I want to thank you for this honor and to be a part of this historic occasion. I am really deeply honored.
I accept this [National Civil Rights Award] award in the name of the millions who have struggled for civil and human rights. [applause] I accept it with great deal of thanks to Elizabeth Birch for what she has brought in your behalf to the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. [applause]
I was there almost fifty years ago when Roy Wilkins of the NAACP and A. Philip Randolph joined with Arnold Aronson and called a few of us to initiate the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. That's been a long time ago and we've come a long way, but I think we hit a new high when tell you that today we represent some 185 groups, all working on civil rights. [applause]
I accept this recognition on behalf of this whole group, knowing that we have many differences. We come at issues from different ways. We find those things that we are ready to support and we are always free to stand back if we're not ready.
But there is one thing on which all of us are agreed – civil rights are civil rights. There are no persons who are not entitled to their civil rights. [applause]
It wasn't hard for us to know that the human rights campaign was about civil rights, and so I have to say to you tonight – you and I know that we've come a long way, but the climate that was there in the 60s is not there now. It is not there for so many of the issues, and so many of the gains that we thought we had made seem more tentative than they ought to be. But it only means for us that we have to recognize that we have a long way to go, but we have to go that way together. [applause]
I remember that great African-American abolitionist and also champion of women's rights who once said…Frederick Douglass put it this way. He said, "In the struggle for equality and justice, your only reward may be the opportunity to stay in the struggle for equality and justice." [applause]
I am honored to accept this award and I assure you on behalf of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights that we will be with you in the struggle for equality and justice until we create an America in which there is peace and justice, freedom and equality, and respect for every human being.
Thank you very much. [applause]