Winter Convocation Address at Wilberforce University

Wilberforce, OH | January 25, 1968

Justice cannot be inherited; it has to be struggled for -- today, against the inequalities of today, the injustices of today. And justice cannot be struggled for separately. There's no such thing as "Negro justice" or "white justice," or 'an "Indian justice." There's only one thing -- and it's justice, pure and undiluted for everybody.

There are many theories to explain what's going on today. One of them is known as the "domino theory." We applied that theory to Southeast Asia: the new idea that if Communism takes over in South Vietnam then Thailand will fall, and then Malaysia, and then Indonesia, and then the Philippines and so on. They'll fall like dominoes.

Well, that theory may or may not be right nine thousand miles away from the United States. But one place where I think it is right is here at home.

  • The more Molotov cocktails, the more police dogs. 
  • The louder the talk about black nationalism, the louder the talk about white supremacy. 
  • The more guns the police buy in the wintertime, the more temptation to hate cops in the summertime.
  • The more anguish suffered by the poor, the more anger they feel toward the rich.
  • The more support for Rap Brown, the more support for George Wallace 
  • The more people depend on violence, the more they will act on violence.

I'd like to suggest to this audience today that we all catch our breaths and perhaps come to the conclusion that we ought to stop this domino theory of violence. Nobody, however, should be fooled. As the novelist Leslie Fiedler said just a few days ago at Northwestern University:

"Violence is everywhere, and always at the heart of human affairs. Violence within art shows us the violence within ourselves. It purges us, moves us, and leaves us, and leaves us feeling calm."

That's right. Violence is everywhere — in our history, we know violence tamed the frontier. Fifteen hundred people were killed in an anti-draft riot in New York in 1863. Five of the twelve American Presidents in this century have been the targets of assassination. And the violence in our history is matched by the violence in our present. The big movies this year are both about violence — "Bonnie and Clyde," "In Cold Blood." On our highways the violence is worse. This weeks’ Time Magazine reports that over 50,000 Americans were killed last year in traffic accidents; nearly two million were permanently disabled. Three million crimes are reported every year, a murder in our country every hour. And the violence on television every night seems to escalate.

Two years ago, Pope Paul at the United Nations cried out, "No more war! War never again!" Today, perhaps we should cry out, "No more violence! Violence never again!" But a cry like that is without substance unless we have some plan, some faint glimmer of an idea on how to change America from a violent to a peaceful nation.

More than two thousand years ago, the great Greek philosopher Plato wrote these words:

"You cannot make people good. The most you can do is to create the conditions in which the good life can be lived."

To the extent we have violence at home, I think one might well conclude we have not created the conditions in which the good life can be lived.

I suggest that there are at least two fundamental things we must do to create those conditions. We must have unity of purpose as a people and justice among the people. And today, we have too little of both.

The unity I talk about is not geographical unity; we already have that. Nor am I speaking about political unity; we already have that. The kind of unity America needs is human unity, human beings united in the common purpose of just being human to each other. This human unity is what's being tested by the violence in America today. When voices of violence shout, "Let's tear this-country apart!" they mean apart – the kind of violence that produces disunity, separation. The kind of disunity that pits blacks against the whites, old against the young, left against right, rich against poor, Catholics against Protestants, and so on.

But that's not really seeing things as they really are, because if you look around, all of us already have enough enemies in common without making enemies of each other. Thirty million black and white Americans have the common enemy of poverty. Sixty-eight percent of the poor in the United States today are white. Instead of fighting each other, let us hope we can unite the poor — not against each other, but against poverty.

There are some hopeful signs — not nearly as many as there should be, but some. And some of them are not well known. Take Lowndes County, Alabama — place to strike enthusiasm in the breast of any black American. Haynesville, Alabama, is a town where four or five years ago a Protestant seminarian and a Catholic priest were gunned down on the main street, the Protestant killed, the Catholic wounded. Today in Haynesville, across the street from the point where that seminarian fell in death, an Office of Economic Opportunity Health Center is beginning to rise, a center where doctors and nurses will bring to the poor of Lowndes County medical attention for the first time in the history of that county.

