Monday, February 1, 2021

Amanuensis Monday: Melvin Newmark's Speech to Maryville College - Feb 1958

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 Maryville College (now Maryville University) in St. Louis in February of 1958. He would have been 46 years old at the time. This was given in connection with National Brotherhood Week, which was promoted by the National Conference of Christians and Jews, of which my grandfather was an active member.

 For delivery February 13th 1958 Maryville College

This meeting this morning is one of many held during Brotherhood Week in Schools and colleges of America. It is an opportunity for students and teachers alike to reappraise the American goal of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness — from our earnest studies of history we all have some knowledge of the dreams and aspirations of our founding fathers and their concepts of a truly democratic state. From our own daily experiences we all have some knowledge of the way in which those ideals have or have not been fulfilled. An opportunity, then, such as this one to examine wherein we have failed and to look for ways and means of improvement is essential to the orderly, progressive development of our democratic society.

Once, for instance, people of good intentions thought of America as a great melting pot — until we came to realize that you don’t solve problems of group differences by eliminating the difference — anymore than you would solve a headache by cutting off the head. It’s true there would be no more headache, but then neither would there be a you. And if the differences between the peoples and groups of this great country were eliminated the strength and vigor of America would be sapped and democracy would have been dealt a death blow.

Today people of goodwill understand the differences and no longer fear them. Whenever tensions do develop you can be sure that lack of understanding and baseless fears have blinded some from the truth. And sometimes evil men, who prosper on discord, try to mislead us and distort the meaning of our democracy. Ignorance is our worst enemy — truth and understanding our only hope.

However imperfect is our present form of government, however impatient some of us may at times seem, none of us doubts the ultimate success of our system to establish a climate where all of us, regardless of our differences, whether they be race or religion, will be able to live and prosper together in peace and harmony.

We fully believe so because we know that the ideal of American democracy is simply a fulfillment of the one basic law common to both science and religion.

From science we have learned the value of cooperation. The way in which single, simple cells unite, for instance, to join together to form more complex patterns of living matter. The history, for instance, of evolution which reveals the pattern of progress and survival through cooperation. Countless other examples testify to the scientific proof that the basic law of nature is cooperation. We know now that it is not enough to say “live and let live”, we must say “live and help live.”

From the religions of our Judean-Christian civilization we learn, too, there is one basic law, one commandment, which seems to sum up everything that God has ever revealed to mankind. That law, that commandment is “Love thy neighbor”. Hate, we know, will destroy us, but love will fulfill us.

Love and cooperation are different words meaning the same thing.

The democracy our forefathers established in America actually began when Moses led the Hebrews out of Egyptian slavery. His goal was freedom, not just freedom alone from restrictive tyranny, but freedom as well for restraining law - so that free people could thereafter live together without fear or hatred. The laws and commandments then revealed to Moses established the only kind of freedom possible, a freedom, if you will, that simply makes your feel easy in your harness, and these laws and commandments were preserved by the great Christian religions and are the backbone of our American democracy.

The uniqueness of this democracy is the degree of unity we are able to achieve without at the same time giving up our differences.

If everyone thought alike and looked alike and prayed alike, or if everyone did not pray at all, then there would be, for sure, unity, but no diversity, and we would thus have totalitarianism.

If everyone did just whatever he pleased and acted however he pleased and no two people thought alike, we would of course have diversity but without any unity this diversity would result in anarchy.

Only in a democracy can there be, in fact, must there be, both unity and diversity.

Today we see our democracy as a symphony, each of the groups an instrument, all blending together in a glorious harmony, and we all contribute to the richness of the music.

What can we as members of different [faiths] do to preserve and strengthen this God given ideal — from Him who is the Father of all of us.

As a Jew it is my most sacred duty to live up to the loftiest commandment of my faith “to love thy neighbor as myself”. As Christians it is your most sacred duty to live up to the same commandment as explained by your great Savior to mean “do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” The Hebrew Psalms say “Olam Chesed Yiboneh” — the world is founded upon love alone. [Psalms 89:3] Coleridge, my favorite poet, I think, said it best in these words

He Prayeth best who loveth best — All things both great and small — for the dear God who loveth us — He made and loveth us all.


1) I had heard about the Symphony alternative to the Melting Pot, so I went in search of who first suggested it. It was Horace Kallen in an article for The Nation, Democracy Versus the Melting Pot, in 1915. It is sad that kids were still being taught the Melting Pot metaphor when I was a kid in the 80s, and there are still people promoting it today.

2) It is great to see my grandfather's evolution as a thinker and speech writer over the 12 years since the speech he wrote in 1946. It was also good to learn the name of at least one of his favorite poets. His bookshelves were rather large. As are mine. 

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