Memorandum for the President

The attached Memorandum is nine pages of dynamite about the Negro situation.

It was prepared by Pat Moynihan as a Memorandum to you from me.

I agree with Pat’s analysis and concur in his recommendations.

But if this were to be a formal Memorandum it would have to be put in different form. I think you will want to get the full impact of Pat’s more vigorous approach. So I am transmitting it this way. We can prepare something else later in the light of your reactions.

The key points in the Memorandum are these:

  1. Negros are now going to demand not just equal opportunity but equal results.
  2. Most of them don’t have enough education and background to achieve equal results even if they get equal opportunity.
  3. The principal reason for this is the breakdown of Negro family structure. This breakdown is getting worse, not better.
  4. Federal policy should be built around the necessity to restore the structure of the Negro family.
  5. Seven specific recommendations are made at the end of the Memorandum.

—W. Willard Wirtz


Memorandum for the President

On every hand there are unmistakable signs that the civil rights movement is entering a second stage, and a new crisis.

In the first stage Negro Americans fought for and won rights which are traditionally associated with Liberty:

  • the right to vote
  • the right to assemble and to petition
  • the right to move about freely in public places
  • the right to compete for jobs and other rewards of the market place.

In the second stage of the civil rights movement, the Negroes are clearly going to begin demanding rights that are associated with the democratic ideal of Equality:

  • equally good education
  • equally good housing
  • equally good jobs.

These are, in effect, demands for equal results from equal competition.

America has never been comfortable with this type of demand. Movements for equality of results are often fiercely resisted: witness the initial hostility to the Populist movement, or to the Trade Union movement.

In the second stage of the civil rights movement, therefore, Negro organizations will lose much of their middle-class support. They in turn will become more bitter at what they already term “phoney liberals.”

More seriously, the entire nation, Negroes included will run smack into the fact that equal opportunity for Negroes does not produce equal results—because the Negroes today are a grievously injured people who in fair and equal competition will by and large lost out.

Many persons mistakenly compare discrimination against Negroes with past discrimination against other groups.

As if, for example, breaking down barriers to Negro apprentices in the buildings trades was like breaking down the quotas on Jewish students in medical schools a generation ago. It is not. Once the bars were down the Jewish lads swarmed in to the schools and were more than equal to the competition of their fellow students.

We have been in the business of breaking down job barriers to Negroes for four years now. We can no longer deny that our hardest task is not to create openings, but to fill them.

This problem is now compounded by a biological explosion. When you became Vice President one of every ten Americans was a Negro. Before 1972 the proportion will be one in eight.

In the next five years the Negro work force will expand 20 percent. Twice the rate of the whites.

Many of these young persons pouring into the labor force are simply not going to be prepared to compete.

There is one dramatic measure of their disabilities: 56 percent of the Negro youth called up for Selective Service fail the mental test. That is a test of ability at about the seventh-eighth grade level. 14 percent of whites fail it.

Little wonder 22 percent of Negro male teenagers are unemployed today.

* * * * * *

How come?

Many explanations are put forward. In the Department of Labor, however, we feel that the master problem is that the Negro family structure is crumbling.

Somehow American national policy (quite the opposite is the case in Europe) has never given serious attention to the role of family structure in social problems. Yet everyone knows from personal experience how fundamental it is.

You were born poor. You were brought up poor. Yet you came of age full of ambition, energy, and ability. Because your mother and father gave it to you. The richest inheritance any child can have is a stable, loving, disciplined family life.

* * * * * *

A quarter of the Negro children born in America last year were illegitimate.

  • 29 percent in Chicago
  • 36 percent in Memphis
  • 43 percent in Harlem

The white illegitimacy rate is 3 percent.

Almost one-fourth of nonwhite families are headed by a woman. 36 percent of Negro children are living in families with one or both parents missing.

56 percent of Negro youth sooner or later on, receive Aid to Families of Dependent Children payments provided by the Federal government. As against 8 percent of whites.

Probably not much more than a third of Negro youth reach 18 having lived all their lives with both parents.

Because many middle-class Negro families are doing very well indeed, these overall statistics probably conceal the degree of disorganization among the families of the Negro poor.

Without exception every statistical measure of Negro family stability has gotten worse, not better, over the past fifteen years.

The main reason for this is the systematic weakening of the position of the Negro male. This problem is as old as America and as new as the April unemployment rate.

  • Slavery -- destroyed the Negro family. Mammy was a respected figure. Sambo was jeered.
  • Reconstruction -- terrorized the Negro male by lynching, and humiliated him by segregation.
  • Urbanization -- poured families into slums where the family had no identity. The cabin in the cotton was at least a separate housing unit that defined the family (Negroes are now more urban than whites.)
  • Unemployment -- undermined the role of the Negro man as the breadwinner. Last year 29 percent of the Negro males in the work force were unemployed at one time or another – half of these for 15 weeks or more.

By contrast Negro women have always done and continue to do relatively well. There are, for example, more Negro women college graduates than male. In relative terms Negro women get better jobs, higher salaries, more prestige.

