Address in Harlem

Harry S. Truman

October 29, 1948

Dr. Johnson, and members of the Ministerial Alliance which has given me this award:

I am exceedingly grateful for it. I hope I shall always deserve it. This, in my mind, is a most solemn occasion. It’s made a tremendous impression upon me.

Franklin Roosevelt was a great champion of human rights. When he led us out of the depression to the victory over the Axis, he enabled us to build a country in which prosperity and freedom must exist side by side. This is the only atmosphere in which human rights can thrive.

Eventually, we are going to have an America in which freedom and opportunity are the same for everyone. There is only one way to accomplish that great purpose, and that is to keep working for it and never take a backward step.

I am especially glad to receive the Franklin Roosevelt award on this day–October 29. This date means a great deal to me personally, and it is a significant date in the history of human freedom in this country.

One year ago today, on October 29, 1947, the President’s Committee on Civil Rights submitted to me, and to the American people, its momentous report.

That report was drawn up by men and women who had the honesty to face the whole problem of civil rights squarely, and the courage to state their conclusions frankly.

I created the Civil Rights Committee because racial and religious intolerance began to appear after World War II. They threatened the very freedoms we had fought to save.

We Americans have a democratic way of acting when our freedoms are threatened.

We get the most thoughtful and representative men and women we can find, and we ask them to put down on paper the principles that represent freedom and a method of action that will preserve and extend that freedom. In that manner, we get a declaration of purpose and a guide for action that the whole country can consider.

That is the way in which the Declaration of Independence was drawn up.

That is the way in which the Constitution of the United States was written.

The report that the Civil Rights Committee prepared is in the tradition of these great documents.

It was the authors of the Declaration of Independence who stated the principle that all men are created equal in their rights, and that it is to secure these rights that governments are instituted among men.

It was the authors of the Constitution who made it dear that, under our form of government, all citizens are equal before the law, and that the Federal Government has a duty to guarantee to every citizen equal protection of the laws.

The Civil Rights Committee did more than repeat these great principles. It described a method to put these principles into action, and to make them a living reality for every American, regardless of his race, his religion, or his national origin.

When every American knows that his rights and his opportunities are fully protected and respected by the Federal, State, and local governments, then we will have the kind of unity that really means something.

It is easy to talk of unity. But it is the work that is done for unity that really counts.

The job that the Civil Rights Committee did was to tell the American people how to create the kind of freedom that we need in this country.

The Civil Rights Committee described the kind of freedom that comes when every man has an equal chance for a job–not just the hot and heavy job–but the best job he is qualified for.

The Committee described the kind of freedom that comes when every American boy and girl has an equal chance for an education.

The Committee described the kind of freedom that comes when every citizen has an equal opportunity to go to the ballot box and cast his vote and have it counted.

The Committee described the kind of freedom that comes when every man, woman, and child is free from the fear of mob violence and intimidation.

When we have that kind of freedom, we will face the evil forces that are abroad in the world–whatever or wherever they may be–with the strength that comes from complete confidence in one another and from complete faith in the working of our own democracy.

One of the great things that the Civil Rights Committee did for the country was to get every American to think seriously about the principles that make our country great.

More than 1 million copies of the full text of the civil rights report have been printed in books and newspapers.

More than 30 different pamphlets based on the report have been printed and distributed by private organizations.

Millions of Americans have heard the report discussed on the radio.

In making its recommendations, the Civil Rights Committee did not limit itself to action by the President or by the executive branch. The Committee’s recommendations included action by every branch of the Federal Government, by State and local governments, and by private organizations, and by individuals.

That is why it is so important that the Civil Rights Committee’s report be studied widely. For in the last analysis, freedom resides in the actions of each individual. That is the reason I like to hear that scriptural reading from the Gospel according to St. Luke. That’s just exactly what it means. It means you and I must act out what we say in our Constitution and our Bill of Rights. It is in his mind and heart–and to his mind and heart–that we must eventually speak to the individual.

After the Civil Rights Committee submitted its report, I asked Congress to do ten of the things recommended by the Committee.

You know what they did about that.

So I went ahead and did what the President can do, unaided by the Congress.

I issued two Executive orders.

One of them established the President’s Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity in the Armed Services.

The other one covered regulations governing fair employment practices within the Federal establishment.

In addition to that, the Department of Justice went into the Supreme Court and aided in getting a decision outlawing restrictive covenants.

Several States and municipalities have taken action on the recommendations of the Civil Rights Committee, and I hope more will follow after them.

Today the democratic way of life is being challenged all over the world. Democracy’s answer to the challenge of totalitarianism is its promise of equal rights and equal opportunity for all mankind.

The fulfillment of this promise is among the highest purposes of government.

Our determination to attain the goal of equal rights and equal opportunity must be resolute and unwavering.

For my part, I intend to keep moving toward this goal with every ounce of strength and determination that I have.

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