Address to the Sierra Club

"Communism is an effect, not a cause. Great as the achievements of the Western world have been, they are matched by our failures. These failures of the West have created voids in millions of souls, as well as stomachs. Into these voids Communism rushes, and it will never be withstood until we fill those voids."
Chicago, IL • January 27, 1956

Before I launch into the intricate and controversial subject of today’s speech, I wish to express my deep thanks to the Sierra Club and its members.

This club has been an inspiration to me. Ever since I was lucky enough to have Jack Finlay propose me for membership. I have been grateful for your acceptance of my application. I know of no place in Chicago where a man has the opportunity to meet outstanding Catholics equal to the dedicated, charitable men in this Sierra Club. The lives of many men in this room have been and are a revelation to me. Their devotion to their families, their respect for their fellowmen, their sincerity, the genuineness of their devotion to high ideals, and above all their loyalty to the church—what a splendid array of virtues there are. And each of us can look around the room and pick out dozens of men who possess in abundance these unsung qualities of Catholic manhood. If every Catholic man were a Sierran of this high type, think what a nation we would have. Conversely, think how wretched would our estate if the men of Sierra were not moving amongst us, giving examples of the heights to which the daily practice of our Catholic faith can “lift” a man- or should I say- lift any man.

So, at the outset of these remarks, I thank you for permitting me to be one of the Sierra, to have access to the weekly intellectual and social fare the club offers. And thank you, too, for bearing with me and the other members of that group in the back of the room which always arrives late for lunch. We may come late, but at least we never leave early- because, as the saying goes- “The water’s fine!” We like it once we get in.

Considerations such as these about the kindliness and generosity of the members of Sierra lighten my task today. For, gentlemen, mine is not an easy undertaking. No subject is more controversial than the topic of race relations, interracial justice, segregation. Call it what you will, this subject of racial discrimination arouses hotter passions than any other in America today.

My first thought, therefore, is this: I am not here to arouse passion, excite enmities, or plead for doctrinaire solutions to complex human problems. I am here to plead for charity, and patience, and hope and good will.

Secondly, I think air would be cleared, so to speak, if we all admitted to ourselves that we are prejudiced, at least a little bit. Most honest persons, and all theologians, I believe, agree that every human being is prejudiced. Except for the great saints, who have rooted our all sin from their lives, prejudice is a part of all of us, an aspect of original sin. In fact, prejudice within limitations is normal. It is dangerous, like liquor or any other vice, only when it comes to dominate a person, causing aggression and unfair discrimination against others.

The third point I’d like to make can be expressed best by quoting from Cardinal Stritch. His Eminence said this: “… the word Catholic in the Church means not only its universality, by nationality, the early Church was Jewish, and by Providence, Roman:- but the universality of the Church means… the Church was sent as Christ was sent…[type unclear]…”

Let us then, if you will, agree on these three points:- 1- We are all prejudiced, and we have a moral responsibility to rid ourselves, so far as we can of this weakness arising from original sin. 2- We are not here today to obtain some 50-cent, patent-medicine type of easy solution to interracial problems, but rather to promote charity and understanding of an intricate sociological problem. 3- Paraphrasing the words of the Cardinal, let us admit that just as Christ was sent, just as His Church is sent, we are sent, into the world, to remake that world in a Christ-like pattern.

It may be profitable, therefore, to sketch the kind of world into which we are sent, especially the situation of the various races and peoples within our modern society.

It has become almost a platitude to remake that the world is caught up in one of the most fearsome crises in history. Totalitarian Communism is pitted against Christian Democracy in a struggle not only for geographical territory, but, more important, for the minds and souls of free men. Communism stands for everything we abhor. Not only is it Godless, ruthless and materialistic- but it also rejects freedom of speech, of press, or religion, and freedom of opportunity. We are Christians believe in the rights of every man, regardless of color, or creed, to better himself, and to have equal opportunities in improving himself. We believe that one’s right to improve himself on the economic scale should be based on one’s ability and character, not on accidental factors such as the color of one’s skin. We even teach our children the “Golden Rule”- do unto others as you would have them unto you. Still the cold fact remains that the Communists increase their ranks and their territorial gains every day. What is this? We blame inept foreign policies. We cite Postdam, and Yalta. We continue to search for political alternatives to “The Cold War.” But is it not possible that the Communist’s gains are due to the failures of our Christian Democratic world?

Communism is an effect, not a cause. Great as the achievements of the Western world have been, they are matched by our failures. These failures of the West have created voids in millions of souls, as well as stomachs. Into these voids Communism rushes, and it will never be withstood until we fill those voids. Created by the absence of love and charity and justice, those empty spaces in the souls of men can be filled only by a Christian charity perceptive enough to admit their existence and heroic enough to supply an abundance of love to fill those unhappy depths.

