Press Briefing by the Board

Office of the Press Secretary
(San Diego, California)


Rimac Arena
San Diego, California

9:17 A.M. (L)

MR. LOCKHART: Good morning. Since the advisory board will be leaving immediately after the speech to go to the lunch reception, I've asked them to come in this morning and spend a few minutes to see if you have any questions.

Let me just introduce them to you and then I'll leave them to you. We have Chairman John Hope Franklin, Linda Chavez-Thompson, Suzan Johnson Cook, Governor Tom Kean, Angela Oh, Robert Thomas, and Governor William Winter, and Christopher Edley, who is the senior adviser.

DR. FRANKLIN: Any questions?

Q Do you know where and when the town meetings are going to be?

DR. FRANKLIN: No, we don't. I wish we did. We just had our first informal meeting yesterday. We aren't constituted yet officially as an advisory board. We will make some plans in the not too distant future, and we hope then to announce when and where the town meetings will be.

The town meetings will be just one feature, one of many features in the process of trying to discuss and act with respect to the whole question of racial and ethnic and other relations.

Q As you may know, a lot of critics of the group you're a member of say that, well, we've heard a lot of good words before, we've commissions set up, we've town meetings, we've seen all of these things done before, and there is still a lot of racial divide and tension in this country. What do you think you're going to be able to do that's different from what's been done in the past?

DR. FRANKLIN: I don't know that we've had a lot of town meetings with respect to this question. We've had town meetings, but I don't think we've had a national dialogue, national conversation on the question of race. That was not true in 1921 after the riots that ended World War I. That was not true after the riots that led to the creation of the Kerner Commission, with which I'm very familiar. Kerner was an old and very dear friend of mine.

And so it cannot be said that these are just some more town meetings and that sort of thing. We haven't had this before. I'm not suggesting that town meetings will solve the problems even if we do have them, but I am suggesting that a national conversation about race and ethnicity has not occurred

in our history. I think as an historian I can speak with some certainty about that.

Now, one doesn't want to get stuck or hung on the question of town meetings either or any conversation as far as that's concerned because conversations and town meetings and

whatever else we have in the way of oral communications are for the purpose of leading toward action of various kinds. And I don't think we've had that before, either.

So there's a large area in which we can explore these matters which, indeed, has not been explored before.

Q What sort of action do you hope this leads to?

DR. FRANKLIN: We hope that the action will lead to a number of things. We hope that it will lead to very specific improvements in education. We hope that it will lead to very specific improvements in housing, elimination of housing discriminations of various kinds. We hope that it will lead to specific elimination of discrimination in employment. We hope that it will strengthen the mechanisms that are in place now that have to do with the elimination of employment discrimination. We hope that it will lead specifically to the creation of large numbers of groups of people working in their own communities to improve the whole climate and, in turn, the whole set of policies with respect to race relations and that sort of thing. It can lead to a lot of things and those are only a few. I have colleagues here who are as well informed -- perhaps better than I.

Q Should we say that you expect to meet again within days, weeks, when you'll start your business?

DR. FRANKLIN: We've got our calendars ready to set some meeting times and I can't say at this moment whether it will be next week or the week after. I can say within a matter of weeks we will be running -- we will be up and running and fully operative.

Q Dr. Franklin, what do you say about some members of Congress thinking about apologizing to black America for slavery, and then Newt Gingrich is saying no.

DR. FRANKLIN: And Newt Gingrich is saying what?

Q Pretty much no. He really doesn't think it's a good idea.

DR. FRANKLIN: I think that, whether we do it as a nation or whether we do it as individuals or whether Mr. Gingrich will undertake this himself, we are all to acknowledge that there is some serious contradiction between the policies of this country with respect to race and the fundamental documents and sacred statements with respect to our nation -- that is, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States -- and they are not consonant with the policies that have been pursued by this country with respect to race.

Whether this will bring anyone out to issue a formal apology, I don't know. But anyone who looks at the history of race in this country and looks at the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence will know -- if they can read and write, they will know -- that there is a very serious contradiction, and we have been derelict and responsible for a whole history of miscreant activities, not unlike those which we condemned England for committing in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Q Dr. Franklin --

Q So the issue must be addressed -- the slavery issue must be addressed?

Q I was just going to follow up, but I'll let her follow up. Go ahead.

Q So are you saying the slavery issue must be

addressed in this Commission? To help heal the racial divide, do you think the slavery issue of black America must be addressed?

