Remarks at a White House Reception Marking the Beginning of National Historically Black Colleges Week

September 24, 1984

Good afternoon, and welcome to the White House. It's an honor to have each of you here as we mark the beginning of National Historically Black Colleges Week.

As educators, you know that education has always played a crucial role in the life of our nation, teaching the sons and daughters of parents from around the world a common language, English, and a common way of life, democracy. Our schools have uplifted our children, filled their hearts with hope, and given them the skills they need to make their way in the world with pride and self-reliance.

Like all our colleges and universities, your schools have performed these tasks. But your schools are special. For throughout our history, they did their work against a unique background of hardship and oppression. Just decades ago, almost 1 American in 10 lived a life that was separate and unequal because of the color of the skin. In parts of the country, black Americans were excluded from public life and from many of the professions, forced to eat in separate restaurants, to sleep in separate hotels, even to drink at separate fountains. And throughout those hard years, millions of black Americans saw education as a shining hope for advancement.

I remember how, during the war, I narrated a film about black pilots being trained at Tuskegee Institute -- and one above all, Chappie James. And even though I was only a horse cavalryman, I can't tell you how proud I am that I'm now an honorary member of the Tuskegee Flyers. I'm not going to volunteer for a journey into space -- [laughter] -- but they were brave young men. And I remember how impressed I was by their esteem for Tuskegee and their love of learning. It was your colleges and universities -- Tuskegee, Howard, Fisk, so many others -- that turned their bright dream of education into a blazing reality.

I'm told that today your schools have awarded degrees to half of all the black business executives, 80 percent of all black Federal judges, and 85 percent of all black doctors. The place your schools hold in the history of our nation is unparalleled. It's one of courage and honor, and it's a place that makes historically black colleges worthy not only of our praise but of our loyalty and devotion.

For this reason, our administration has moved to strengthen historically black colleges across America. In September of '81, I signed Executive Order 12320, committing the Federal Government to increase its support of your schools. Indeed, in fiscal year '82, your schools received grants and other forms of assistance totaling some $564 million. And in fiscal year 1983, we increased the level to 606 million. In fact, even more significant, the order also called on the Federal Government to encourage the private sector to provide your schools with still more support.

And a year after we announced that Executive order, we issued a new Presidential directive that gave our commitment new strength and clarity. And this directive contained four important points. First, it told the Federal departments and agencies to look for ways to use Federal program funds to improve the administrative infrastructure of historically black colleges and universities.

And second, it directed the agencies to strive to increase the percentage of total available funds that black colleges and universities receive.

Third, it directed the agencies to step up efforts to eliminate regulations that are barriers to your full participation in Federal programs.

And last, the directive reviewed our emphasis on encouraging support from the private sector. This, once again, embodied our belief that there are vast, untapped sources throughout America, because for too long, too many have looked only to government.

Permit me to add that the self-reliance and opportunity that we want for your schools is just what we want for all black Americans, indeed, for all Americans.

We're working hard 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 a youth opportunity wage to help teenagers find jobs. And across the board, we're striving to create vigorous, long-term economic growth.

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

Today many of your schools still have a long and difficult road ahead. But since we've begun to give you more support, success stories have been rolling in. When Meharry Medical College was threatened with its very survival, together we were able to give it a new life.

Meharry, you will remember, was in danger of losing its accreditation, because it lacked access to a sufficient number of patients and beds to provide its students with the proper clinical training. But we requested the Veterans Administration to expand an already existing affiliation with Meharry so that 200 additional teaching beds would become available. Today, Meharry, a school that over the last century has trained 40 percent of all black physicians, is going on with its important work.

Earlier this year, Fisk University ran into tough financial problems. And we helped put together a 19-member advisory task force made up of presidents of other historically black institutions, specialists from the Department of Education, and representatives of the private sector. And in July, the task force submitted to the Fisk board of trustees, a report outlining a number of sound financial strategies. The report also suggested that the university appoint a board of advisers, made up of distinguished individuals from the private sector, to assist Fisk in putting these strategies into practice.

Fisk accepted the recommendation and, with the help of the White House Office of Private Sector Initiatives and the Department of Education, selected a group of outstanding Americans to serve on that advisory board. I'm pleased to say that the members of the advisory board just met next door, and they're with us here now. And today, Fisk still has its work cut out for it, but it's back on its feet, and it's growing stronger.

Historically black colleges have enriched our nation in the past, and I just have to believe that your future will be even brighter. As we sign this proclamation designating the week beginning September 23d, 1984, as Historically Black Colleges Week, let us honor the brave men and women who dedicated themselves to the education of black Americans in decades gone by. But let's also look to the years ahead to the vital role that these colleges will play in training young Americans for full lives in traditional fields and in the new and limitless frontiers of science, technology, and space. So much of America's future lies in the dreams of your students. And together, we can all help make them come true.

Thank you, and God bless you. And now, I'm going to sign the proclamation. But I want you to know that it did begin the week on time, because I've already signed the bill before -- [laughter] -- before the date.

Thank you all. God bless you all.

Note: The President spoke at 5 p.m. in the East Room at the White House.