Who's responsible for that? A white man from Illinois or from Massachusetts, or a black man from Ohio or Illinois? No. He's a white man from Lowndes County, Alabama — Dr. Howard Meadows. Is he a new one to go down to Alabama? No. His family has been there for five generations, and in that time, despite anything he could do today, I'm sure, his family has participated in many, maybe thousands of indignities to black people who lived in that county. Yet Dr. Meadows organized the white and the black doctors of Lowndes County, Alabama, in a cooperative effort to create this new health center. Most of his white friends think he's crazy. But he goes ahead anyway.

And this one man is uniting the people of Lowndes County, black or white; whether they're members of the White Citizens Council or the Black Panthers. They're meeting every week in Haynesville. That certainly is not a tremendous improvement, but it is perhaps at least the first beginning, the first sign of hope.

Change is coming to Lowndes County, not only there but in other ways — not because of Federal anti-poverty programs alone, but because of human beings like this one man named Meadows. People are coming to see that they have a common enemy, sickness.

Over in Mississippi the black and white people have discovered that they have a common enemy, not only poverty and hunger, such as you are raising money for, but sheer lack of money. (Let me say in a parenthesis that I congratulate you — all of you — who are participating in a drive to raise money or food, or clothing, or both; for the black people of the Delta in Mississippi. God knows they need your help, and God knows we in the Federal government have not done enough. But fortunately — fortunately, I say —- we have done something, the first things ever really done, helping those people to help themselves in their own ways. The Head Start Programs, the free lunch programs, the free food programs in the Delta have been a beginning — that's all but at least a beginning.)

Four years ago when we started the War Against Poverty, I was told by every expert in Washington that we would never have an integrated group in Mississippi to do anything. In fact, the governor of Mississippi, Paul Johnston, had campaigned for governor on a platform which said that he would never authorize an integrated group in that state. Today,-we have 23 separate integrated groups operating War Against Poverty projects in Mississippi.

For the first time, the rich white people of Mississippi came out in a statement saying that they wanted to start a movement which would end the fratricidal warfare between blacks and whites in Mississippi and bring to that state more Federal anti-poverty program funds. He was joined in that — his name is Owen Cooper — he was joined in that by Alan Henry and by Medgar Evers' brother, Charles Evers; by J. Arthur Younger, by ministers of the AME Church, and by fifty black businessmen.

On the first of March, a meeting will be held in Jackson, Mississippi, at which some two hundred to three hundred businessmen will come and sit down in the leading hotel in Jackson - black and white, together, for the first time in the history of Mississippi.

I'll never forget when we started Head Start four years ago – four years ago in the summer in Arkansas. They said we could never have an integrated class in Arkansas. I announced the program, and suddenly about a month later I had an invitation to come to speak to a joint session of the legislature of Arkansas. I couldn't believe it, and I was edgy about going. The invitation was from somebody very well known — Orval Faubus.

I went down there, and I spoke to them. I was told afterward that I was the first Federal official ever asked to speak to a joint session of the Arkansas Legislature. When I was finished, some people said that I probably would be the last. But regardless of my speech — I spoke on a Monday — the significant thing happened the Saturday before I got there. You know that mansion, the Governor's Mansion in Little Rock? Most of you saw pictures of it on the front pages of your newspapers at the time of the integration fight when President Eisenhower was in the White House. And it was ringed around with sand bags and machine guns, and there was a light up in the right-hand corner in the window all night long where Governor Faubus was holed up and alleged to be planning the resistance. And President Eisenhower sent the Army there to integrate one school.

The Saturday before I got there, there was a tea party in that mansion; and up the steps of that same mansion went the leading women of Arkansas, accepting Mrs. Faubus' invitation to tea. And they went up there together, black and white, and into that house for a tea party, and ate together and talked together and planned a Head Start program for Arkansas together. It was the first time that had ever happened in the history of Arkansas.

Ten years ago, you could not have bought that with the entire Federal budget. But we got it, without any expense, practically speaking, because we asked those people to work together for children. It sounds so simple; it sounds almost so naive that you dare not even talk about it in serious conversation between grown-up people; but it happened.

And now across Arkansas, across Mississippi, etcetera, the Head Start. Program for little children has brought about more integration, more equality in educational opportunity in four years than in the entire history of our country following the Brown vs. Board of Education Decision in the Supreme Court in 1954.

