NCCC Press Release on Meeting with President Johnson concerning Civil Rights

December 10, 1963

WASHINGTON, D.C., 01 Dec. 9 -- President Johnson met with the new president of the National Council of Churches and top church leaders for almost an hour here today. The meeting was called by President Johnson following the Council's sixth General Assembly Dec 1-7 in Philadelphia, Pa.

The churchmen reported to the President their concern for prompt passage of strong civil rights legislation, commended Mr. Johnson for his "very vigorous" record on civil rights, and discussed with him how churches can best support the cause of racial justice in the future.

They told the President that the Council’s recent General Assembly passed the “strongest possible" resolution supporting fast legislative action on civil rights. The resolution is "a statement of unprecedented strength by elected representatives of 31 denominations in the Council," a delegation spokesman said.

This was the first meeting of National Council representatives with President Johnson. The five member group included J. Irwin Miller, Columbus, Ind., industrialist and immediate past president of the NCC, and Bishop Reuben H. Mueller of Indianapolis, Ind., who took office as NCC president Dec. 7 in Philadelphia. Bishop Mueller is senior Bishop of the Evangelical United Brethren Church.

Other members of the delegation were: the Rev. Dr., Eugene Carson Blake of Philadelphia, Pa., stated clerk (executive head) of the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A and acting chairman of the National Council 1s emergency Commission on Religion and Race; Christian Methodist Episcopal Bishop B. Julian Smith of Chicago, Ill, a vice chairman of the Commission; and the Rev. Dr. Robert W.

Spike of New York City, the Commission's executive director.

President Johnson expressed to the churchmen his appreciation for the National Council’s work in the area of civil rights.

At a White House press conference following the meeting Bishop Mueller said; "We talked about problems in race relations in the North as well as the South. We agreed on the necessity for working together in the areas of equal jobs and equal educational opportunities.

"We assured the President that we will concentrate on these matters, and that we will do all we can to help bring to pass in this country and in this decade a new era of equal rights for all citizens.”

Bishop Mueller said the Council will work "through the avenues of Christian education and guidance,” but that "we will also place strong emphasis on demonstration.”

He referred to "demonstration in the broadest sense,” but added: "This might at times include demonstration in the streets.”  However, he said he hoped "that the members of our churches will create in their every-day actions a climate of love in which racial injustice cannot flourish”

The Commission on Religion and Race was established last June by then-NCC President J. Irwin Miller as an emergency measure to enlist the combined strength of America 1 s Protestant and Orthodox churches in the struggle for racial justice.

Bishop Mueller said his first official act as Council president was to re-establish the commission and appoint Mr. Miller to it.

"We're not only saying what should be done, we're trying to do part of it,” Bishop Mueller said. He added that the NCC General Assembly's resolution on civil rights was bringing results at that very moment on Capitol Hill, where upwards of 100 concerned clergymen and church members were gathered in the visitors' gallery of the House of Representatives.

These churchmen and women visited their Congressmen earlier in the morning, urging them to sign the discharge petition which would clear the civil rights bill “of 1963” for debate on the floor of the House as early as Dec. 23 or Jan., 13. They then went to the gallery at noon when the petition was presented by Rep. Emanuel Celler (D., N. Y). The petition will require 218 signatures in order to release the bill from the House Rules Committee, clearing it for debate.