro College Fund. They're dreams of opportunity and prosperity; they're dreams of becoming doctors, lawyers, and statesmen; they're dreams of breaking new ground on the limitless frontiers of science, technology, and space. Together, let us walk into a bright future where all these precious dreams can and will come true.

Thank you, and God bless you all.

Note: The President spoke at 8:18 p.m. in the Washington Ballroom at the Sheraton Washington Hotel. He was introduced by Christopher Edley, president and chief executive director of the United Negro College Fund.