Knox College Struggle and Progress-African Americans in Knox County, Illinois (Knox College)
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Reflections on the nature and significance of the Galesburg Commission on Human Relations
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TitleReflections on the nature and significance of the Galesburg Commission on Human Relations
DescriptionArthur J. Dibden gave this speech on March 25, 1958 in Galesburg, Illinois to the members of the Illinois Welfare Association. Dibden discusses the history and working philosophy of the Galesburg Human Relations Commission and explores the challenges inherent in the nature of its work to combat discrimination.
Race relations
Race discrimination
Named PersonJenkins, Rev. Alan;
AuthorDibden, Arthur J.
Time Period1950s
Date Created (original)March 25, 1958
IdentifierJ. Howell Atwood Papers (box 4, folder 22)
CollectionStruggle and Progress-African Americans in Knox County, Illinois (Knox College)
Date Digital2012-10-25

by Arthur J. Dibden

(The basis of an address on March 25, 1958, to members of District III
of the Illinois Welfare Association in the Parish Hall of the First
Lutheran Church, Galesburg, Illinois)

Introduction [underlined]

One of our common human delights is to "talk shop". And I anticipate
that discussion in this setting of <some> aches and pains encountered in my
association of four years as a member and three as chairman with the
Galesburg Commission on Human Relations, might promote a sense of com­
radeship and invoke a sense of belonging. It also permits me a fresh
recital of what may be an old story to those serving one's daily audience.
In "talking shop" with you I wish not only to refer to the sad, hard
facts of our life', however, but also to lift up certain satisfactions
and insights. If it be a frequent human pleasure--and weakness--to
dwell on the gory details of "my operation", or some equivalent troubles,
it is also a human habit to speak gloWingly of attainments of "my son",
or some equivalent triumph. Merely to portray our pains would be
unjustifiable lament. There is self-pride in people as well as self-
pity. Thus I would also "talk shop" about certain pleasures and
prospects of our CommiSSion.
But my eventual aim is a little deeper than that of a candid
recital of pains and pleasures. I want to discuss the Galesburg
Commission on Human Relations as a case study in the operation of
a voluntary citizens group having some public status and dealing with
important but touchy issues of human relations in our community life.
And I want to ask what wisdom might be gained from reflectioh on our
Commission's aches and achievements, its hopes and defeats, its internal
mediations and its public stance.

Now if this language and phrasing Beems to promise rather rough
going ahead, and if my manner of being both symathetlc and detached
seems a little odd, I shall merely retort by asking if you would not
expect me to speak not only as a member of a social agency but also as
a member of my profession. BY profession I am neither preacher, business
man,nor trained social worker. I am a college teacher. And worst of
all, I am a teacher of philosophy. Consequently, the second major clue
I shall provide in this Introduction concerning the development of my
theme is that both as a speaking device and also as a bow to my academic
habits I shall begin to outline the nature of the Galesburg Commission
on Human Relations by use of some categories of Aristotle, the famous
Greek philosopher who died in 322 B.C. Aristotle thought there were
four perspectives we need to explore in order to understand something.
And my immediate purpose is to help you understand our Commission.

On the Nature of the Galesburg Commission on Human Relations [underlined]

Old professor Aristotle suggested that the perspectives we should
have in order to interpret an organic object would consider the genesis,
the matter, the form, and the purpose. In English translation these
categories are called the efficient cause, the material cause, the formal
cause, and the final cause. Applied to the creation of a statue, for
example, they could respectively be transformed into the artist; the
stuff (such as bronze or marble); the type or character portrayed--such
as horse, hero, god; and the purpose or goal. As a teacher who has
occassionally disturbed students by using these categories to illustrate
the complexity of interpretation, I shall here employ them to describe
the Galesburg Commission on Human Relations.
First, the efficient cause--or the agents and makers of the
Commission. In our modern language this means asking about the founders
and the history. As far as I have discovered, and these remarks are


