Nannie Helen Burroughs

Equality of Opportunity Is the Eternal Goal - Sept. 9, 1959

Nannie Helen Burroughs
September 09, 1959— San Francisco, California
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From Eleventh Annual Message of Miss Nannie H. Burroughs, President of the Woman’s Convention Auxiliary to the National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc., San Francisco, California, September 9, 1959. (n.p., National Baptist Convention, 1959), 25–27.

God made only one race. He has only one plan for its destiny. The Bible and science declare this fact, unequivocally. Then, the major business of God’s Church and of democratic governments is to accept the fact of the brotherhood of man and initiate and promote plans and programs that will insure the development and building of brotherhood and justice for all on this planet.

We cannot deny the oneness of the human race and the oneness of human destiny. Putting the emphasis on the whiteness and the rightness of one race and the inferiority of all men who are not white is not only fictitious but deliberately false. It can bring only endless racial warfare and destruction to the entire world. Men are not going to be mudsills and puppets any longer without exacting an eternal ghastly and costly toll.

The hour has come when the Christian Church and democratic governments must join heart and hand, and clean the world of prejudice and ignorance.

Today, the Nations that call themselves superior got that way by gross exploitation of the races whom they call inferior. Christianity and Democracy were both born to promote brotherhood and justice throughout the world. Neither is living up to its purpose and promise.

Liberty, equality and fraternity are cravings created in the human heart by God himself so that all His children may utilize and enjoy his bounteous provisions.

All members of the human race have the divine gift of native appetite, craving and love. Democracy must stimulate the desire for the full meal. That’s what Jesus meant when He said “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” Snacks will not satisfy man’s needs.

We shall not lose out in this race struggle if we decide in our hearts to let nothing stop us in our desire and determination to work until the shackles of injustice are broken.

God wasn’t playing when He made man in His own image. Whoever seeks to destroy that image is in danger of hell fire. We are not playing when we declare unto you that we shall not cause God to regret that He took the time and His perfect breath to make us.

Equality of Opportunity to attain unto His high purpose for us is our eternal goal. The weapons of our warfare are—desire, work, faith and unswerving determination to get through to our trust and heritage and possess it.

Write these three words down—IGNORANCE, LETHARGY, INDIFFERENCE and you will spell out the main cause of the present condition of the masses. Practically all of the masses and a majority of the so-called “classes” or educationally and economically advantaged Negroes fall into one or all of these three groups.

The so-called “classes” should be concerned and helpful so as to aid in establishing the upward going of the masses, but they are not.

Let nobody fool you. Race prejudice is not the major cause of the untoward condition of the race. The main trouble is inside the race. If we make up our minds to work on the fundamentals that build human beings—no man—conceived instrument or agency can stay our progress.

Class indifference to mass conditions has contributed largely to the present chaos. Turn this indifference into concern, dedication and dynamic enthusiasm and determined desire for self help and the entire race will be on its way to work and to take its God-ordained place in the galaxy of the progressive races of mankind.

If we do not get from first base, we will at least make A TRY. Even in an effort to reach the Moon, scientists are doing just that.

What seems to be urgently needed by our world is a peace force drawn from people of every country and race and colour, and from every religion and none, who will be the pioneers of a new and undiscovered country. It will not be an army of bigots and fanatics. But it will be a force that has a divine enthusiasm for tolerance and forgiveness. It will glory in the maximum of uncertainty and doubt on many matters of doctrine, definition and name-calling, It will have no loyalty oath to any race or nation or tribe, to any earthly boundaries or arbitrary limitations, because it will be an army more like a religious order with its citizenship in heaven . . . Such an army will not be afraid of breaking laws that are unjust, or of the methods of boycott and non-cooperation where laws and customs prevent people living in peace and friendship with one another and where they wish to, being educated together and worshipping with one another. . . .

The watchwords of this army will be prayer and action. Never one without the other, always together, prayer and action; as from Bethlehem to Gethsemane, its members will never cease from the struggle for right and justice on earth. They will build and work with their brains and their hands for what Lewis Mumford calls “a more co-operative and serviceable civilization.”

In this mighty struggle to improve race relations, let us lay aside the weights of doubt, hate and indifference. Let us pray the prayer of the great Franciscan Order—

“Lord make me an instrument of Thy Peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much
Seek to be consoled, as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved, as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning, that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

Therefore, let us selflessly dedicate this Convention to help construct something in America that we can call a Christian civilization. God is for it. Let’s join Him.

As transcribed in Graves, Kelisha B. (ed.) 2019. Nannie Helen Burroughs: A Documentary Portrait of an Early Civil Rights Pioneer, 1900–1959. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.