330. Memorandum From Secretary of State Rusk to President Johnson1


  • My Meeting with Dr. Ralph Abernathy and Representatives of the “Poor People,”2 Wednesday, May 1, 10:45–11:45 A.M.

Dr. Abernathy opened the meeting, introduced a series of speakers who addressed their grievances to me, and stated that he and his followers would return in ten days to see what response was forthcoming. (Speakers listed at Tab A.)3

At the close of the meeting, I promised to consider the grievances expressed, to consult with my Cabinet colleagues on points outside my jurisdiction, and to examine and respond to specific grievances that fell within the purview of my Department.

It was apparent at the meeting that the spokesmen for the group were poorly informed and that the first need was to provide them with adequate information on the subjects of their concern. I propose that information relating to legitimate grievances be drawn up to serve as a basis for discussion with Dr. Abernathy and his group when they return. Grievances meriting a response are outlined below.

U.S. Relations with South Africa, Rhodesia, and Portugal

  • Grievance: U.S. relations with these countries support racist societies and thereby serve to undermine national goals and policies of racial equality.
  • Response: The Department will prepare a statement and explanation of U.S. policy toward these countries for Dr. Abernathy and his colleague, the Rev. Andrew Young, who raised the issue.

Immigration Policies

  • Grievance: Immigration policies which permit entry into the United States of foreign workers (particularly those from Mexico and the Caribbean) should be discontinued until poor Americans are gainfully employed.
  • Response: The Department will coordinate with the Departments of Labor and Justice in the preparation of a report on the displacement of lower class American workers by foreign immigrants.
  • Grievance: “Green card” holders should be prevented from acting as strike breakers in the Southwest.
  • Response: The Department will cooperate with the Immigration and Naturalization Service in the preparation of a statement of facts and of recent regulations designed to prevent strike breaking by green card holders.

AID Policies

  • Grievance: Assistance should not be given to the poor in other countries when there is so much poverty at home.
  • Response: AID will prepare a statement on global interdependence and the dangers posed to our society of rampant poverty abroad.
  • Grievance: AID funds are used to support dictators in Latin America.
  • Response: AID will prepare a statement describing its programs in support of social and political development in Latin America and the reform criteria for AID assistance.
  • Grievance: AID is developing and dispersing abroad fortified foods which are not available to the poor people at home.
  • Response: AID will cooperate with the Department of Agriculture in the preparation of a report on AID programs in this area and their relation to domestic needs and programs.

Spanish Speaking Americans

  • Grievance: Cultural and land rights guaranteed to the Spanish speaking people by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo4 have been denied to them in practice.
  • Response: A memorandum prepared for my earlier meeting with Dr. Abernathy on this subject is attached at Tab B5 together with materials which describe progress made on behalf of Spanish speaking Americans under this Administration. This information will be used as a basis for any further discussions of this subject with Dr. Abernathy. I am also asking Mr. Ximenes to send Dr. Abernathy a supply of the brochure “The Mexican American: A New Focus on Opportunity” which describes your concern and constructive programs for the improvement of the condition of Mexican Americans.

American Indians

Grievance: American Indians are being denied fishing and other rights guaranteed to them by treaty. Specific references were made to the Treaty of Medicine Creek and the treaty with Russia for the acquisition of Alaska.

Response: The Department will prepare a summary of U.S. observance of international treaties which affect the status of American Indians.

Grievance: Out of 6,000 Department of Defense local employees in Alaska only 71 were “Indians” (Eskimos).

Response: The Department will refer this question to DOD.

Part of the meeting was taken up by angry criticism of the war in Viet-Nam, by intemperate indictments of other U.S. foreign policies, and by allegations that the U.S. was a warfare, not a welfare, state. These accusations were either too general, specious, or propagandistic to be subject to individual response. They can be addressed more suitably in a broad statement of foreign policy principles and goals.

Dean Rusk
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Records of the Department of State, Central Files, 1967–69, SOC 14 US. Confidential.
  2. The “Poor People’s Campaign,” a movement demanding equality and social justice for the poor, sponsored a march and encampment in Washington in May 1968.
  3. Not printed. Prominent speakers included the Reverend Jesse Jackson of Operation Breadbasket and the Reverend Andrew Young, Executive Vice President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
  4. The Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, signed February 2, 1848, ended the war with Mexico, set the Rio Grande as the southern boundary of Texas, and ceded the future states of California and New Mexico to the United States. A controversial clause in the treaty promised that the present landowners, their heirs, or “all Mexicans who may hereafter acquire said property by contract,” should have equal protection as if the land were in the possession of American citizens. Spanish speakers claimed the loss of more than 5 million acres of land; a claim that the U.S. Government had attempted to settle through legislation during the 19th century. The issue was still an active political one. (Letter from Ximenes to Secretary Rusk, May 16, 1968; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Records of the Department of State, Central Files, 1967–69, SOC 14 US)
  5. Not printed. The U.S. position was that “Claims that the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo granted special political rights or sovereignty have no legal merit. Claims with respect to individual land holdings may, of course, be taken up in the courts.”