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"A Dream Fulfilled" speech by Roosevelt Fitzgerald






From the Roosevelt Fitzgerald Professional Papers (MS-01082) -- Unpublished manuscripts file. Speech for 112th Founders Day celebration of Jackson State University.

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man000953. Roosevelt Fitzgerald Professional Papers, 1890-1996. MS-01082. Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada.


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President and Mrs. Hefner, members of the administration, faculty, distinguished guests, friends and fellow Jacksonians. There are no words in any of the languages of all the world sufficient to express my exhiliration at being here tonight. Even though I do indeed agree with Thomas Wolfe's contention that "YOU CAN'T GO HOME AGAIN," this comes close enough.
I live in Las Vegas but my home is Natchez, Mississippi. I teach at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas but my school is JACKSON STATE.
Several weeks ago, I received a message that Dr. Thomas J. Robinson, Vice President of Jackson State University had phoned. My first thought was that he was planning a visit to Las Vegas. When I returned the call, he was out of his office. When he called me back, I was in class. I phoned him the next day and he was in a meeting with Dr. Hefner. We shadow-boxed for another day and during that time I underwent a heightened sense of suspense; "What was it all about?" I wondered.
When we did connect, he asked me if I would be available and willing to deliver a talk at this 112th Founders Day Anniversary Banquet. I feel compelled to tell you the thoughts which hurled through my mind during the moments between his request and my response.
I was suddenly teleported back to the time when I was a student here during my first year and in attendance at an assembly during Homecoming Week. I had attended many assemblies and Vespers and had heard many speakers. There was something about that particular speaker and his subject which struck a chord with me. Frankly, I do not remember his name or what he spoke on but I do remember sitting there that day and thinking: "I'd like to do that one of these days."
That day was conceived—all these many years later—several weeks ago with the phone call and Dr. Robinson's request and it is now being born.
Of course, I accepted and without hesitation but it was only after we had rang off that I began to wonder how I would explore the general theme of this auspicious occasion: "FULFILLING THE VISION THROUGH GIVING" and construct some semblance of a talk. As an historian--stil1 learning his craft—I finally decided to couch my few remarks to you tonight within a few historical scenarios.
Paraphrasing an ancient historian's record of one of the great civilizations in the history of the world: "For over a thousand years, Roman generals returning from the wars were greeted with a turmultuous parade. There were strange animals from the captured provinces along with trumpeteers and dancing girls. The prisoners marched in front. The soldiers of the legions marched, with their purple tunics blowing in the winds and their spears glistening in the sun, alongside. The general rode in a chariot and his children, dressed in white, stood beside him or rode astride the trace horses. Always standing behind the general could be found a slave who held a golden crown above the general's head and who whispered in his ear a warning—that all glory is fleeting."
But is it really? Could it not possibly go on and on and on?" If we subscribe to Arnold Joseph Toynbee's philosophy of history: "CHALLENGE AND RESPONSE" there is no reason why, with proper responses to the numerous challenges with which we are confronted, that we cannot not only sustain ourselves, maintain ourselves but also attain even greater heights.
We need only look to history—which encompasses all disciplines—for the solutions of the problems of the future. We might explore it from any angle—the larger picture or any one of the lesser episodes—backwards or forwards or upside down and we will find always the words and deeds of others whose behavior, once studied, can only serve as a roadmap to greatness. The universal quality of each, example is SIMPLICITY.
We see that simplicity in a speech given by Franklin Delano Roosevelt when he said, in regards to the depression of the 1930s that; "THE ONLY THING WE HAVE TO FEAR IS FEAR ITSELF." We hear it in a speech given by Sir Winston Churchill when, early on in World War II he extolled the British not to be faint of heart and that future generation would say that; "THIS WAS THEIR FINEST HOUR." We see that simplicity in Martin Luther King's address on the occasion of the March on Washington when he said; FREE AT LAST, FREE AT LAST, THANK GOD ALMIGHTY, WE'RE FREE AT LAST." We see that simplicity in the words of Ghandi, Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce, the writings of Charles Dickins, Joseph Conrad, Margaret Walker, John Steinbeck and many others. We hear the simplicity in the words of Vince Lombardi when he said; "SUCCESS COMES TO THOSE STOUTHEARTED FEW WHO NEVER LOSE SIGHT OF THEIR GOALS." Most of all, we see it when we read and hear that "NECESSITY IS THE MOTHER OF INVENTION."