The same thing, I think, I mentioned a moment ago, is happening between Catholics and Protestants. There's something in the Catholic Church called the Church Unity Octave. Somebody said, "What's 'octave'?" And somebody said, "Well, it's like octagon versus Pentagon. It's eight sides versus five sides." And I said, "What do you mean, 'five sides'?" And he said, "Well, it's eight days, you pray for eight days." I told him, "Nobody can pray for eight days." And he said, "Well, I don't mean you pray all the time for eight days, but there's eight days of prayer." "For What?" "For Church unity."

I said, "Well, what's going on?" And this person said, "Well, last Sunday a Protestant minister spoke at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York for the first time. And a few blocks away in St. Thomas' Episcopal Cathedral, a Catholic priest was in the pulpit for the first time." Just a few years ago, the Catholics were busy attacking Martin Luther and John Calvin, not to mention John Wesley; and the Protestants were busy attacking the Pope and Cardinal Spellman. Four nights ago, I got caught up in it by accident, myself. In this Church I go to at home, I found myself at a service in the evening, eight o'clock at night, with the Evangelical Lutheran Church minister, the St. Paul's Presbyterian Church minister, the minister of the Central AME Zion Church, the choirs of all of them, and a Catholic Monsignor in a red robe with a little red hat.

And there in that Catholic Church I found all those Catholics saying the Lord's Prayer using the Protestant version.

It's so small, but it couldn't have happened two years ago, let alone ten.

I thought to myself, if the Catholics and the Protestants and everybody can be praying and acting even in a small way for church unity, why can't we have an "America Unity Week," not just a symbolic business that we want unity, but a series of actual happenings, as they say.

For example the Negro Shriners could invite the white Shriners to lunch, or vice versa. Would you believe the Delta Sigma Thetas eating weekly luncheons with the DAR?

How about the AMA and the National Medical Association getting together -to run one of these medical centers I was talking about in Lowndes County?

Why couldn't white architects get together with the black architects and help to rebuild the slums architecturally? Why couldn't a white church and a black church exchange ministers or parishioners? Let me tell you, they'd both learn something.

Why couldn't we even dream the impossible dream — Martin Luther King having lunch with H. Rap Brown?

Or an even more impossible dream, Eartha Kitt going to the White House and just having lunch.

I honestly believe that Americans — most Americans —- are crying out for more happenings like that kind of a happening. I think most of us are weary of appeals to disunity — that we're weary of the kind of disunity that only creates more separation and more ghettos, not the ghettos within the cities, but the ghettos within our hearts.

It is our hearts and our wills and our spirit we need to change, not just the architecture of slum houses or the hours and frequency of garbage collection, or the size of the rat population.

For who created the ghettos? Certainly not the Negroes. Who created the reservations in Arizona and New Mexico or Montana? Certainly not the Indians. Who created the suburbs, the backlash ghetto? Certainly not the poor.

These ghettos keep people, white, black,-red or yellow, behind walls where it is no longer possible to live an unpolluted life of human brotherhood-. Air pollution? We hear a lot about that. It's bad — bad for your body, bad for your lungs. But social or spiritual pollution is worse. Without love, which really is respect for your fellow man, there can be no faith in ourselves, or in others. Without faith, there can be no hope; without hope, there's no future — for white or black, rich or poor, American, African, or Asiatic.

A famous philosopher, Teilhard de Chardin, a Frenchman, wrote these lines:

"Life is moving toward unification. It is not our heads or our bodies which we must bring together, but our hearts. There is no other kind of unity that will satisfy us."

I think he's right. That's the kind of unity I'm talking about. But this unity, let me observe, would be a false unity if it was not backed up by justice. We back up our dollars with huge reserves of gold and silver — Fort Knox is full of it, they say. I suggest we must back up our unity with huge reserves of justice. Right now — thirty million poor Americans, black and white, are hungry for justice. They hear about it over the radio and television. They read about it in the Constitution of the United States. They see it on the Supreme Court Building in Washington — "Equal Justice Under Law," it says. But they say, "Where is it? We're not getting any of that justice."

The American Bar Association estimated for us that there are one million five hundred thousand cases a year of injustice, where the person upon whom the injustices are being levied hasn't even got a lawyer to help him. Each generation has to fight for justice in its own way. Two hundred years ago, justice meant freedom from the ideas of King George the Third. Today, for many Americans, justice often means freedom from the ideas of somebody like George Wallace.

Justice cannot be inherited; it has to be struggled for — today, against the inequalities of today, the injustices of today. And justice cannot be struggled for separately. There's no such thing as "Negro justice" or "white justice," or 'an "Indian justice." There's only one thing — and it's justice, pure and undiluted for everybody.

