Monday, January 25, 2021

Amanuensis Monday: Melvin Newmark's Speech to the Samaritan Methodist Church 1946

Amanuensis: A person employed to write what another dictates or to copy what has been written by another. I continue my project to transcribe family letters, journals, newspaper articles, audiotapes, and other historical artifacts. Not only do the documents contain genealogical information, the words breathe life into kin - some I never met - others I see a time in their life before I knew them.

Today I share a speech my grandfather gave to the Samaritan Methodist Church of St. Louis in October of 1946. He would have been 34 years old at the time. My grandfather was active in interfaith organizations such as the National Conference of Christians and Jews. He had spoken at the church in February, probably in connection with National Brotherhood Week, and was invited back in October by the pastor, so apparently had made a good impression.

October 10, 1946

Rev G.F. Tipton [Samaritan Methodist Church]
4118 Cook Ave
St. Louis, Missouri

Dear Rev. Tipton:

It was certainly good to hear from you and to receive your kind invitation to be with you at your vesper services on October 27.

I shall certainly do everything in my power to be with you that evening. If there is any particular subject that you would like me to choose, I would appreciate your advising me.

Thanks again for your invitation, and be assured that I am looking forward to being with you and your congregation on October 27.

Sincerely yours,

Melvin L. Newmark


Recently I received one of the nicest compliments ever paid me — Rev. Tipton’s kind invitation to meet again with you good people — having stood on this pulpit only eight months ago, I was at first reluctant to accept for fear I would, “so to speak”, “Wear out my welcome”— but the happy prospect of enjoying your friendliness was too much to resist — so in spite of the qualms that are inherent in repetition I came again to enjoy one of your most inspirational services — perhaps too, my return is the result of coincidental timing. Some time ago my office, and in particular my senior associate, Victor Packman, was retained with Henry Espy to represent a group of negro train porters — very likely the case is familiar to all or most of you — the issue involved is heart-rending; it is typical of the sort of problem we are encountering, but it stands out because of the inhumane boldness of the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen — a lily-white organization. For years the Frisco railroad has employed negroes in the dual capacity of brakemen and porters. But only so with the reluctant approval of the Brotherhood.. This year when the time came to renegotiate the various labor contracts involved, the brotherhood decreed that hereafter negroes would no longer be permitted to engage in that capacity, and in accordance with the agreement made, the Railroad served notice on the negro employees involved that they would be fired — fired outright, mind you, in spite of the fact that most of these men had 15, 20, 25 years of valuable seniority with the company. Our job was to get the Federal Court here in St. Louis to enjoin the railroad from firing those negro employees who were fired only — and for no other reason than — that they were Negroes. We won the first round with the aid of the Lord, and a temporary injunction was issued. Round two came up a few weeks ago and a decision is expected shortly after the first of the year. If necessary we will continue fighting until the United States Supreme Court itself has had the opportunity to pass on it. But that case itself is not the basis for my discussion this evening, though well it might be.

Since it is a matter that at this very moment is pending before the court, propriety prevents me from discussing it in any greater detail than I already have. But it was the occasion of this case pending in my office, and the pitiful things I learned, and the tearful experiences encountered in working on the case that made me welcome so much the opportunity to talk to you again, as I did eight months ago on the unholiness and evilness of prejudice, hatred and bigotry.

How many times, since the end of the war, has each of you asked — either to yourself or to others — did we really win what we were fighting for? Is the war really over—Is Fascism really ended? On the occasion of the hanging of the 10 Nazi leaders a few weeks back, those questions were especially in everyone’s mind. The two great newspapers in St. Louis had a good deal to say about those questions — Let me read a few lines from each of the editorials that were printed.

“The gallows at Nuremberg ended a regime; It could not kill the ghastly, corrupt and inhuman impulses which created the regime. Hitler, Goering and the rest have returned to the dust, but the things they stood for live everywhere in the minds of other men, and the world must be on guard lest Fascism — once supreme in Germany, Italy and Japan — should again become triumphant.”

And a few days before the Post said that, the Star-Times on Friday October 18, said:

“Naziism was the repudiation of liberty, of equality of fraternity. You do not kill that philosophy when you have done no more than hang a few men or watch a few others gurgle their way to an ignominious death. Nazism lives in every man who denies democracy. It lives in every man who would erect barriers of economic or social, or racial or credal caste in the nation. It lives in every sword-rattling jingo, every war-mongering nationalist. Sometimes it is called the Ku Klux Klan, and sometimes it is called the Order of the Silver Shirts, and sometimes it is called by more respectable names. But always it is the same, and always it is a dread threat to man’s dignity — IT STILL LIVES.”

Yes, unfortunately, the newspapers are right — Fascism is not dead — not yet are we able to say — we won the war — we won what we were fighting for — we can not say we won the war if the Frisco Railroad can fire those trusted employees only because they were negroes — nor when Gerald KKK Smith is afforded the dignity of our great municipal auditorium to spread his nasty lies of hate — Nor when a situation can develop like that at Columbia, Tennessee. Now when — after working in my office Mr. Espy and Mr. Houston (Mr. Houston is a negro lawyer from Wash. D.C., who came here to help us on the Howard cause — perhaps some of you know him — he happens to be one of the leading members of the American Bar — White or Colored — the former dean of Howard University, a graduate of Amherst, Howard and Columbia, a citizen all America can and should be proud of—) As I started to say — you can not say we won the war when after working in my office with those two men we can not find a restaurant downtown where we can even have lunch together!!

