Aug 31

Sargent Shriver on Race and Civil Rights

by Sargent Shriver Peace Institute | 08/31/2020 11:38AM | Racial Justice


Sargent Shriver had much to say about racial justice throughout his career. Here is a collection of some of his most poignant speeches on the topic. We hope our community will find value in these words as we continue to strive together towards justice for all of us.

Exploring the Future of Racial Harmony – Cultural Level April 25, 1956
"Irrespective of the merits or demerits of LEGAL attempts to reduce discrimination, the only JUST, FUNDAMENTAL and PERMANENT REMEDY is the practice of INTERRACIAL JUSTICE."

Remarks About Race to Saints Faith, Hope and Charity Church November 18, 1957
"I believe that any American who holds to the theory of white supremacy and actively promotes the political, economic, and social restrictions necessary to create segregation must be classed with those who are willing to undermine their country's strength."


The Roots of Racism August 29, 1958
“The roots of racism lie deep in man's nature, wounded and bruised by original sin. The secret sources of racism, to quote that eminent teacher and philosopher, Yves Simon, lie deep in man's greed for a cheap labor supply. Deep in man's insecurity about his own means of livelihood, deep in man's desire for aristocratic distinction, his desire to feel that he is a member of a distinguished people, an elite better than other human beings; deep in his anxiety to be somebody, to belong to a group which does not include everyone, to be free of his fear of sinking into the great, struggling, undifferentiated mass of humanity.”


Speech to the National Conference on Religion and Race January 15, 1963
“As a layman […] I wonder why I can go to church 52 times a year and not hear one sermon on the practical problems of race relations.” 


Address to the Knights of Columbus in 1963 February 24, 1963
“What about the millions of Catholic negroes in Latin America? in Brazil? in Panama? in Jamaica? in Venezuela? What are Catholic Americans like all of us here in the Knights of Columbus doing about Brazil -- one hundred times bigger and more important than Cuba? Are we helping Brazil? Would a Brazilian Catholic negro be welcome here tonight?"


Address to the United Negro College Fund Symposium March 31, 1964
"The struggle for civil rights and the war against poverty are [...] all part of the same battle. […] The American nation exists for [the] purpose of opening opportunity for its people. To the extent we have failed to bring opportunity to all, to that extent we have failed as a country and as a people. This is a great land, and it has achieved much for many. But if it is to fulfill the promise we have always held, it will now go forward and offer fulfillment to all."

Address to the NAACP June 24, 1964
“[W]hen we think of that burned car, and when we think back on Medgar Evers, Emmett Till and other victims of our own American violence here at home, we must ask ourselves: who is really backward?” 


Sargent Shriver Speaks in New York about the Peace Corps & the War on Poverty 1965
“The War on Poverty could be corrupted if we permitted it to be a method by which, let’s say, White people tried to impose their ideas on Black people, or rich people tried to impose their ideas on poor people. Or where the standards and values of the middle class were imposed on people who have not participated in middle class America.”


Address to the National Bar Association August 3, 1966
A writer and poet, Kahlil Gibran put it this way:
‘The righteous is not innocent of the deeds of the wicked. You cannot separate the just from the unjust, and the good from the wicked; For they stand together, before the face of the sun, even as the black thread and the white are woven together. And when the black thread breaks, the weaver shall look into the whole cloth, and he shall examine the loom also.’
We know what the collective effect of discrimination and poverty have been on the black thread. But if the War on Poverty means anything, it is a statement that we must look – not just to the poor — but to the whole cloth too — and even to the loom.
The whole fabric of our society must be rewoven — and the patterns we must weave are patterns of justice, opportunity, dignity and mutual respect.”

Speech at the University of Notre Dame on Civil & Human Rights March 21, 1974
“Yet at this moment in the US, […] after Brown v. Board of Education, and […] after the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, we seem to have a lesser grasp on the moral logic of the human rights tradition than at any time in the American past. It is difficult to determine precisely the source of the confusion – whether it is our incomprehension of the basic moral arguments for a human rights philosophy, or whether it is an understandable perplexity about how the tradition relates to new issues and to old issues sharpened to a new intensity in an interdependent context. Whatever the cause, the result is clear -- we have no consistent appreciation or application of a human rights philosophy to public policy. The absence of an integrated view leads to selective perception of human rights issues which arise in the political or legal order. Different issues call forth different constituencies; and in any attempt to relate the defense of one right to the defense of another, discussions among the various constituencies resemble a dialogue of the deaf.” 

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