Stories/LHS64Validictory

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I was honored to be the 1964 class valedictorian for the Lansingburgh Class of 1964. This is a transcript of my speech.

William Lorensen

Valedictory Address

Lansingburgh High School

Times Record June 24, 1964 (pdf)

June 22, 1964

Parents and friends of the graduating class, since the summer of 1963, we in the North have been witnessing a Negro Revolution. Such a protest has been occurring in the South for one hundred years. This revolt is characterized by such tactics as sit-ins, pickets, boycotts and freedom rides. The Federal government finds it difficult to contend with this non-violence. These actions place pressure on the Congress of the United States to pass bills favoring civil rights. Many say these disturbances are outrageous and not justified, but even a quick look at the history of the Negro in America will discount such beliefs.

As a result of years of United States slave trade with Africa, our founding fathers decided to prohibit slave trade after 1808. The number of slaves in America, however, was already substantially high. Continued controversy over the slaves eventually led to the Civil war in 1861. After this war, several federal actions gave the slaves their legal freedom in steps. First, the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 freed all slaves in rebellious states. The 15th Amendment abolished slavery in the United States; the 14th made former slaves citizens and the often quoted 15th Amendment, guaranteed them their right to vote. Following the passage of these amendments, direct opposition to the federal government's laws was initiated by the South. Southern legislatures made it necessary for Negroes to pass extremely difficult qualification tests to vote. Some states required, and still do, the payment of a poll tax before one could vote. The poor Negro could not pay and therefore was deprived of his vote.

In 1896, the Supreme Court of the United States, decided that separate, but equal, facilities were all the Negro needed to enjoy complete equality. It seemed for some time that justice was done and the debt to the Negro was paid. Not until after two world wars in which white men ate with, fought with and lived with black men, did the Negroes realize the great farce that existed back home. It was proven that facilities for Negroes were almost always inferior to those of the whites. The separation of Negro and white children in education gave Negro children feelings of inferiority. In 1954, the Supreme Court of the United States reversed its former decision and said that separate but equal facilities are inherently unequal. This unanimous decision called for integration of public schools "with all deliberate speed". Now, in 1964, ten years later, only ten percent of the three million Negro students in the South attend white schools. We cannot even boast of one totally integrated community in all of the United States. This is a shameful advance. The wealthiest and most powerful nation in the world has passed hundreds of laws favoring civil rights but has failed to enforce them. Civil Rights Acts passed in 1957 and 1960 are both in effect but are not enforced because the opposition have found methods to circumvent these laws. But, why have I mentioned the South's apparent segregation so frequently? There is disguised, de facto segregation in the North. The Negro Revolution's effects are swiftly moving northward. New York City with its Harlem Ghetto is experiencing unprecedented racial tensions and active demonstrations. These tactics are meant to awaken Northerners to the fact that they, too, have been indifferent about civil rights, that they must also take a pro or con stand on the issue and that Northern action must be taken to insure equality.

The Negro Revolution has been still for many years. Why should it occur now? A contributing factor may be that last year was the 100th anniversary of the Negro's freedom. This minority heard the braggarts and politicians of government relate the lie of the liberation of the slaves and the Negroes were angered. White Americans had taken for granted, too long, the patience of the Negro. We were integrating our schools at such a speedy pace that by 2054, the 3,000,000 Negro students in the South be attending white schools. Both political parties promised the Negro freedom in their 1960 election platform, but all they did was promise, not act. Maybe Negroes were tired of losing their jobs. Maybe they found the fact discouraging that they couldn't even get jobs they held as slaves over 100 years ago. Furthermore, with the United States, the great defender of liberty, spending millions of dollars a year to protect other countries from communism and to give them freedom, the Negro became disturbed that little was being done for him in the greatest democracy the world has known. With young, educated leaders to guide them, the Negroes opened the gates to revolution in the summer of 1963. The effects and character of the Negro Revolution are all around us. Everyday we read of new developments in the newspapers. Now we discover that the discouraged Negro is not only following educated leaders but also extremist leaders who advocate such violence as race riots, bombings and subway terrorization.

What can we do to solve this Negro problem. Compromises must be made by both Negroes and Whites. Negroes must choose their leaders wisely. Men like Roy Wilkins and Martin Luther King, Jr. have the Negro's welfare and freedom in mind while radical groups as the Muslims, bent on elimination of the white race, can only harm the Negro's position. In Washington, politicians must pass the present Civil Rights Bill in Congress without harmful amendments. The federal government must enforce the present laws protecting the Negro. Finally, white Americans must give up their assumed superiority before the Negro can advance.

The Negro's status of social, economical and political inferiority has kept the Negro from equality. When people realize that a man has no control over the black matter in his skin, but can develop the gray matter in his brain if given the opportunity, then and only then, all men will be equal and we Americans can honestly boast that America is truly the land of freedom and equality.