We can not say the we have won the war when a certain US Senator — you know who I mean — can write this letter,

“If Jews of your type don’t quit sponsoring and fraternizing with the negro race you are going to arouse so much opposition to all of you that they will get a very strong invitation to pack up and resettle in Palestine, the homeland of the Jews, just as we propose to provide for the voluntary resettlement of the American Negro in West Africa, their fatherland” —

Except for the signature I would swear that Hitler himself wrote that letter — and not a US Senator — let me read you a passage from Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” and you’ll see what I mean.

“From time to time it is demonstrated to the German that for the first time here or there a Negro has become a lawyer, teacher, clergy, or even a leading opera tenor or something of that kind. It is a sin against the will of the eternal Creator to let his most talented beings degenerate while Hottentots are trained for intellectual vocations. The Jew knows very slyly how to construe from this a new proof of the correctness of his theory of the equality of men which he means to instill into the nations.”

But the question in our minds is — What can we do about it? The answer is — Plenty — as long as we live in a democracy.

First of all, we must learn — and re-learn — what Democracy is. What does it mean? What is its value? Some of you may be thinking — we know what Democracy is — but do you? Does Mr. American Citizen know what Democracy is? How many of you know what the Bill of Rights is? Its contents? If you are average, 79% of you will have to admit that you don’t know. The National Opinion Research Center of the University of Denver recently completed a nationwide survey on that very question. Only 21% had a reasonably accurate idea of the Bill of Rights contents.

In other words, only one person out of five knows that the American Bill of Rights consists of the first 10 amendments to the Federal Constitution. Only one person out of five knows that these amendments protect the basic liberties of the individual citizen from encroachment by the government. Only one person out of five can identify the very heart and center — the well-spring of American Democracy.  Let me urge you first then to learn what Democracy is.

Secondly, you must learn what Fascism is — and how to recognize it. Here too, you might say — We know what Fascism is. But do you? And even more important, do you know how to recognize Fascism when you see it? Can you see behind its sugar coatings and its false fronts? Do you recognize Jim Crow, and anti-Semitisms and discriminations against foreign born — discrimination against all minorities — as tools of fascism. Our general knowledge of Fascism is weak — we need to be informed. The Library of Congress is now preparing a report for the American people to the end that they may recognize Fascism and be armed against it. When that report comes out, study it; Knowledge is your only weapon.

Thirdly, by actual participation in our government, if you fail to vote in a primary or election or if you use your vote carelessly, you are doing yourself a grave injustice. The most valuable right that you have is your right to vote; don’t waste it or squander it. And don’t just stop with voting. If a candidate is running who has proven by his past record that he is worthy of support, get out and work for him — let him know it — and when he gets elected let him know how you feel on important issues. Yes, influence him if you will, on those issues that spell success for democracy. And at this point I wonder if it would bee all fright for me to say something in my heart — I happen to know Congressman John Sullivan personally — I can tell you honestly that he is your friend — but you don’t need me to tell it to you — his wonderful record speaks for itself — I think you owe it to yourself and your children to see that he is reelected —

But actual participation in government means more than voting — it means democracy in action — it means taking advantage of every law and statute — and instituting legal action where necessary — to protect and maintain your freedom — Legal action is one of your finest weapons — and under our system your surest guaranty of freedom. Court action is not only a means of testing a statute or enforcing it — it can also build community sentiment, get the people aroused, not exclusively on the particular case at issue, but on broad principles. So that even if the case itself is lost, the principle involved becomes important and.later legislation may be proposed that will put into the statute books the issue that was lost in the courtroom. Legal action of this sort is most important. The suits that have been filed to eliminate restrictions in deeds is a good example, as is the case against the railroad I talked about earlier and others that you are all familiar with —

These things can be done — and many others — so take hope in the future. The will to live a better life for ourselves and our children lies in our own hands. With an unswerving faith in God we will not fail.


1) Genealogically there is little here except that my grandfather was involved with NCCJ, which is confirmed by some letters back and forth that were retained with the speech text. But having a written document containing my grandfather’s thoughts on Fascism, racism, and bigotry as a young man following his participation in WW2 is marvelous. Especially since they are thoughts I can unequivocally be proud about.

2) My grandfather stated his law firm was ready to take the court case he mentioned all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary. It was. They won in 1952.

3) The US Senator who wrote the horrific letter described was Mississippi Senator Theodore Bilbo. Pete Seeger recorded the song, Listen, Mr. Bilbo in the same year that my grandfather gave this speech.

4) A next step a historian might take might be to find the editorials that are quoted in part within the speech to see what they said in whole. They might be found in online newspaper archives. However, that is unnecessary as my grandfather retained clippings of the sources for his speeches in the same folder.

5) My grandfather’s speech folder doesn’t contain a copy of the speech he gave in February 1946, but it does have a short summary. I suspect he didn’t save a copy, and perhaps wrote the summary in October from memory. There aren’t a lot of speeches in the folder, so he was selective. I believe this is the earliest speech of his that he saved, but there are some undated ones. A speech he gave 12 years later in connection with National Brotherhood Week is also in the folder, and I will share it next week. National Brotherhood Week was the third week of February, though it ceased being observed in the 1980s. Perhaps we need its return. 

1 comment:

Matthew Quinn said...

Great speech! Thank you for sharing it.