Remarks at a White House Briefing for Supporters and Presidents of Historically Black Colleges

 

September 19, 1986

 

Thank you. And thank you, Dr. Margaret Seagears and Dr. Paul Huray, for putting this conference together. I'm looking forward to receiving a copy of your final report. It's a pleasure to be here today with the presidents and supporters of colleges and universities that has meant so much to American life.

 

From the day the first black college, Cheyney University, opened its doors in 1837, the institutions that you represent and support have been an important and irreplaceable pillar in both higher education and the struggle against injustice in our country. At the time Cheyney admitted its first student, it was actually against the law in parts of the country to teach black children to read and write. From that time to this, education has been the spark to light the torch of hope and opportunity for black Americans.

 

That's why men like Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., understood and stressed the importance of education. As Frederick Douglass once said, ``A little learning, indeed, may be a dangerous thing, but the want of learning is a calamity to any people.'' Today your schools award some 40 percent of all degrees that are earned by black students in the United States. Eighty-five percent of black physicians, 60 percent of black pharmacists, 40 percent of black attorneys, 50 percent of black engineers and 75 percent of black military officers, and 80 percent of black judges are graduates of America's 101 historically black colleges and universities.

 

You know, mentioning military officers, Martin Luther King used to remind us that black Americans are among our greatest patriots. And I take special pride in mentioning this because I remember during the war I narrated a film about a group of such patriots, pilots being trained at Tuskegee -- including one who would go on to become a great general and a national hero, Chappie James. And even though I was only a member of the horse cavalry, I can't tell you how proud I am that they made me an honorary member of the Tuskegee Airmen. I don't know whether that was because, even as a horse cavalryman, come World War II, I found myself flying a desk for the Air Force. [Laughter] But I'm proud, too, that the tradition of patriotism I saw when I was working on that film is being carried on in the strong ROTC programs on many of your campuses.

 

When we first came to Washington, our administration recognized the vital role that historically black colleges and universities continue to play in American life. Now, that's why 5 years ago this week I signed Executive Order 12320. Since then, Federal funding to your institutions has increased from $545 million in 1981 to $629 million in 1985. In the past 5 years, we've helped rescue from financial collapse several prestigious historical black schools, including Fisk University and Meharry Medical College. We also helped to improve the administrative infrastructure of many historically black colleges, and that's helped them make more of what they have. And, of course, our work continues.

 

And in a goal that I believe is particularly important, we've encouraged greater private participation in your colleges and universities. It's part of our whole approach, really. For too long, well-meaning Government programs had lured too many Americans into the deep, dark caverns of dependency. We want to help free them to climb out and walk in the sunlight of pride and independence. So, we're working to create enterprise zones and establish a youth employment opportunity wage. We established the Job Training Partnership Act. We cut taxes for all Americans, and with tax reform -- perhaps the greatest antipoverty program in history -- we'll take 6 million lower income Americans off the rolls entirely. And we've also said that helping ensure the health and independence of your schools was, is, and will be one of the most important steps we can take in making ours truly an opportunity society for all Americans. So, that's why we're here today, to recognize some of the partnerships between business and historically black colleges in the fields of science and technology. And I understand that in the past 2 days you've talked about how to encourage more of those partnerships.

 

America today is pioneering a new industrial revolution -- a revolution that's creating new jobs, new technologies, new businesses, and new opportunities and changing the way we think and work; a revolution in which America is the world leader; a revolution so profound that some believe that it is only compatible with free societies and that once it pierces the walls of the Communist world, those walls may begin to crumble and fall. Many graduates of your schools have helped lead our nation in this revolution; for example, an American hero, Dr. Ronald McNair, who was a graduate of North Carolina A&T State University and a member of the Challenger shuttle crew. We need more young men and women of genius and courage like Dr. McNair if we're to continue to lead this revolution.

