February was Black History Month, and in keeping with that, we featured several related programs; the banner on our building façade on Central Park West was “Black Lives Matter.” However, long before there was a Black Lives Matter Movement, NYSEC and the American Ethical Union (AEU), were outspoken activists in fighting racism and supporting Black society.
Going back to the early 1900’s, Leaders John Elliott, Henry Moskowitz, Anna Garlin Spencer, and Algernon Black all played major roles in the founding and establishment of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). NYSEC provided the platform for several prominent Black Americans to speak out about civil rights, including Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois (whose office was in our building), and NYSEC member James Weldon Johnson. In 1949, addressing the NYSEC membership, Eleanor Roosevelt said, “I think that you have probably contributed more than any other group in the city to better conditions in homes and better conditions between various race groups within the city, and I think that is a very great achievement.”
Year after year, the AEU has published Resolutions in this vein. The title of a 1960 Resolution was “Opposition to All Forms of Racism.” Another declared “1971 As International Year to Combat Racism.” In 2016, a Resolution addressed “Systemic Racism in the United States,” and in 2017, the Resolution was “Toward Repairing the Harm of Racism.”
This year, Ethical Culture and Humanist Societies across the country continue the commitment to present programs and take action to combat racism. A task force at NYSEC created this declaration:
The New York Society for Ethical Culture Statement in Solidarity with Black Lives Matter
The New York Society for Ethical Culture stands in solidarity with today’s movement for racial justice and equity through Black Lives Matter and for the frank recognition of the historical fact that our country grew and prospered on a foundation incorporating the brutal oppression of a substantial share of its citizens, those who were brought here in chains from Africa and their descendants. Moreover, we acknowledge that this legacy continues to define our civilization today.
The Ethical Society has a long tradition of strong moral and activist support for racial equality – for a century and a half the Society has striven to advance the cause of racial justice by means of forums, conventions, speeches, statements, marches, demonstrations and informative programs.
Now, we make the declaration again, because of the special convergence of events and forces that make an explicit statement of support and solidarity with Black Lives Matter Movement necessary and appropriate.
The New York Society for Ethical Culture community believes that this is a moment in American history that calls for a spiritual awakening for which we must struggle to rediscover our highest mutual values, our aspirations for unity, and our shared future. We must strive to remove the persistent legacy of racial animus that divides us, both within our own deepest attitudes as well as in the legal, economic, and social systems that we perpetuate.
In our Ethical Society, we recognize that, by virtue of Whiteness, many of us have benefitted from the advantages of race at the expense of disadvantaged minorities left out. We also recognize the realities of slavery and Jim Crow as crimes against humanity for which America must come to account and we support reparations to disadvantaged communities in compensation for past transgressions and to help remedy the legacy of those crimes.
NYSEC calls upon its own community to:
- a) engage in self-examination to understand the ways in which we can contribute to a new enlightenment on race by
-learning to understand systemic racism and to recognize implicitly racist practices, and
-promoting inclusion through deliberate outreach to others outside one’s own customary circle; and to
- b) pursue educational, political and practical activism to dismantle the systemic racism that pervades our nation’s culture, politics, and economy in order to help end racist practices in the criminal justice system, as well as in police reform, housing, employment, healthcare, and education.
In furtherance of this pledge, the Society will undertake a new effort, as a community to not only make statements but to take concrete actions. We ask you, our members, for suggestions regarding actions to be taken. Here are four such recommendations:
- Support the passage by Congress of the John L. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. (HR4)
- Support Congress passage of the Resolution to form a Commission to Study and Develop Reparations Proposals for African Americans Act (HR40).
- Support the passage by Congress of the For the People Act (HR1, S1).
- Support national and local organizations taking constructive action in the areas (see [b], above), seeking to act with them and inviting them to act with us.
Send your suggestions to Janet Rose of the Ethical Action Committee: firstname.lastname@example.org.