Editor’s Note: This memorandum was composed by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then serving as assistant secretary of labor, and sent to Secretary of Labor W. Willard Wirtz on April 20, 1964. It was the first time he made clear the scale of the proactive efforts he envisioned if the government were to achieve not just an equality of opportunity for African Americans, but also an equality of outcome.
Has the time come to organize an inquiry into the subject of unequal treatment for the Negro?
Those responsible for public policy in America are being asked where they stand on this point. It seems to me, however, that the response, in general, is one of bewilderment and confusion at a wholly unfamiliar proposition. The subject is much in need of analytical and philosophical discussion, and we have not the accustomed leisure to reach a consensus.
American doctrine is centered on the proposition of equal opportunity: of equal protection of the laws. The social struggles of the past have characteristically centered on the question of whether this group or that was being denied equal treatment.
The Civil Rights Bill will mark the consummation of that effort as far as the Negro is concerned.
Now comes the proposition that the Negro is entitled to damages as to unequal favored treatment—in order to compensate for past unequal treatment of an opposite kind.