It was out of that latter that we see the origins of Jackson
We've all seen the televesion commercial which says: "ONCE UPON A TIME IT WAS AGAINST THE LAW TO TEACH NEGROES TO READ AND WRITE." We also know that during those times of days gone by, that there were many exceptions
because, even during those times, there were many negroes who could. For
the most part, those who could read and write were among that number who were free either as a result of having completed their period of indenture or the descendents of former indentured servants, those who had managed to accumulate the necessary funding to purchase their own freedom and/or that of relatives, those who acquired their freedom through having been manumitted, those who excaped from slavery through the efforts of the Underground Railroad, their own daring or the efforts of other abolitionists or through any other of any numbers of methods by which freedom could've been gained before the end of the Civil War.
Once that war ended, such proscriptions lost their almost universal enforcement although learning to read and write was still very dangerous. Coinciding with that was the appearance of the Freedmans Bureau's schools which experienced a short period of existance while its list of volunteer teachers shrunk daily from the hounding and beatings and the killings.
For the time that they survived, those schools did the best that they could.
Whenever I think, of that time and those schools, an image comes to mind of former siaves--young and old, male and female--trudging into rickety buildings with rickety benches and chairs with donated books and slates and being taught, formally, for the first time in their lives. Imagine, if you will, young eyes and old eyes, young minds and old minds, young hands and gnarled hands all under the same roofs and all with the same objectives; TO RAISE THEMSELVES THROUGH EDUCATION. Imagine too, the end of those efforts and the void created. Imagine further, the almost absolute sense of hopelessness which occurred once Rutherford B. Hayes was inaugurated President of the United States and, true to his promise, ended that period
in our history which is generally referred to as RECONSTRUCTION.
Charles Dickins said it best; "THEY WERE THE BEST OF TIMES AMD THE WORST OF TIMES." The worst because the future—our future—became as uncertain as the prognostications of a M.D. who was trained by watching General Hospital on the soaps. The best, because out of that necessity a small institution opened its doors that same year, 1877, in Natchez, Mississippi, to help carry on the good work which those earlier efforts had initiated but had failed. Jackson State was born out of necessity.
The times were turbulent and filled with danger. Those first students had little or no money. They relied on the generosity of others—strangers— to help defray the costs of running the school. They had hand-me-down books, slate boards, clothing—literally everything. Had not those strangers in those places—some of them far away—responded to the challenges of the time, the school would have folded at worse and remained the same at best.
Somewhere high in the Rocky Mountains may be found the origin of the Colorado River. I have no doubt that the person who penned the words for the Time-Life Magazine special edition on World War II had seen that source. Surely, in order to write a promotional which begins; "IT STARTED AS A MERE TRICKLE..." had to come from a mind which had seen the slow drip-drop of melting snow, coming together as community, forming a trickle which slowly grows to a strem, a river a raging torrent and as it sought the lower points enabling it to watershed into the Pacific it carried along with it those little obstacles which stood in its way. Once it had achieved that, all of those little individual drops of water which, combined, form
the mighty Colorado, set about to create one of the wonders of the world-- THE GRAND CANYON. That canyon could not have come into existance without the river and the river could not have come into existance without the streams and the streams could not have come into existance without each individual drop of water which fed into them. That is how grand things are made—the Pyramids, the Great Wall of China, the Assyrian Ziggarats, the Pyramids to the Sun of the Inca, and every other great undertaking that has taken place in the history of the world. Each and every one has required the combined efforts of many. No handful of people could have built the pyramids or the Great Wall. It took effort, teamwork and the force of will.
Every weekday morning I watch the NBC TODAY SHOW. I watch it because of Willard Scott—the weather man. I watch it not because I have any particular interest in the weather but because each and every day, Willard introduces us to three or four octogenarians—people who are a hundred years old or older. They come from around the country. Their pictures are
shown and their names and ages and hometowns are given. Each day I wonder
if I will live to be that old. Many times, I wonder how those people go about living that long. Is it luck? Genes? What? I am certain that luck
isn't enough and genes, though powerful, are not enough in and of themselves.
I look at little house plants that I have and remember those others that I've had--those which died due to a lack of care on my part. I look at those which still live—after eight or nine years--and realize that they do so because I give them nourishment—food, water and sunlight. Without those,
those plants would be pushing up daisies. People are much the same.
They must also have nourishment-food, water, sunlight—certainly, but, more importantly, also such things as friendship, companionship, love, the knowledge that there are others who give a darn. No matter how strong one is or think they are—individually—by themselves—they are not enough. Those octogenerians require all of the aforementioned and more in order to continue to live and they need to have it for their entire lives. They need to have it from when they are infants, children, adolescents, young adults and on through each of the stages of life. When we look back over our own lives we can see how it is done.
