333. Memorandum From the Executive Secretary of the Department of State (Read) to the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow)1


  • Proposal for a White House Conference on the Advancement of Human Rights, December 4, 1968

The President’s Commission for the Observance of Human Rights Year 1968 recommends that a White House Conference on the Advancement of Human Rights be scheduled for Wednesday, December 4. The one-day conference would follow a Commission meeting on December 3, so that out-of-town members of the Commission could participate conveniently in the conference. The December 4 date would avoid any conflict with the celebration of Human Rights Day on December 10 at the United Nations. The Commission recommends that the President either address the conference, to be held in the Department of State, or receive the participants in the White House.

The President’s Commission had developed close relationships with many of the non-governmental organizations that are active in the field of human rights and United Nations affairs. One of its members, Mr. Bruno V. Bitker,2 is Chairman of a Special Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations, which provides liaison with these groups during Human Rights Year. The Commission hopes that representatives of many of these organizations, as well as the leaders of civil rights agencies, could meet together to commemorate Human Rights Year and to discuss the most urgent needs for the future.

Participation in such a White House Conference would give the President, during his final weeks in office, an unparalleled opportunity to voice his views on future needs and problems in the field of human rights.3 If announced sufficiently in advance, a White House Conference [Page 585] would attract several hundred leaders of many different organizations from various parts of the country. The Chief of Protocol would be asked to provide a luncheon, at which the President, Vice President, or some other senior official would be the principal speaker.

The Commission’s Chairman, Governor Harriman, or Vice Chairman, Mrs. Halsted, would preside at the proposed conference. Justice Tom C. Clark and other members of the Commission would participate. The program would include a plenary meeting in the morning, at which several senior officers of the Government and other prominent citizens would discuss issues concerning human rights, and panel discussions in smaller groups during the afternoon. Among the subjects to be discussed might be the following:

Continuing efforts for education about human rights;
Methods for relating the principles of human rights to the urban crisis in the United States;
The relationship of human rights to international peace;
The role of human rights in United States foreign policy;
The need for ratification of human rights conventions, particularly the six conventions before the Senate; and
International measures for implementation in the field of human rights.

The proposed conference would be organized and staffed by the Department’s Bureau of Public Affairs. The agenda and list of speakers would be developed by the Commission’s staff in consultation with the Special Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations. The only responsibility of the White House would be a personal appearance by the President and continuing guidance and advice by his staff (Mr. Goldstein).

Benjamin H. Read 4
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Office Files of White House Aides, Ernest Goldstein, Human Rights—2, Box 8. No classification marking. Drafted by James F. Green (IO/HRY) and cleared by Anna Roosevelt Halsted, Ward Allen (IO), Robert G. Cleveland (P/PS), Funk (S/AH), and Margaret H. Williams (CU).
  2. Bitker also served as a member of the U.S. Delegation to the UN International Conference on Human Rights; see Document 328.
  3. On December 4 President Johnson told the conference of the special ties between the American people and human rights, and said “Our greatest Presidents are remembered best for their successes in human rights, whether it was freeing an enslaved minority from bondage, or whether it was guaranteeing the self-determination of a small and a defenseless nation.” (Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1968–69, Book II, p. 1162)
  4. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.