but echoes of a history which a member of our Comnission is writing,
the origins of our agency go back to an inter-raclal group organized
in Galesburg in 1944 and headed by the Rev. Alan Jenkins. The inception
of this group was apparently the result not only of local recognition
of a public need but also of war-time efforts emanating from the
governor's office in Springfield to consolidate our resources and to
lessen inter-racial friction. At any rate the members soon discovered
they needed to broaden the base; and on February 18, 1946 the Galesburg
Brotherhood Commission was formed. Its organizat10n and membership
were confirmed by the mayor and city council. The 21 members were to
reflect as far as possible the various ethnic, religious, occupational,
and other groups of the city of Galesburg. The present Commission is a
direct outgrowth of that Brotherhood Commission. About ten years 1ater,
on April 16, 1956, the city council and mayor of Galesburg approved a
slightly revised constitution and confirmed the membership and our new
name. The name of the Commission was changed partly to correspond with
the title of our corresponding state agency--the Illinois Commission
on Human Relations, and partly in recognition that our bastc interests
were indeed with human relations . The shapers or "efficient causes"
of the Galesburg Commission on Human Relations have thus been concerned
citlzens and receptive city officials. Representative of the concerned
citizens have been the persons holding the chairmanship of the Commission--
a high school teacher, a professional worker, a business man, a college
teacher, a lawyer, a minister, a high school teacher, and a
college teacher.
Second, the "material cause", or in our language the "stuff" of
which the Commission is made. The answer here is very Simple. The
Commission is composed of people. More accurately, it is composed of
people With worries about current tensions and dreams of a better day.


Except when installed to fill a resignation, each member is to serve
three years. The members are nominated by the Commission at the annual
meeting in April and are officially confirmed by the mayor and city
council. Comprising the stuff or material of our Commi ssion, therefore,
are citizens, moral sensitivity, public needs, official recognition,
and whatever civic status is received.
Third, the equivalent of Aristotle's "informal cause" is our
organizational structure as a voluntary civic agency operating in the
areas of actual human relations and potential friction between racial
and religious and other groups. If I were more of an experienced
observer or perhaps a professor of sociology, I would attempt to indicate
What this type of agency implies; for I am sure that many of its character­
istics of enthusiasm and retreat, of good will and sporadic action, have
been displayed by similar organizations throughout the nation.
Fourth, the "final cause", or the purpose, of the Galesburg Commission
on Human Relations could be answered by a reference to Section V of its

"2. The duties of the Commission are to work as an (1) investigative,
(2) consultative, (3) cooperative, (4) educational and promotional,
and (5) advisory agency in the promotion of harmonious human relations
in the life of our community and in the preservation of human
rights under laW.

"Thus the Commission shall investigate the inter-group
tenSions and specific cases of racial or religious or other
serious discrimination in this community. It shall seek to
use its availability as consultant to bring about better
understanding and Justice between disputant ethnic or
religious factions within our community. It shall cooperate
with local agencies and authorities in the lawful preserva­
tion of human rights. It may sponsor public occasions
designated to ameliorate community tenSions, to foster
harmony, and to educate members of the community in our
democratic rights and responsibilities. It may recommend
executive and/or legislative action to the mayor and the
city council. It shall be available as an advisory board
to the mayor and the city council."


This statement of the permissible and possible goals indicates the
areas of attention. These are the words which appear on paper. Our
stated aim is to defend and promote harmonious relations among distinctive
groups of the City.
But there is nearly always another purpose served by agencies
such as ours. I refer to practical or psychological needs being
met in some fashion by the way an agency actually functions in context.
And for us this functional purpose is that of being a symbol and outlet
for the voice of the oppressed and for the affiliation of the concerned
and yet of being an ineffective outlet and an inept affiliation. Suoh
a goal is not explicitly stated nor is it even consciously assumed. But
that it is there could be discovered if one could only bring to awareness
the thoughts and hesitations of many good people connected With the
Commission. On the one hand, their sense of fair play, their tolerance,
their belief in brotherhood, their feelings about the rights of citizens,
and perhaps their religious convictions all serve to bring the good
people of this City to expression of public responsibility and even to
the edge of positive action. On the other hand, the American tradi tion
of being "practical", a conservative reluctance to undergo the emotional
turmoil which conflicting groups occasionally engender, the dislike of
being a fool reformer always going around tilting at windmillls, and even
on occasional fear that important people in business or politics might
not like "things stirred up too much" all combine to promote plans and
inquiries which get stuck in the sands of sloth or mired in the mud of
fear or never even get going because of the inSUbstantial power of
ineffective good Will.
Now I have already gone farther than I expected. My intention was
to use these categories of Aristotle's as a way of descrlbing our
history and personnel and organization and goals. But I have already


turned to appraisal. Let me theorefore confront head-on the question of
the value of the Galesburg Commission on Human Relations. And I would
like to do this by employing another device of a teacher--that of giving
"pro" and "con" arguments for its worth.