In our infancy, someone beyond ourselves must provide for all of our basic needs. As we grow older, there is a shedding-off of such requirements and the simultaneous appearance of newer ones. The entire process is in constant change and many times we do not see those changes because as we become more independent of the original needs we concurrently become dependent for the new. Frequently, we do not see the level or the extent of that dependency because we are all grown up and think that we are on our own. We're not. We depend on plumbers, auto mechanics, the water district, the sanitation destrict, the grocery store, the clothing store, shoe store, street repair, flood control, civil defence, doctors, nurses, hospitals, firemen, policemen and the list goes on and on. Actually, we become more directly dependent on more things as we grow and get older than ever before. Earnest Hemingway tells us that "LIFE BREAKS US ALL" and he is correct and as we live and are broken, we must always be prepared to get up one more time and many times we need help in doing so.
Institutions are the same and more. Continuing Hemingway's thought and application to how institutions differ from people, as they are broken by life they become "STRONGER IN THE BROKEN PLACES."
People—institutions—the same things only different. Each depend on the other and, in many instances, cannot survive with the assistance of the other.
Consider, the average life expectancy of Americans today is approximately seventy-five years and that is even when those octogenarians are factored in. The life expectancy of institutions cannot be predicted. They cannot be predicted because their survival depends entirely upon the support they receive from people who will not be around to see them grow in majesty. Those founders of Jackson State, in 1877, while they had dreams of the future of the institution, could not begin to imagine what that institution would become. Were they here today they would be amazed—they would be dumbfounded— they would be flabergasted—it would seem a miracle. They gave their best at the time they were alive to keep the institution alive and growing and becoming the flagship of higher education.
When we consider how different the world is today in comparison to 112 years ago, there is no comparison except in terms of committment to the continued development of the institution. In the matter of resources, obviously there were fewer a century ago. Still, in spite of that, those who were there did the best they could.
I am reminded of a time in my childhood when I observed and attended many funerals with my family. Funerals served as a means for social gatherings and they were conducted at old country churches. There was a man— short, very black and very dignified, who delivered the eulogy at many of those funerals. One of the things which he always said of the deceased; Brother/sister so-and-so didn't have much but what they had was pure gold." People always helped—they always gave—a bunch of greens, a sack of sweet potatoes, a basket of crowder peas, a bag of okra, a bucket of clabbered milk—GINGER SNAPS.
When I graduated high school, everyone was so proud of me. I was valedictorian. I received many graduation gifts. Miss Irilla, next door, gave me three packages of ten each of handkerchiefs. Miss Fields gave me three pairs of socks. Mr. Pap, across the street, gave me four packages of handkerchiefs. Miss Margaret did the same. I tzot two pairs of socks from Mr. Fred. More socks and handkerchiefs from Miss Alice, Mr. Ed., Mr. Mack, Mr. Williams, Aunt Lennie, Uncle Louis, Uncle Leroy, Uncle Andred,Ry sister Dorothy, my brother Morris and Jesse and about a hundred others. My stepfather gave me $3.00 to buy a footlocker to have somewhere to put, as he said; "All them socks and snot rags."
For college, from my freshman year through graduate school, I was on either an athletic scholarship, academic scholarship, work study, or fellowships and all because somebody somewhere contributed a portion of the fruits of their labor in my behalf. I daresay the same is true for many of us here tonight. I can say this without hesitation because I know where many of us are from--regardless where we are and what we are doing and we must never forget.
Since leaving Jackson State, I have attended other older educational institutions. I have presented papers at state, regional, national and international conferences. I have spoken before many layman groups, professional groups and the like. Thanks, in large part to Jackson State, I have never felt inadequate.
FULFILLING THE VISION THROUGH GIVING. In some philosophical circles it is held that while the one who receives a gift is made quite happy, the giver of the gift is even more so. Why? Because they have caused happiness
to occur.
Even though I had heard it long before John F. Kennedy uttered the words in his inaugural address in 1960; "ASK NOT WHAT YOUR COUNTRY CAN DO FOR YOU—ASK, RATHER, WHAT YOU CAN DO FOR YOUR COUNTRY," it was on that occasion that that statement gained national and even international recognition. That, friends, students and alumni, is what we are about today; not what Jackson State University can do for us--and it is indeed much because it allows us the opportunity to participate in the on-going creation of greatness, but what we can do forrJackson State University.
In the next century, when future generations of Jacksonians celebrate the 200th anniversary of Jackson State University, let us today ensure that they will say of us; "THAT WAS OUR FINEST HOUR."