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President Nixon meets with black college presidents.

National Archives

During his tenure in office President Nixon steered a middle course in domestic affairs and did not attempt to dismantle Johnson’s programs but strived to make them more efficient. Robert J. Brown was an African American member of Nixon’s White House staff who was looked to as liaison to the black community. He dealt with issues related to civil rights legislation, funding for jobs, black colleges and inner-city housing. Racial tensions were high in 1970, as blacks became frustrated with economic conditions that did not improve despite advancements in civil rights. The Nixon administration addressed the underlying problems of bigotry and economic empowerment by putting teeth in anti-discriminatory laws, boosting the budget of civil rights enforcement, and sponsoring minority business initiatives. Brown recalled that one of his priorities as a Nixon staffer was to promote black colleges. He arranged a series of meetings between Nixon and black college presidents, "knowing that the president saw education as a great equalizer." President Nixon doubled aid to black colleges and issued an executive order denying tax deductions for contributions to segregated schools. John Calhoun, a black special assistant to President Ford, would continue this concern for the status and funding of black colleges. He strongly supported the Ford administration’s efforts to renew the Voting Rights Act and to improve the funding and research capabilities of black colleges. President Ford backed Calhoun’s efforts to reach out and to work with African American members and staffers on Capitol Hill. Calhoun held monthly luncheon meetings. This outreach program and Calhoun’s access to the president was significant to shaping decisions concerning busing, school desegregation and voting rights.