The Possible Case Against the Galesburg Commission on Human Relations [underlined]

I'll begin by noting some of the negatlve perspectives or questions
which may be brought to consideration of the place and worth of the
Galesburg Commission on Human Relations. What arguments could be
raised against its organization and activities?
One of the first things that people may mention is that they never
have heard of the Commission. In this remark they may be confessing
not just their ignorance but may also be implying that perhaps the
Commission is weak and inept, that it does not do [underlined] anything, and that
these are ample reasons why no one ever hears about it. It is a fact
there was little mention of our agency as another of the reasons for
receipt of an All-American award in Galesburg.
Some of these criticisms may be true. We are a voluntary group;
our regular meetings are monthly; the members are usually busy persons
Who can give little extra time to the humdrum investigations some times
necessary; and there is little of the regular secretarial and administra-
tive work which may be required if this Commission were to perform a
continuous and effective operation. The Comnission is wlth0ut real legal
and financial power. We have no paid staff, no regular place of meetlng.
And in our society an agency without an office is like a man Without a
country! We possess no instruments except good W111 and intelligence
for dealing with difficult problems, such as lack or loss of employment
by a member of a minority group, the development of new homes for
minority groups, or the growth of those common courtesies which ladies
and gentlemen will extend to all members of the human race. And perhaps


our Commission suffers the additional burden of attracting as members
those who feel at home in committee meetlngs, where talk and qUiet
prevail, but ill at ease in community encounters where a certain roughness
and raucousness may reign.
Thus, to some, the Commission seems to be a waiting agency. It
eXists partly on paper, partly in regular meetings, but mostly on the
sidelines. If some social crises developed in the area of race or
religion, then the Commission is at least available and it might act
ad mediator and reconciler. But if its members have not had concrete
experience in dealing with social tensions and in knOWing how to handle
angry tempers or how to apply appropriate pressures when verbal persuasion
does not solve a crisis, they may not be quite adequate to make the
transition from dreamy paSSivity to direct action.
Because of these features and tendenciesp the Commission has little
place in the public eye. If it does make an appeal, only a few will
hear it and perhaps even fewer will listen seriously. Many persons
in our city will no doubt express agreement With our goals. But they
might not agree With the Commission's attempts--should there be such-­
to cut down on prejudices in eating establishments, or to increase the
practice of merit employment, or to urge hiring a Negro or a Latin
American When, like Branch Rickey with Jackie Robinson, the employer
would be conspicuous and--worst of all--would be called a "do-gooder".
If you have been listening to this tale of woe and have been relating
the items mentioned to your own experience, you might become philosophIcal
enough to suggest that the Commission may indeed be an imperfect instrument
and an occasionally ineffective agency, but that weaknesses lie not in
the Commission alone. The trouble resides in the community at large.
Who has not sought some better and braver world for city or state or
nation only to find the road made hard by the inertia, the uncertainities,


the insecurities, the anxieties, and the distrust of people? Our social
habits and our human nature are tough obstacles to overcome. A person
may often work hard for a specific thing within reach. He may seek and
get a new business contact, a book to read, friends, a garden to hoe,
a new job. But he may find it difficult to be so direct and so specific
in working for better human relations, or merit employmentp or housing
for minority groups, or continuance of faith in the decency of our
fellow men. Our democratic ideal are frequently honored in speech;
they are more difficult to hohor in action.
And the life of the Galesburg Commission on Human Relations is a
pertinent example of that problem....Such might be the case against the

The Case for the Galesburg Commission on Human Relations [underlined]

