Remarks to Members of the President's Committee on Civil Rights

January 15, 1947

YOU HAVE a vitally important job. We are none of us entirely familiar with just how far the Federal Government under the Constitution has a right to go in these civil rights matters.

I want our Bill of Rights implemented in fact. We have been trying to do this for 150 years. We are making progress, but we are not making progress fast enough. This country could very easily be faced with a situation similar to the one with which it was faced in 1922. That date was impressed on my mind because in 1922 I was running for my first elective office--county judge of Jackson County--and there was an organization in that county that met on hills and burned crosses and worked behind sheets. There is a tendency in this country for that situation to develop again, unless we do something tangible to prevent it.

I don't want to see any race discrimination. I don't want to see any religious bigotry break out in this country as it did then.

You people can, I think, make a real contribution here, with the assistance of the Attorney General and the Office of the President, that will get us tangible results. Our work has got to start at the grass roots, and in starting at the grass roots, it has got to start in the hearts of the people themselves.

I appreciate highly your willingness to spend your time on a matter of this kind. You may get more brickbats than bouquets. Your willingness to undertake the job shows that your hearts are in the fight place.

I know you will go to work in earnest and I hope that you will bring me something tangible by which we can accomplish the purposes which we have been trying to accomplish for 150 years, ever since the adoption of the Constitution.

[At this point Charles E. Wilson, Chairman of the Committee, stated that the members realized "the complexities of the job" being assigned to them, "but," he said, "we will do our best to work something out and hope it will be helpful." The President then resumed speaking.]

I am sure it will be. I have been very much alarmed at certain happenings around the country that go to show there is a latent spirit in some of us that isn't what it ought to be. It has been difficult in some places to enforce even local laws. I want the Attorney General to know just exactly how far he can go legally from the Federal Government's standpoint. I am a believer in the sovereignty of the individual and of the local governments. I don't think the Federal Government ought to be in a position to exercise dictatorial powers locally; but there are certain rights under the Constitution of the United States which I think the Federal Government has a right to protect. It's big job. Go to it!

NOTE: The President's Committee on Civil Rights was established on December 5, 1946, by Executive Order 9808 (3 CFR, 1943-1948 Comp., p. 590).