Radio Address to the Nation on Martin Luther King, Jr., and Black Americans

January 18, 1986

The first national holiday for Martin Luther King, Jr., will be celebrated this Monday, but Dr. King's birthday fell this past week on Wednesday. I spent a good part of that morning at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School in Washington, and believe me, that was the place to be. I've got a pen pal at the school, 8-year-old Rudy Hines, and he's kept me up on the doings at the school and what he and his friends are thinking about. So, I wasn't surprised that, in spite of their age, the children at the King school knew all about his life and why it had meaning for all of us.

Martin Luther King believed, as I and so many Americans do, that our country will never be completely free until all Americans enjoy the full benefits of freedom. It is now over 17 years since his death, and enough time has gone by to get a sense of the progress made by minorities in America and by America in the area of equal justice since 1968. I think it's fair to say that we've come a long way in the pursuit of racial fairness in our country. We have a lot to be proud of, but nothing to be complacent about; we still have a way to go. We're committed to a society in which all men and women have equal opportunities to succeed, and so we oppose the use of quotas. We want a colorblind society, a society that, in the words of Dr. King, judges people ``not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.''

Vigorous enforcement of the civil rights laws continues. More employment discrimination cases were filed by the Justice Department during our first administration than during the previous 4 years. And we have successfully prosecuted more criminal civil rights cases in more parts of the country. We've also continued strong support for the fair housing laws.

I agree with the late Dr. King that our country won't be free until we're all free. But I take it a step further: Our nation won't really be prosperous until everyone in it enjoys a share of the fruits of prosperity. What progress have we made in this regard? Well, still not enough. Record high employment, lower tax rates, lower inflation, dropping interest rates, and continued economic growth have helped Americans -- and that includes black Americans. The policies of the past 5 years have produced the biggest economic expansion since the 1960's. Because of these policies, about 400,000 black Americans moved up and out of poverty from 1983 to 1984. A record 10.7 million black Americans are holding jobs. In fact, blacks have gained an average of 40,000 new jobs a month for a total of 1.5 million since the recovery began. In addition, the median family income of black Americans, adjusted for inflation, rose almost 2 percent in 1984.

Another measure of expanding opportunity is minority entrepreneurship; and there, too, the news is encouraging. The Commerce Department reports that the number of black-owned businesses increased 47 percent between 1977 and 1982. By the way, over the past 3 years, minority firms have enjoyed $15 billion in government business and at least another $15 billion with private sector companies.

Now, none of this happened by accident. The economy is expanding because from the beginning we made it clear that one of the prime motivating intentions of this administration was to get the economy going again. And it was clear the way to do that was cut tax rates, stop penalizing initiative, and sit back and watch the fireworks. All of us have benefited. The poverty statistics show John Kennedy was right when he said, following his own tax cuts, a rising tide lifts all boats.

So, we've done some boat lifting the past few years, but it's still not enough. We can do better. We can reform our tax system, make it fairer, and lower most people's tax rates. We can also get spending under control and keep government from demanding more and more of your money. For years now we've been asking for enterprise zones in depressed areas, areas that would get tax breaks to attract the businesses that create jobs. And in education, we propose the educational voucher system in which families that live in poor areas can use vouchers to send their children to any of a number of schools, whichever they think is doing better. No reason parents shouldn't be given more freedom of choice, and no reason schools shouldn't compete for students.

The answer to the question ``How are blacks doing in America?'' is ``Better than ever before, and still not good enough.'' There's work to be done. But if we continue to allow the economy to expand and continue to work for a more perfect society, the people of all colors will prosper. And isn't that what Dr. King's dream and the American dream are all about?

Until next week, thanks for listening, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 12:06 p.m. from Camp David, MD.