National Conference on Religion and Race Statement on Civil Rights


This Nation was born in struggle. This Nation has been made great in reputation and power by refusing to stop its struggle for full participation by all people in community and public life.

The democratic faith which underlies America is embodied in the Declaration of Independence … "all men are created equal … endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” It is repeated in our pledge of allegiance to flag and country, concluding with the words “…with liberty and justice for all.”

This is our common commitment as Americans. This is the meaning of America -- the political and spiritual heritage we proclaim to ourselves and to a hopeful world.

The idea, of course, is neither exclusively American nor new. It was held aloft thousands of years ago by prophets crying out against the injustices of ancient times. But all Americans can be proud that this Nation was founded specifically on such a principle.

Each generation of Americans has rediscovered these aims in its own experience. Each generation has fought for this idea and surmounted new challenges to it; each generation has found ways to apply this principle to new problems and new circum­ stances, to extend it and give it new meaning. Only by constant vigil, only by continually extending the idea to the different circumstances of each new day, can this principle be kept as a living and growing force.

This generation now faces such a challenge and opportunity. This Nation, comprised largely of descendants of the unwanted and rejected from other lands, falters, it seems, before the full acceptance and implementation of its own ideals.

It is now 100 years since the Emancipation Proclamation broke the chains of slavery in America, but the chains of discrimination still deprive millions of our fellow citizens of the right to vote, the right to hold a job as befits their ability, the right to attend a school of their choice, and the right to eat a meal or sleep overnight in a public accommodation.

If we are honest with ourselves, we will acknowledge that we have evaded the clear mandate of our American heritage. We have failed the timeless injunction to love our neighbors as ourselves.

During this long struggle the American Negro has been more than patient and patriotic. He seeks to participate fully in the established order. Our continued failure to act forthrightly in the halls of Congress and in our private lives may cause the Negro to despair and Negroes and whites to turn in desperation to hatred and civil strife. It is the obligation of every American to be impatient with injustice and to make real the high promise of the American Dream.

Racial discrimination fights against the best that is in each of us. The problem is not confined to any region, or political party, or any segment of our society. As our failures have been nationwide, so our efforts now must command the support of all Americans of good will.

We, the undersigned, urge all Americans to search their conscience, their spiritual faith, their political ideals. If we are honest, we will know our duty to our best selves. We will affirm the essential dignity and equality of all men, the right of each to fair treatment -- the same treatment we would like for our­ selves and our children.

"Liberty and justice for all" …that is the American commitment. We urge all true Americans to uphold our common pledge, our joint duty -- to speak out to their representatives in government in support of strong civil rights legislation -- and to make themselves heard in their neighborhoods, businesses, unions, schools, civic organizations, and churches.

Let this Coalition of Conscience, in a just cause -- be our finest hour.

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