Many things explain injustice today. Racial discrimination, poverty, greed, indifference on the part of those who could help. But for those most in need of justice, there is one practical way in which their cup of justice could be filled more than it has been, and that is by giving them lawyers to help them to defend their rights.

We have inaugurated a program in the anti-poverty area attempting to make the services of highly qualified lawyers available to the poor for the first time. And I have been very moved, I'll tell you — in Detroit, for example, to see a white Polish man and his wife, 68 years old, in a neighborhood law office, come back from a court — I just happened to be there looking at the place, meeting the lawyers. I was introduced to them, and I said, "Where have you been?" They said, "We've just been to court." And I said, "What happened?" And they said, "We won." I said, "What do you mean?" They said, "We got a verdict which gave us $480 against a merchant who had cheated us." And I said "That's wonderful." And the man said to me, "Mr. Shriver, you have no idea what it means. I'm 68 years old. That's the first thing I've ever won in my life."

Out there, and maybe right here in the town of Wilberforce there is injustice. And lawyers are needed. They're needed desperately to help the people achieve an equality and a sense of humanity.

Another injustice is the absence of good health. Somebody would say, "Health? Good health a matter of justice?" And I say, "Yes. Health is something which, if you don't have it, what good is a job?" You can get it if you have access to the services of doctors. The poor don't. That's why diseases which we've forgotten about — middle class Americans have forgotten about— are still prevalent among the poor.

In Alaska, the poor have a hundred times the tuberculosis of the rich. Nationally, the poor have four times more heart disease than the rich. They have six times more mental disease.

We have found out that there is just the same wasteland of bad health here at home as there is in Peru, or the Congo, or Ethiopia, or India. And that's why last summer we opened up on Charcoal Avenue in Watts, a neighborhood health center run by the poor with a board of directors, all of them black, with Tommy Jacquette on the board of visitors. A health center under the control of the people, the medicine supplied by the University of Southern California Medical School with the Los Angeles City Government giving us the land. It was fantastic. It was the Federal Government putting up the money, but the people of Watts running the thing themselves, cooperatively. That's justice. It looks like a hospital; but it's justice.

And the same thing is true about jobs. Not a handout job, but a dignified job, a job with a future. The President announced a program of jobs, and some people say, "It's just a political deal, for an election year." But let me suggest that he's aware that the black American, the poor American does not want a job with no future, a handout job. He wants a job that he earns because he deserves it as a human being, because he can do something with his talents.

You're doing that right here: with your remarkable cooperative education-job program. I was very much moved to read about the number of students who are in it, some of the things they are doing, the wages they are earning;  and for the fact that you give them academic credit for that work. I wish that Yale and Harvard did the same. Someday maybe they will.

But anybody who thinks that jobs alone are the answer to the problem of justice or unity is doomed to disappointment. The riots in Detroit, for example, were not caused by the jobless. The people who were making $150 a week working for Ford were in the riots, not the fellow who was stone broke on the anti-poverty program. So mere income, a mere job, let me say again, is not the answer. The committee that investigated Watts said, "The riot last summer was all about power, dignity, and manhood." If we deal only with housing or education and jobs, we're sowing the seeds of even greater trouble in the future, because we will be placing more and more Negroes in a better position to realize how empty these are without dignity, without a degree of control over one's destiny, without justice.

I say that with the kind of justice that I'm trying to describe, Negroes will enter into full American life as one hundred percent Americans and one hundred percent fully equal human beings, or they won't enter at all. The means for achieving this, I believe, is not black rebellion, because in such a rebellion, the black man, I fear, would lose the most. The alternative is black democratic power, the kind of black democratic power that put Stokes into office in Cleveland, put Hatcher in Gary, or got Walter Washington the title of the first Mayor of Washington. The kind of black democratic power that sent John Conyers or Gus Hawkins to Congress.

Although white Americans have not yet learned to live with black democratic power, I think I see the beginnings. We now know how to get justice to the poor, health 'to the poor, regardless of their color. What we must do is get millions of more people and dollars into this program.

I cannot believe that this nation cherishes violence over peace, or that black and white Americans cherish hatred for each other. Instead, let me say, there are some signs that Americans really cherish unity and justice and equality. For that is the way to achieve peace between the races and peace in our hearts.