Few people know that for eight years Richard Nixon presided over the first federal program using the leverage of government contracts to open jobs for minority workers. In 1953, President Eisenhower, acting on the advice of a task force in the Truman administration, issued an Executive Order declaring that all government contractors must not “discriminate against any employee or applicant for employment because of race, creed, color, or national origin” and that all subcontracts must contain the same provision.

The committee created to implement this pronouncement was chaired by the Vice President. Other members included Attorney General William Rogers, Secretary of Labor James Mitchell, Assistant Secretary of Defense Thomas Pike, George Meany, Walter Reuther, President James Nabrit, Jr., of Howard University, and other government officials and prominent interested citizens. The key staff members were the people who had drawn up the nondiscrimination plan under President Truman. I was employed as executive vice chairman in 1956 and 1957.

The diverse interests of the committee members proved somewhat contentious, but as chairman Richard Nixon gave a fair hearing to every voice and permitted no one to dominate the discussion. Having always done his homework, his leadership was surefooted.

Because the committee’s work was fervently opposed in some quarters, I was advised to hire a secretary in whom I had absolute confidence. An associate from Palos Verdes College, where I had been serving, agreed to accept the position. One of her responsibilities was to take minutes of the committee meetings. On her first day in that role, Mr. Nixon arrived after the meeting had begun. He was briefed on the rather difficult matter at hand, and the discussion resumed. He interrupted to say he hadn’t met this lady, nodding at my secretary, who was seated at a short distance from the conference table. After I presented her, he thanked her for accepting the job and expressed hope that she would find that her new work justified the complications of moving herself and her son all the way from California.

This was a natural and genuine act of courtesy, typical of the behavior that earned him the respect and support of the staff members, including the Truman appointees, who were lifelong Democrats. In an echo of this kindness, Luci Baines Johnson recently spoke of her gratitude for a note Richard Nixon sent her after the birth of her baby. He said he knew her father would have been delighted that she had named the daughter for his mother. This letter, written shortly before President Nixon resigned, was, she said, “an extraordinary act of thoughtfulness from a man in the midst of a terrible ordeal.”

When the Government Contract Committee began its work, prejudice foreclosed a great percentage of nonmenial jobs to minorities. At the end of the Eisenhower administration, a vast change had been wrought. Millions of jobs had been opened to all citizens under the Equal Job Opportunities program headed by Richard Nixon.

It should be noted that Mr. Nixon took no initiative to make sure the public knew of his role in procuring great benefits for minority groups, just as he took no public credit for his decision not to challenge the outcome of the 1960 presidential election, which a number of seasoned observers believed might have been reversed in a recount. In both instances, Richard Nixon was an American citizen serving his country, not a politico seeking a higher rating in the opinion polls. He deserves praise and gratitude.