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(1963) Robert C. Weaver, "The Negro as an American"

In 1966 Robert C. Weaver became the first African American to hold a cabinet post when President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed him Secretary of  the new created Department of Housing and Urban Development.  Weaver, however had held a series of federal government and academic positions going back to the Franklin Roosevelt Administration in the 1930s.  As such he had become a recognized expert on housing discrimination.  In the speech below, given on June 13, 1963 in New York City, however, he articulates the position of moderate civil rights advocates who want a racially integrated society.  

When the average well-informed and well-intentioned white American discusses the issue of race with his negro counterpart there are many areas of agreement. There are also certain significant areas of disagreement.

Negro Americans usually feel that whites exaggerate progress; while whites frequently feel that negroes minimize gains. Then there are differences relative to the responsibility of negro leadership. It is in these areas of dispute that some of the most subtle and revealing aspects of negro-white relationships reside. And it is to the subtle and less obvious aspects of this problem that I wish to direct my remarks.

Most middle-class white Americans frequently ask, Why do negroes push so? They have made phenomenal progress in 100 years of freedom, so why dont their leaders do something about the crime rate and illegitimacy? To them I would reply that when negroes press for full equality now they are behaving as all other Americans would under similar circumstances. Every American has the right to be treated as a human being and striving for human dignity is a national characteristic. Also, there is nothing inconsistent in such action and realistic self-appraisal. Indeed, as I shall develop, self-help programs among non-whites, if they are to be effective, must go hand-in-glove with the opening of new opportunities.

Negroes who are constantly confronted or threatened by discrimination and inequality articulate a