Influence of William Heard Kilpatrick ... on Human Relations
by Lester Granger - 1952
The text of Lester Granger's talk given at William Kilpatrick's eightieth birthday celebration in 1951.
A I have sat listening to the previous persuasive, and persistent exponent of the speakers and awaiting my own turn fact of our human togetherness, on this evening's program, I have suffered from a progressive loss of self-confidence. When I entered this room guest knew what I wanted to say and how I intended to say it. For the past hour however, I have been sitting between two notable representatives of higher education and have been exposed to the rapid cross fire of their professional conversation. As a result, I am somewhat confused, almost as much as if I had been listening to a conversation between some of my more erudite colleagues in social work. Who am I, on a program of this sort, to compete for the attention of these guests against the distinguished gentlemen who are my dais neighbors?
On this point I can speak with a pride and an authority that arise out of my association with our distinguished guest during the past dozen or so years. As the chief executive officer for the Urban League movement, I have been closely associated with Dr. Kilpatrick for the past ten years in his capacity as President of the Urban League of Greater New York. I have the most grateful recollection of the readiness with which he accepted a really onerous responsibility, and also of the valuable leadership which he gave to our movement her in New York City throughout the whole of his ten years as president. The Urban League’s job of representing the economic interests and social welfare of our urban Negro population, and of building trust, understanding, and mutual respect between white and Negro Americans has been aptly described by one qualified observer as the “toughest job in social work,” It is a tough job. It is so tough that we considerable difficulty recruiting first-class leadership for our board and committee assignments. But we had no difficulty in recruiting Dr. Kilpatrick. He accepted promptly and cheerfully. He performed heroically, and is still functioning, even after his ten years of devoted service, as the honorary president of the organization.
Many are the times when I have sat in meetings and have been inspired by the deep wisdom, the unvarying kindness, and the clear objectivity with which Dr. Kilpatrick attacked knotty problems involving the three pitfalls of agency operation—policy, program, and personalities. We have had a number of controversial discussions, sourly tinged with disagreement. Sometimes controversy has threatened to promote disastrous opinion splits. I have repeatedly watched Dr. Kilpatrick sit quietly and patiently through a discussion, while storms of argument whirled over his head, and then by a brief, pungent remark resolve controversy into agreement and impatience into understanding.
I have witnessed similar devoted action on the board of the Bureau of Intercultural Education during my service under the Kilpatrick leadership. And for such services—a tremendous contribution to the whole field of human relations—I am personally and deeply grateful at the same time that I express the gratitude of hundreds of colleagues.
And always I have been impressed by the fact that this kind of leadership has come from a man born and reared in the state of Georgia, a man exposed from his birth to "the Southern outlook" and who must, therefore, have experienced considerable readjustment within himself in order to develop the kind of personal philosophy and interracial influence that he manifests today. When our guest speaks to us shortly his voice will reveal a lingering trace of his Georgia accent. I find to my own surprise that I do not resent that accent at all. In fact, I have come to love that Southern drawl, for much more important than a man's geographical antecedents are the liberalism and basic kindness that are an inherent part of a good man's personality.
These qualities are symbolic of what William Heard Kilpatrick has stood for during his whole career as educator and citizen—in the classroom, in the broad field of education, and in the even broader fields of human relations. He has had slight patience with the mawkish, bungling kind of activity which so frequently masquerades under the name of "intergroup education" but which actually does a disservice to the very cause it professes to promote because of its distorted emphasis upon differences rather than likenesses between human beings. And Dr. Kilpatrick has concentrated on the basic and essential commonalty of human life. His approach has been practical and specific. He is concerned not only with the purpose but also with the result of program planning. It goes without saying that in his concept of education there is no place either for the exclusion of Negro children from their fellows, or for disproportionate concentration upon the Negro child, whether in classroom instruction, play activities, or social growth as a human being. The Kilpatrick objective is the adjustment of the whole child to the whole community.
Samuel Tenenbaum's fine biography has called this man "A Trail Blazer in Education." We in the Urban League call him "a trail blazer in human relations"— in basic Americanism—because of the way in which his educational philosophy has permeated American thought beyond the scope of the classroom. As a trail blazer he has guided us through the woods of confusion and the morass of prejudice, across the divide that so tragically separates millions of Americans of different races, faiths, and economic circumstances, up the steep cliffs of stubborn ignorance and blind error, on to the broad plain of human understanding and cooperation—the high, level ground where increasing millions of our fellow Americans are coming to stand together in mutual trust, fellowship, and confidence.
I seldom quote poetry, because I seldom remember it exactly, but there comes to my mind an excerpt from one of Reinhold Niebuhr's writings which, I believe, is called "Creed for Americans." The excerpt is this:
God, give us patience to endure that which cannot be changed;
Give us courage to change that which can be changed;
And give us wisdom to know the one from the other.
The precious gifts which Dr. Kilpatrick has shared with his fellow Americans are those of patience, courage, and wisdom. For this sharing of himself with those about him, for his contribution to the cause of democracy and world brotherhood, we are eternally and affectionately grateful.