Mary McLeod Bethune

Full Integration-America's Newest Challenge - June 11, 1954

Mary McLeod Bethune
June 11, 1954— Detroit, Michigan
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When first I heard of the Supreme Court decision, I lifted my voice to utter the first inspiration of my heart—and I said,

"Let the people praise Thee, 0 God!
Let ALL the people praise thee."

During this last year of my life, I have had many relationships that are international and far reaching. In every instance I have thought of the people as interesting, beautiful, charming, wonderful. It has never occurred to me that they were strikingly different from myself. I have always found them sharing common experiences which have made our meeting fruitful and memorable. On the local and national scenes this same fact is true. God has enriched me with the power to enjoy people, without labeling them for their color or their national backgrounds. I love people. Inherent in the fundamental principles which were established by our forefathers before they put into words the constitution, there was the essence of democratic living which gave to each man the worthiness of his person and the dignity of his personality. One of the challenges of our new task is that every one may enjoy self-realization. We belittle our opportunity when we say, "Now is our chance to go to school with white people." That is not the point at all. We want the chance to realize our fullest and best selves in the richest and most inspiring environments under the best guidance that can be made available. Such goodness is not available to all the people when the funds available for such abundance must be allotted for the same thing in fractional proportions. All of our people are free or none are free.

In his last address, which he did not live to speak, Franklin Delano Roosevelt wrote words which were his political testament. He said:

We are faced with the pre-eminent fact that if civilization is to survive, we must cultivate the science of human relationship—the ability of people of all kinds to live together and work together in the same world, at peace.

The World has looked to America for the leadership in that issue of peace through better human relations. The door to the fulfillment of Roosevelt's utterance has just been opened. The challenge is that we must work zealously to discover the ways to put to work our knowledge of the science of human relationships. We know the facts. Now we must practice what we know or we are doomed as a civilization.

The fact that our leaders were able to make this pronouncement portrays our readiness to act upon it. The fruit is ripe to harvest. I pray you then, friends, who among you is prepared to lead up in the harvesting. The challenge of the hour is leadership. Let us discover those who have the abilities and the skills; whose hearts are filled with the understanding and the faith; whose courage is unswerving; whose service motives are worthy of emulation. Let us discover them, I say, and put all that we have in confidence and cooperation and goodwill behind them so that they may be able to lead us to the fullest realization of our goals. All of the challenges to full integration depend upon the kind of education and ground work we do from this point on. We are often reminded by leaders outside the field of education, that the educative process is slow. H. G. Wells warned our world that if our processes of training did not change, our civilization was already doomed. The works of science and technology have far surpassed our understanding. Human beings change slowly. Some of us still recite the age-old adage:

Be not the first by whom the new is tried
Nor yet the last to lay the old aside.

But in the words of a newer philosophy,

Time makes ancient good uncouth.

We must be upward and doing if we would keep abreast with truth. So it is today my earnest plea that we work cooperatively and with great precision toward the dissemination of the truths that will undergird the realization of a full integration. What are the facts? Who can best give them to the people? When and where are the best places? What organized groups already have the platforms and the facilities that we need? It all means that we lay aside our own bigotries and littleness and with an open mind prepare the people to accept the new responsibilities. Let us pray for the illumination of our minds and our hearts and then let us set to work with a master will to achieve.

The tools are in our hands. All the people love art, literature, music, for in them is full release and harmony. They are the therapies for wounded minds and broken spirits. The world is hungry for the love which can be brought to the people through the avenues of life. They turn away anger, subside fears, and kill evils.

You must work too to discover the common needs which may become the common tasks of many people. You know what they are, but you have not taken time to put the variety of peoples at work together upon them. These now are your responsibilities. More than ever now we need to know what the gifts and powers of the people are so that we may use them for the common good.

May I close with that thrilling story of the Christ of the Andes: Far, far away to the south of our United States, on the other side of the equator at the farthest end of South America, are the countries of Chile and Argentina. While we are picking roses and shooting firecrackers on the Fourth of July, they are shivering in winter; and they have their roses and warm weather at Christmas. Now the Argentine Republic is on the Atlantic Ocean side of cover was taken off and the lovely face of Christ looked upon them-and He seemed to speak to them..."Blessed are the peacemakers; for they shall be called the children of God…" In their hearts hundreds of them exclaimed: "Peace! Good will to men." The statue still stands there and on the granite at the base are these words: "Sooner shall these mountains crumble to dust than Argentines and Chileans break the peace which at the feet of Christ the Redeemer they have sworn to maintain."

My friends, let us erect Jesus Christ and His great principles of living so that all of the people of our land may see the values of creating the abundant life—not just for themselves, but for others.

As printed in Houck, D.W., and Dixon, D.E. (Eds.) (2009). Women and the Civil Rights Movement, 1954-1965. Jackson, Miss.: University Press of Mississippi.