DR. FRANKLIN: I would say the slavery issue must be addressed by every American, but let me add to that that it's more than the slavery issue. Hear me, hear me now: It's more than the slavery issue. It is the ideological underpinnings of slavery, the development of a philosophy in this country that stated categorically that blacks were inferior, that they were physiologically and intellectually and ethically inferior. And the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment could not end that, you see, for that had already been deeply ingrained so that when you turned off slavery there still remained these very important salient features that had been ingrained into the American ethos, that blacks were not worthy.

And you see, you can't turn that off by ending slavery, because it's something more than slavery, something deeper than slavery. You could end slavery, but you couldn't end that because that's in the minds and hearts of people.

So you've got another problem here to confront. If it were only slavery, it would be relatively simple, because slavery is over. But you continue in the 19th and in the 20th century, and in 1997, you continue to have people in this country who hold to the ideas that were the underpinnings of slavery, and they hold to them even after slavery is over.

Q Professor, I think the question, though, is given the political context, that President Clinton did formally apologize on behalf of the American people for the Tuskegee experiments, and now a Congressman has proposed that he also apologize for what was obviously a much worse moment in U.S. history: slavery. Should the President of the United States formally apologize for slavery that occurred in the United States?

DR. FRANKLIN: I don't know what my colleagues think of that. I think every person in the United States ought to recognize the fact that this was a despicable, terrible act on the part of our founding fathers and all the people who came before us. Whether it can be subsumed under an apology by anybody, one person, I don't know, I'm not prepared to say.

But I think every American needs to confront this matter. I don't want to -- I've got all this talent here. Look at them. Marvelous.

Q We'd be happy to hear from the rest of the panel on this question -- should the President apologize for slavery?

DR. FRANKLIN: I think there are so many things that the President can and should do, and I think you might hear some of these when he speaks this morning.

MR. THOMAS: I think at this stage of our life as an advisory board we're in no position yet to make a recommendation to the President, but it certainly is something that we would consider as an advisory board.

Q Dr. Franklin, when you spoke of the differences with earlier commissions like Kerner, one of the differences is, those commissions dealt solely with black-white. How does it complicate your task or change the mission of this board when you're going to be dealing also with Hispanic, Asian-American --a broader question than faced Kerner.

DR. FRANKLIN: Do you want me to answer that? I can answer that. I'd be glad to answer.

MR. THOMAS: I think all of us could answer that. The task is laid out before us. The President has clearly identified what he wants to accomplish and this will not be a difficult issue to expand into races and cultures of all kinds.

Now, there will be a concentration on the African American race and the black and white issue, as he has said, but he has also said that he wants to extend this into all diverse issues. And just living here in Southern California we are faced with that on a daily basis and so it will not be difficult -- particularly through the town hall meetings -- to expose the fact that we have many racial issues and many diverse cultures here that we have to deal with.

MS. OH: Let me begin by saying that, quite frankly, as an Asian American, I feel that I am somewhat of an intruder on a dialogue that has been a black/white sort of paradigm for all of the time that we have ever talked about race and racism in this country -- which isn't very much time, frankly.

None the less, I feel that the invitation to engage in what is really a historic endeavor and the reception that Professor Franklin and others on this advisory board have given me in response to that very statement, that I feel I am an intruder. There are elements in our communities that would not like to hear from Asian America, that would not like to hear from HIspanic or Latino community, however you want to identify it --and you will learn, as we engage in this dialogue, why I even make that very small remark. And it's because there's a sentiment that by allowing people like myself into this dialogue there will be some sort of a dilution.

The reality is that there will be an enrichment. The reality is that we will all learn an incredible amount of information that will take away the mythology. The reality is that this is going to be a difficult and painful dialogue. For those who think that this is a feel-good experience, you need to understand that in the last 24 hours we all met each other for the very first time and we're all -- I think I speak with some confidence here -- struck by the honesty and the willingness of every single one of us who sits at this table at this moment to allow the vulnerability, to allow the pain, and then to embrace the reality that we are all part of one nation.

That is the goal here because the human resources that we have in this nation are incredible, and we hope to bring that to light.

MS. COOK: I think it's also to raise the question, can we be one America in the 21st century? And so, I think that's why we're here. We bring our differences, and we will agree in some areas, and we certainly will disagree because we all bring our cultural and sociological perspectives to the table.