Let us now look at the positive side. What arguments can be presented
on behalf of the worth and function of the Galesburg Commission on Human
First, it is appropriate to note some of the accomplishments. There
have been [underlined] investigations of chrages of discrimination in recreational, eating; and bUSiness establishments. Perhaps no great advances have
been made. No employer has publicly declared that he is now committed
to merit hiring because of the persuasions of the committee. Yet
individuals have had a chance to air their complaints. And the people
accused or pointed to have had a chance to reply. Moreover, in the
course of our contacts we have learned some encouraging features. As
a result of a recommendation from the Commission, a Galeburg factory
Was one of five Illinois firms to receiVe a 1956 Human Relations Award
from Governor Stratton. And last year six employers who have small
work forces were commended by letter from the Commission for their
good employment practices. These and other activities are not given


publicity. The fact that no one knows about the Commission may be a
good sign that many of its small triumphs have been achieved by face-to­
face encounter and by the persuasions of common sense, and thus did
not need to be forced into the open.
Furthermore, the Commission can list among its accomplishments
several educational projects, ranging from workshops for discussion
of work and school possibilities for minority groups, to plans for
the celebration of Brotherhood Week in February, to radio programs
sUmmarizing problems and advances in brotherhood, to speeches about
these matters to various groups. A recent project is the compilation
of a directory of social service agencies and human relatlons resources.
Secondly, I would point out that any assumption that our Commission
should [underlined] be totally effective in its aims is in error. For one thing,
there are several other agencies or organizatlons--civic, state, federal,
recreational, fraterna, religious--that are committed to some kind of
work in human relations. They should have a place in the sun! Our
Commission was given no charter for monopoly on civic virtue. For
another thing, if we wish to preserve our democratic credo and our
semi-independent ways, we should become suspicious of any group which,
even in theorY, would seek sufficient power and position to mold
our total lives so that we would have [underlined] to become better persons and a happy
society. If we reject that prospect for others, We should deny it in
our own pretensions. Pessimism about progress can be reduced by realism
about possibilities.
Thirdly, I would speak on behalf of the Commission--and of all
agencies having a similar base and function--because of its theme of
human relations and its place as a oivic agency.
The importance of the area of human relations is obvious. It is
the importance of the way we live together, the way we think about each

other, the way we react toward each other. Whether in the home or school
or church, whether at work or play, our human relations affect our lives.
We live With, against, and in each other. Improvement of human relations
in any of the circles of <our> lives is likely to bring improvement of human
relations throughout the Whole community. Moreover, we should never
forget our common membership in the human race. And all of us should
remember the ancient playwright Who said, "Nothing human is alien to me".
Our usual attention in the Commission is given to inter-racial matters.
But those problems are but part of the fact that we are all humans
living in the same community. To be able to contribute something,
along with other agencies, to the enrichment of our human relations is
a sufficient justification for our existence.
The importance of being a civic agency is perhaps not as obVious.
I would therefore stress the fact. The significance of the Commission's
civic status can be illustrated by a reference to a local organization
which has gained more publicity than the Commission in dealing with
city problems: the Galesburg Council of Churches. This Council is
alert to civic issues, and has often gone on record in striving for
city improvements. But ask these questions. Are the Roman Catholic
clergy and congregations in organic communication with the Council?
So far as I know, they are not. Are Jewish leaders and their congregations
in organic communication with the Council? So far as I know, they are
not. Are people with no church connections in this city and perhaps
Without any religious beliefs in organic communication with the Galesburg
Council of Churches? So far as I know, they are not. But are all
the member'S of these groups, and are all the members of the Council itself,
citizens of Galesburg? So far as I know, they are. Through what agency,
other than city government, can these diverse religious <and relatively non-religious groups> work on common problems
in city-wide human relations? There are several agencies


and clubs through which they might have their say as citizens organized
for the purpose. But one [underlined] organization already designed for them is the Galesburg Commission on Human Relations. There are also state and nation­
al agencies through which people can channel their concerns and consoli­
date their actions. But here in one [underlined] agency which is our own, born out
of local concern and devoted to our civic health....Such might be
the case for our Commission.

A Quest for Self Wisdom [underlined]

Perhaps a description of our agency and a summary of "pro" and "con"
opinions is en0ugh meat for one meal. But you may recall that I wanted
to discuss the Commission not only as a local agency but also as an il­
lustration of a voluntary organization hoping to do good and encounter­
ing human predicaments. What wisdom on human affairs can be gained from
such description and appraiSal? What markS of the human situation are
revealed in our concerns and conundrums?
Observation of the many social affiliations that pull and push for
attention today stiffens One of my convictions. I believe our whole
society needs a re-affirmation of the sense of civic responsibility and
civic enjoyment. We ought to think of ourselves not just as church mem­
bers, club members, family members, workerS or professional people but
also aS citizens. [underlined] We need to see more clearly the significance of the
aim of the "founding fathers" to build one natlon, with liberty and jus-
tice for all. It is true that some pioneers first landed on eastern
shores to find their God in freedom. But it is also true that others
came to find fish or gold. And it has remained true that this "melting
pot" of nations in spite of modern movements toward conformity has not
produced a massive uniformity, has not settled on a single line of reli­
gion or politics or ethics. We live in a nation which philosophers and
sociologists describe as pluralistic. That flexibility can be a problem.


