Father Hesburgh's fight for racial equality still resonates today
Standing up to racial injustice is nothing new for the University of Notre Dame. Father Theodore Hesburgh was a centerpiece of the civil rights movement over half a century ago and his leadership still resonates today.
At a rally at Soldier Field in Chicago on June 21, 1964, then Notre Dame president Father Theodore Hesburgh delivered these words in front of a crowd of 57,000:
“We want to strive for dignity with you.”
Locked arm in arm, he stood with Dr. Martin Luther King Junior and sang the civil rights movement anthem ‘We Shall Overcome.’
It was captured in a photo that is so historic, the city of South Bend memorialized it in 2017.
During that 1964 rally, Father Hesburgh endorsed the Civil Rights Act which banned segregation in the nation's schools and public places.
Just seven years earlier, Father Hesburgh was appointed by President Dwight Eisenhower to the United States Commission on Civil Rights.
Not everyone on the board agreed on the best ways to move forward so Father Hesburgh did what he did best. He brought people together.
“The commissioners didn’t agree on a lot of things early on and he was trying to find, as the neutral party among them, a path forward. So he took them to Land O Lakes because he found out they like to fish. So they went up there. they went out on boats, caught a bunch of fish, had a few adult beverages and began to come to some agreements on the Civil Rights Act and that became the framework for what was signed in 1964," said Dennis Brown, University of Notre Dame Assistant Vice President.
The Civil Rights Act set the tone for other important topics that needed to be addressed and future bills that were passed for equal rights.
Father Hesburgh stepped down from the commission in 1972 but was a driving force in the fight against racial injustice until he died in 2015.