Let us recall a few facts: First, two-thirds of the world’s population belong to non-white races. Secondly, the overwhelming number of people uncommitted either to democracy or communism are colored people. In other words, these colored people constitute the balance of power in the current struggle for survival. From simple arithmetic we can deduce the necessity then of winning to our Christian Democratic side the majority of these people. And from simple psychology, it is clear, we cannot gain friends and influence people by thinking and acting as though they and their kind were inferior to us.

It was for this that Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles warned: “Let our people… their determination to respect human rights and fundamental freedom. Our…[type unclear]… at home and abroad are not only a moral blot on our so called…[type unclear]… but, they are a major international hazard. Throughout the world, there are myriad…[type unclear]… that suffer in humiliation and bitterness because of the white man’s assumption of racial superiority.” And in like manner, Vice-President Richard Nixon, after completing a 45,000 mile world tour, repeated Dulles’ warning in these words: “Every act of racial discrimination or prejudice in the United States is blown up by the Communists abroad, and it hurts America as much as an espionage agent who turns over a weapon to a foreign enemy.”

In the context of these warnings, I believe that any American who holds to the theory of white supremacy and actively promotes the political, economic, and social restrictions and segregation necessary to make the theory of white supremacy effective, must be classed with those who are willing to undermine their country’s strength in the face of the enemy.

Segregation implies that the people of a minority group can be told where they can or cannot live, eat, work, go to school, and even pray. Until a few months ago, a Negro could ride on a train, but the ticket windows and waiting rooms were segregated. He could ride in elevators next to whites, but could not sit with them in busses. He could attend graduate universities, but not undergraduate schools.

It is common knowledge that segregated persons must pay higher prices for the basic essentials of life, such as living quarters, and the food they eat. They are admitted only to menial jobs, and receive less pay. The economic cost of segregation is high. There is frequent duplication of school and hospital facilities. Disease and crime rates are the highest in such segregated, over-crowded slum areas. Police and fire protection costs rise. The entire citizenry suffers. A totally segregated society, of course, is inconceivable. It would suppose that we could have two governments, two educational systems, two hospital systems, and perhaps, even two Popes.

To avoid such absurdities, legislation has been adopted, such as the Fair Employment Practices Act in some states, and now there is the Supreme Court judgment. Irrespective of the merits and demerits of these legal attempts to reduce discrimination, the only permanent and just fundamental remedy is the practice of interracial justice and charity.

It is heartening indeed that our Catholic Church has led the way in promoting interracial justice. The Catholic Interracial Council in Chicago, for example, was founded in 1946 as a tax-exempt, non-profit, educational agency, by a small group of Catholic laymen. Judge Roger Kiley, Alderman George Kells, John McGoorty, John Yancey and Augustine Bowe were the founders. During this period 1946 through 1951, the Council conducted poster contests and essay contests. A West Suburban Division was formed during the Cicero riots. But in 1952, the Council hired a permanent executive secretary, and began its first real expansion of activities. Since that time, the success of the Council has been phenomenal. Working through 5 principal committees- Finances, Schools, Membership, Special Events and Community Affairs- the extent of the Council’s influence can be illustrated by a brief description of the work carried on by just one of these five committees. The Schools Committee, for example, in four years has enlisted the support and cooperation of 79 Catholic high schools in our archdiocese. These schools are subdivided geographically into 7 sections, which carry out projects designed for specific neighborhoods. All together, over 100 specific programs devoted to the task of developing better human relations and interracial justice and charity were held last year by his high school division alone.

The High School Division sponsors its own student publication. It has a wire service direct to the editors of the Catholic high school newspapers. Last year 150 high school students completed a 6-week special course in developing leadership skills. Weekend conferences and Communion Breakfasts are held throughout the year. 250 students and faculty members attended the annual Summation Day this year, at which time the members evaluated the work of the various sections. 850 students and 150 faculty members were present at the Fourth Interracial Study Day, at which the principal speaker was His Eminence, Thomas Cardinal Tien, S.V.D., Archbishop of Peking, China.

On the Grade School level, 10,000 students in 490 Catholic schools in the archdiocese participated in the annual essay and poster contest. Cash prizes were awarded to the winners, and the posters were displayed in the art gallery of the Chicago Tribune Tower. The exhibit was officially opened by the “Mariners”, the singing group of the Arthur Godfrey show. Special spot announcements and periodic account of the exhibit were made over station WGN, and in the pages of the Chicago Tribune.

At the College level, the Schools Committee has organized a program embracing 24 Catholic colleges in 5 Mid-Western states, The newest unit was established at the University of Notre Dame this fall. There the Club’s purpose is promoting better social relationships between students of all nationalities and races. Over the Christmas holidays, for example. Every foreign student on the Notre Dame campus was besieged with invitations to spend the holidays at some other student’s home. Not only does the club want to improve Negro-white relations, but it has also taken on the job of orienting foreign-born students to American ways.