 

This week, I'm told, you've discussed such imaginative proposals as tapping the vast array of talent and experience in America's community of retired scientists, technologists, and engineers. With the help of corporate research departments, private foundations, and professional societies, you will recruit retirees to serve as visiting faculty members, scholars, or researchers. You've also discussed a new partnership for science with business. Companies would adopt a department or an entire school and make a long-term commitment to its development. Foundations would join with the corporate community. Already our award winners today have blazed the trail. Partnerships, such as those of Atlanta University, those between the Texas Experiment Station and Prairie View A&M University, and those between Lawrence Berkley Laboratory and Jackson State University, have shown the way to the future.

 

Now, I've talked about the special problems and opportunities that America's historically black colleges and universities face. And let me turn for a moment, if I can, to something that faces us all, not as blacks or whites and not just as educators, workers or employers, but as Americans. I'm talking, of course, about the threat of drugs. Now, last Sunday -- maybe you caught us -- Nancy and I talked to the Nation about drugs. We shared our thoughts, not just as President and First Lady but as parents and grandparents. It's not often that a fellow gets to quote his wife, but I know when I've been upstaged. [Laughter] And besides Nancy said it best when she said that: ``Today there is a drug and alcohol abuse epidemic in this country, and no one is safe from it -- not you, not me, and certainly not our children, because this epidemic has their names written on it.''

 

Nearly two-thirds of high school seniors use an illegal drug at least once before graduating. Forty percent of high school seniors have used drugs in addition to marijuana. At least 17 percent of the class of 1985 tried cocaine, the highest level ever, and it's going up in all groups -- urban and rural, college-bound and not, male and female -- everyone. And it doesn't stop with high school. Almost one in every five college students reports great pressure to use drugs. Some of the most eloquent voices warning against the drug plague are in this room. President Willie Robinson of Florida Memorial College put it this way recently: He said, ``There is a problem that is tearing the soul out of our young people.'' And Tuskegee President Benjamin Payton said, ``The use of drugs should be banned not only on campus but in homes, in the community, and in the country.''

 

Well, that's what Nancy and I are calling on all Americans to do. I'd like to interject something. This morning I turned on the set real quick because I knew she'd been taped and was appearing in an interview on the air, and she was asked a question about -- but where, you know, how far down does this begin? And I had forgotten this answer that she had learned on one of her trips -- the various treatment centers. A lad 8 years of age, not only a user but a pusher, and he carried one of those beeper things, sitting in class. If he got the signal on the beeper he excused himself and went out because the beeper meant he had a customer outside waiting to buy. That's how early and that's why, as she said, their names, our children's names, are the ones that are written on it.

 

Well, Nancy and I are calling, as I say, on all Americans to do -- it won't be the campaign against drugs won with more police, although that will help. It won't be won just with tighter control on our borders, although that will help. And it won't be won just in schools, although that's important. It won't be won just in the fraternities, or sororities, or dormitories -- and that's important. It won't be won just in our workplaces, no matter how important they are. It won't be won just in our homes, although they're very important, too. It won't be won just in any of those places. It has to be won in all of those places. And I believe it will be now. It's a crusade we must fight on every front -- from the borders of our magnificent country and beyond to the inner soul that God gave us, where we must each find the courage for the battle. In a field in France is buried a young man, an American soldier who died in the First World War. He was killed trying to carry a message between battalions under heavy fire. After his death, on the fly leaf of the diary that was found on his body, he had written these words: ``America must win this war. Therefore, I will work, I will save, I will sacrifice, I will endure, I will fight cheerfully and do my utmost, as if the issue of the whole struggle depended on me alone.''

 

Well, this is how America will win the crusade against drugs -- the way we've met every other great challenge, the way we've overcome every other great obstacle: not by making excuses but by each of us doing our part, by pulling together. Nancy and I are saying it's time for all of us to join together to kick drugs and drug dealers out of our schools, off of our campuses, out of our homes, out of our communities, and out of our country. You college and university presidents are leading in so many areas of education. I ask you to lead in this way, too. And now, I think we have a few awards to hand out.

 

Note: The President spoke at 2:25 p.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building. In his opening remarks, he referred to Dr. Margaret Seagears, Executive Director of the White House Initiative for Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and Dr. Paul Huray of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, who presented him with a copy of a report on Federal efforts to assist black colleges. Following the President's remarks, 15 awards were presented in recognition of Federal and private sector efforts to increase minority participation in technical and professional fields.