* * * * * *

There is such evidence that these problems are beginning to feed on themselves -- that matters are getting worse at an evermore rapid rate.

The Department of Labor has always felt unemployment was a key problem -- and it was. Up until the last few years the number of broken Negro families, new welfare cases, and suchlike rose and fell with the Negro male unemployment rate as if they were connected by a chain. But in the past few years this connection seems to have been broken. Unemployment has dropped. But broken homes, illegitimacy, welfare dependency continue to rise.

Make no mistake. This is the problem that is making our cities ungovernable. It is the problem of poverty. It will not go away. By the middle of the 1980’s seven of the ten largest cities in America will probably have Negro majorities.

The breakdown of the Negro family is the principal cause of all the problem of delinquency, crime, school dropouts, unemployment, and poverty which are bankrupting our cities, and could very easily lead to a kind of political anarchy unlike anything we have known.

  • Last summer there were Negro riots in New York, Rochester, Jersey City, Elizabeth, Paterson, Dixmoor, and Philadelphia. Mostly made up of Negro youth who know how bad off they are. There will be more.
  • Last year the number of persons on welfare in New York City went up by one-eighth.
  • In most of our cities about three quarters of the crimes of murder, forcible rape, and aggravated assault are committed by Negroes. Given the childhood experience of most of these youth, psychologists state that their later behavior is entirely predictable.

The point is this: Most of the welfare assistance, the special education efforts, the community action programs which we are now doubling and redoubling are essentially the provision of surrogate family services. Society is trying to do for these young persons what in normal circumstances parents do for their children. Only these children have no parents.

We can go on providing this kind of welfare assistance forever. The evidence of a quarter-century is that it does not change anything.

  • In 1940 there were a quarter-million AFDC children whose fathers were absent -- i.e. had deserted them. In 1963 there were nearly 2 million. Two-thirds of the increase were Negroes.

Or the Federal government can make an historic new departure. It can make the decision that an object of national policy is to bring the structure of the Negro family into line with that of the rest of our society.

I am convinced that if this is done we will solve the Negro for problem once and all. It is the work of a half-century. More is the reason to begin now. More is the reason to define our program in terms of the dynamic factors which at present work against equality, but can work for it.

  • Many people think the color problem is insoluble. Nonsense.
  • A quarter-century ago Japanese Americans were subject to the worst kind of racial discrimination and mistreatment. All of which has practically disappeared before our eyes. The reason is that the Japanese (And the Chinese) have become a prosperous middle-class group. They now send twice as large a proportion of their children to college as do whites. Have twice as large a proportion of professional persons. Having solved the class problem, we solved the color problem. One of the reasons it was possible to do the former is that Japanese and Chinese have probably the most close knit family structure of any group in America.

* * * * * *

How can this be done?

I am convinced that the first step must be to bring all the persons and agencies in the Government concerned with this problem to the point where they are aware of the problem of the Negro family, and agree that our basic strategy must be to strengthen it.

We have a tendency to rush off after solutions before really agreeing on what the problem is.

Once we agree on the problem, I believe we will find it relatively easy to come up with sound proposals for action. Of great importance, we will have an absolute measure of whether or not our efforts are producing any results. This is not the least advantage of adopting a family structure strategy.-- we will not be able to tell ourselves that we have changed anything until we really have.

As a start, I would suggest seven steps.

One. Appoint a working party to review every relevant program of the Federal government to determine whether it is helping to strengthen the Negro family or simply perpetuating its weaknesses. For example, we are practically the only industrial democracy in the world that does not have a system of family allowances for families with fathers present, but we have a vast Federal system to support families with fathers absent.

Two. Many must have jobs. We must not rest until every able-bodied Negro male is working. Even if we have to displace some females. (In the Department of Labor, after four years of successful effort to increase Negro employees, we found that in non-professional categories 80 percent were women!)

Three. Family housing must be provided. We must find ways to get emerging middle class Negro families into the suburbs, where the surroundings tend to reinforce the integrity of the family -- just the opposite of the Negro ghetto.

Four. Negro youth must be given a greater opportunity to serve in the Armed Forces. This is the most important experience the Federal government can provide young Negro men. It is without question our shining opportunity. Negroes are now seriously under-represented in the Armed Forces. It should be the other way around. Just as an example, the Manpower Development and Training Program can take youth who volunteer but are rejected, and bring them up to military standards.

Five. Birth Control. There is no way to control this problem unless we bring the Negro birthrate back into line with that of whites and cut down the rate of illegitimacy. There is much evidence that this can be done.

Six. More can be done about redesigning jobs that are now thought to be women’s jobs and turning them into men’s jobs. This is a great problem for the Negro male: his type of job is declining, while the jobs open to the Negro female are expanding.

Seven. Negro information center. There does not now exist anywhere in the Federal government a place where all of the relevant information about the situation of the Negro is brought together, correlated and made available to the many agencies that need it. This  could be an important means of measuring our success or failure, and alerting ourselves to emerging problems. The Department of Labor could establish such a center, as could a number of other agencies now in existence or soon to be established.