But I was born during the civil rights era, and so I'm a civil rights baby, which means that Martin Luther King's children and Malcolm X's children are all pretty much in my age group. We -- actually some of us are friends. And there has not been a dialogue since the marches of '63 when we were five and six years old.

And so I'm looking forward to race being put on the table. And I think it's an important issue, and we cannot act as though it's not an issue in America. So I'm looking forward to it. And I look forward to it with hope that we will be honest and vulnerable and that we can begin to heal some of the painful areas that each of us has experienced.

MS. CHAVEZ-THOMPSON: We should have a commission on vertically challenged people. (Laughter.) Trying to get up here

on this podium.

My name is Linda Chavez-Thompson. As a Latina labor activist, I went through many types of discrimination in the state of Texas, but the reason that I'm on this advisory board is because it's not a commission to make a report to the American people, it is an advisory board to the President so that the President makes the report to the American people. He wants and has talked with us very sincerely, has brought in some of his own personal reasons as to why he wants to see America address the issue of race.

When I was six years old, my name was changed in the first grade. My birth name is Lydia. But my 1st grade teacher changed it to Linda because it was easier for her. Why, I don't know. So all my life I have been known as Linda.

I serve on this advisory board because, right, I need a few more meetings in my life. (Laughter.) But I asked what was it going to do, what were we going to be allowed to do. And we've agreed that we may disagree. The President has agreed that he may disagree with us. And we may disagree with him and we will talk about it.

But the issue of race must be discussed, because as he has often said, it is something that America oftentimes doesn't want to talk about -- you put it off, you don't want to discuss it because maybe you don't have the answer, maybe you're embarrassed by the fact that you don't have the answer. But if we don't talk about it how do we address such major issues that have people of color earning less money than others, living in housing conditions that go back to the '30s and '40, living and working at a lesser status than people who are not of color.

So I wanted to serve on this board because I want to help make a difference. I've listened to the rhetoric. I've listened to the questions of whether this is going to make a difference. The alternative is, what if we don't talk about it? What if we don't try to make something happen? Yes, we have a year -- but we have a lifetime that if we don't spend a year talking about it, that lifetime will continue to have racial problems and I want to try to bring a solution.

GOVERNOR KEAN: First of all, I want to associate myself with the remarks of my colleagues and my chairman. I'm going to say basically that many people have written and said that this country could not go into the next century and achieve anything like our promise unless this issue was addressed, and addressed openly.

This is the first President who's been willing to do this. It's not an easy issue, it's an issue that most people in political life have tried to avoid. This is an issue that this President is willing to address. And, therefore, I think it's incumbent upon all citizens to help him and to help us in this year to address it. And that means Republicans as well as Democrats, because this cannot be a partisan -- it means the Congress, it means the governors, it means leaders at all levels and people at all levels. And we are going to be reaching out to the leadership of the Congress and to the governors for help.

And my hope is that everybody will respond willingly and that we will take all those ideas and try to incorporate them to the best of our ability in our advice to the President.

GOVERNOR WINTER: My name is William Winter. I served as Governor of Mississippi back in the 1980s. I would like to address very briefly, from my own point of view, the skepticism and the cynicism that have been reflected in some comments about the creation of this board.

Like President Clinton, I grew up in the segregated South. I can remember the skepticism and the cynicism that

greeted some of us back in the '50s and '60s when we suggested that there had to be an elimination of segregation, because we saw discrimination limiting the capacity of people, of all the people of my region. Now we've come a long way since then, and we've come a long way based both on activist government programs, but we have come a further way on the basis of a creation of a body of people of good will.

This is what is going to be at the key, in my opinion, for the solution to whatever remains of the racial crisis in this country. We have come a long way. We still have a long way to go. I think that we have the greatest opportunity that any generation has ever had to create this sensitivity with respect to our fellow Americans.

The very diversity of our population is what is going to give strength to the American system and the future. And that's what my role, as I view it, on this board is, along with that of my colleagues -- is to try to create a state of mind that says that racism -- racism in any form, wherever it comes from -- is unacceptable in a civilized society.

I think that ought to be the goal for all of us. And I'm hopeful we can take some mighty steps as members of this board to move us in that direction. And I want to salute President Clinton for taking this magnificent step that he has taken today, and saying really for the first time to the American people what the issues are.

MR. LOCKHART: Thank you very much.

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