Many people today seek their echo in joinlng clubs or churches or frater­
nities which presumably exhibit some kind of agreement in creed or atti­
tude or perhaps color. And all men apparently do need the sense of be­
longing. No one is anyone, says an old proverb, unless he stands in
right relations with someone. However pleasant and helpful these vari­
ous affiliations can be, in their separateness they can lead to division.
Deny the creed, offend the prevailing beliefs, present a strange color-­
and out you may go. One common basis within our pluralisms remains-­
our humanity and our citizenship. Here is common ground to which we
should return again and again in working upon our common problems.
In 1957 members of the Commission had a half-hour radio program in
which they summarized some of the achievements in brotherhood made the
previous month in Galesburg. During the discussion one panel member men-
tioned a point worth repeating. It is that all of us, in some area of
our lives, are in a minority. As white people, we are in a minority
compared to all the people in the world who are colored. As Protestants
or Catholics or Jews, we are in a minority compared With all the other
religions of the world. As teachers or plumbers or lawyers or social
workers, we are in a minority when our vocation is compared With all
the other vocations of the world. But in one area in the world we be­
long to a majority--we are human beings. And in this country, provided
We have met the requirements of birth or legality, We have an additional
common basis: we are citizens. A re-awakening to that heritage and
responsibility would give balance and direction to many of our current
problems, from Little Rock, Arkansas, to Washington, D. C.; from the
city of Galesburg to the state of Illinois. It would add stability
to our multiplicity and bring art to government.
I do not know the future of the Galesburg Commission on Human Re­
lations. I am not sure how much we should try to expand our activities


and receive more publicity. I am sometimes puzzled about the best way
to recruit new members who will faithfully and vitally perform their
three-year "tour of duty" as local ci tizens performing a civic obliga­
tion. I am sometimes a little despondent about our slowness and our
weakness. It seems obvious that our members seldom will express that
concerted and continuous enthusiasm displayed by the Chamber of Commerce
in seeking new industry, or by any eager business man seeking a fast
buck. Nor, in all liklihood, Will our members express that evangelical
devotion which may characterize a church in seeking new members or build­
ing a new edifice. Our Commission members hardly expect public honor;
they make no money; they may spend many hours in What could seem the Us-
ual busy-work of committee meetings. Their main support, theoretically
speaking, is that of principle. They believe, or should believe, in the
value of justice'and freedom. But to live mainly by allegiance to prin­
ciple, especially when action on that principle can disturb one's friends
and neighbors, is a demand which Americans--which any people--find hard
to bear.
Yet of one thing I am sure. It is [umderlined] important to affirm our common
humanity. It is [umderlined] necessary to seek channels other than voting for the allegiances of our common citizenship in an American city or state or
in our nation. It is [umderlined] a requirement of our future national and local health
that all of us learn that it is possible to dislike another's beliefs,
criticize his ignorance, disagree with his politics, and still join to-
gether as responsible Citizens. This is a lesson which our Commission
In the midst of the complex problems and almost immovable obstacles
that confront it, and in comparison with other agencies--governmental,
educational, vocational--which contribute to the civic health of a
community, the Galesburg Commission on Human Relations may be a thin


reed indeed. It is only as strong--and as weak--as the imagination
and good Will and intelligence and courage of its members. It is only
as effectlve--and as ineffective--as its own scattered energies and as
the understanding of the people and officials of Galesburg permit. It
is only as progressive as the love within the hearts of its members.
And I say this not only in an effort to present the frank truth about
the Commission but also because I believe its fraility and its potenti-
alities are indicative of the destiny of men of good will who may want
a brave new world, who may obtain public instruments and acknowledge-
ments, but who finally discover that much of the meaning both of their
aches and achievements resides within themselves. Can we develop within
ourselves those resources needed for the challenges of our common hum-
anity and citizenship? Wisdom about a possible answer is for me the
deeper significance of our existence as a Commission and [underlined] our lives as
human beings.
Physical Description13 typed pages, 8.5 x 11 inches
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