The evolution of the Federal Reserve’s employment mandate

Thank you. I am rarely at a loss for words, as my friends, family, and colleagues know all too well. But I do find it a little hard to express everything I am feeling, to be given the Louis E. Martin Great American Award in honor of a truly great American who did so much to make ours a more perfect union. Tough to find the words, but I will try.

Louis Martin did not lack for words. He was prolific, writing and publishing millions of words in newspapers as a key figure in the heyday of Black publishing in the 1950s and 1960s. There were also the words, and I would love to know what they were, that he spoke to the advisers of presidential candidate John F. Kennedy, who helped free the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King from a Georgia prison and arguably changed political history. And there were those words he whispered, in the ears of presidents and politicos, that moved the nation forward on civil rights. When I think about everything Louis Martin accomplished, including the creation of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, and I consider the distinguished men and women who have earned this award before me, I am humbled and very grateful.

One way I hope I can show my gratitude is by using this occasion to tell the wider world a story about the civil rights movement that should be better known and that is additionally meaningful to me for two reasons. The first reason is that this is a story about how the Federal Reserve, where I am a policymaker, came to be the first central bank in the world to make maximum employment a primary and explicit goal, coequal with its goal of price stability. And the second reason is that I had the memorable experience, as a Spelman College undergraduate, to hear some details about the lobbying for full employment and other economic policy objectives by one of the leaders of that movement.

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