Another sub-committee of the Schools Committee is called “Pilot Workshops in Human Relations.” Eight such workshops were held during 1955. Each consists of 4 consecutive Saturday morning programs attended by faculty members of high schools. This sub-committee also sponsored automobile tours during the year. One tour consisted of an all-day inspection of housing conditions in the city. A second tour consisted of a visit to Lindblom High School, to see at firsthand how human relations problems are handled in a large public high school.

Still another sub-committee deals with Scholarship Aid. To date, the Council has 6 students attending Catholic high schools on a 4 year scholarship. Because of the tremendous financial success of the recent Harry Belafonte Concert, many more students will be able to attend Catholic High Schools on such scholarships next year.

The Council tries not only to foster better Negro-white relations, but also to create better relations with and between the Jewish, Puerto Rican, and yes even Swedish and Irish groups, and Italian and Polish groups in our community.

A monthly newsletter is published with a circulation of 4,000. The Council distributed over 100,000 pieces of literature in 1955; It investigated 98 complaints of discrimination referred by public and private agencies; it filled 157 speaking engagements; and devoted more than 1,000 man hours to the Trumbull Park situation.

Unfortunately, a dry recitation such as this of some of the activities of an organization like the Catholic Interracial Council fails to convey the spirit of the enterprise. Perhaps His Eminence mentions the most important point of all when He says, and I quote. “What a blessing it is for a Bishop to have a group like this to help him in his work. I look upon you as one of the groups of lay apostles whom God in His Goodness has gathered about me. I thank you for what you are doing to help me. I have always had a realization that I need you.”

In carrying forward Cardinal Stritch’s mandate to end, quote: “This ugly thing- unfair discrimination, which have come into our society and which is not Christian, and cannot be Catholic,” unquote, the Interracial Council believes that education, and the practice of Catholic religious principles are the most effective means of creating a new climate, and of molding new men. This the Council attempts to do in whatever ways it can. But great as the work of the Council has been, the surface has only been scratched. Ignorance of elementary Christian principles and revealed truth on the one hand, and ignorance of sociological, historical and psychological facts on the other hand, are still prevalent. The Interracial Council is doing what it can to meet these problems, but alone it is weak.

Our business is vocations. Couldn’t we pray especially for vocations among the Negro, Puerto Rican, and Mexican segments of our population? Couldn’t we make a conscious effect to give special support to seminaries that train Negro priests, to parishes in our Southern states, even to parishes on our South and West sides? We all support the Propagation of the Faith in Africa. Can’t we concentrate, also, on “missions”, so to speak, within our own city limits?

Of the 14 million Negros in the United States, more than half belong to no church. About 5 and ½ million belong to one protestant sect or another. We have only 500,000 Catholics. Although one in every six white persons is a Catholic, among the colored the ratio is only 1 out of 43.

The great number of souls can be our liability, our weakness, our opportunity.

Sometime ago a full-page advertisement appeared in a national magazine. It was singularly striking, for it was not a plea to buy anything or to take a vacation cruise. The page was headed by the simple phrase in bold type: “America on its Knees.” Below this was a large picture of Uncle Sam in his red, white and blue suit, kneeling in prayer, hands earnestly clasped, eyes looking upwards. Beside the kneeling figure were these words:

“America on its knees… not beaten there by hammer and sickle, but freely, intelligently, responsibly, confidently, powerfully. America now knows it can destroy Communism and win the battle for peace. We need fear nothing or no one… except God… Our Father in Heaven: we pray that you save us from ourselves. The world that you have made for us to live in peace, we have made into an armed camp… We have turned from you to go our selfish way… inspire us with wisdom, all of us of every color and race… to use our wealth, our strength, to help our brother, instead of destroying him.”

The eyes of the world are on America, on the place of that 1 colored man in 10. Newspapers in India have proclaimed racist incidents. Radios in Moscow proclaim the ills suffered by minority groups in America.

Everyone who professes to bear the name “Christian”, and certainly one who lives the tenets of Catholicism, has the source of inspiration and strength and the impelling motives to “help our brother”. In the last analysis, the solution to this problem of racial discrimination is a spiritual one, the putting of Christ’s principals to work.

In putting these principles to work, there is no place like home, right here in Chicago. The opportunities here are great. The need is even greater. May each of us respond to the opportunity and the need, and in doing so lighten the burden and ease the path to salvation of these minority groups. Their response to our beloved Catholic church will be in direct proportion to the sincerity of the welcome and encouragement we give them. In this hour of decision; involving matters of world-wide importance, let us remember once again the thought of His Eminence, our own distinguished Cardinal: “Christ was sent, and He went his Church. And Church in turn sends us.”

Peace requires the simple but powerful recognition that what we have in common as human beings is more important and crucial than what divides us.
Sargent Shriver
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