OCTOBER 19, 1960
NEW YORK—The National Conference on Constitutional Rights and American Freedom, organized at the suggestion of Sen. John F. Kennedy, held a two-day meeting in this city last week which was pronounced an outstanding success. Four hundred people from 42 states came to the meetings at their own expense to discuss and recommend to a possible future President what action should be taken on human rights. I would estimate that the colored attendance was about 60 percent as against 40 percent white.
The overall chairman of the sessions was Sen. Hubert H. Humphrey of Minnesota, who took time out from a very active campaign because he considered this question of paramount importance to the country. Former Gov. Herbert H. Lehman presided over a panel, as did Gov. G. Mennen Williams of Michigan and Mr. Philleo Nash. Many of the people who knew quite well that they risked reprisals in coming to the conference told their stories of conditions as they actually are in their states on such fundamental human rights as the right to register and vote.
Vice-President Richard M. Nixon may be very worried about the morals of our children—as he indicated in his reaction to a statement made by former President Truman recently—but he does not seem overly concerned as to whether the government has done everything it could do so that everyone has equal rights or even the one very fundamental right which allows us to participate in our government. To be content with what is being done—and not to examine whether something better can be done—may lead to less trouble for the government, but it does not lead to more accomplishments in the area of civil liberties.
The final recommendations from this two-day meeting will be given to Senator Kennedy and, if he is elected, will form a basis on which to work out new plans. There was a recognition in this conference that legislative leadership and accomplishment were essential, but there was also recognition that executive leadership and accomplishment could be extremely important also and should never be ignored. Executive leadership may mean the difference between an effective job being done without using force as against using force to make people live up to the law of the land.
I hope the people from one end of our country to the other will become aware of the recommendations that came out of this conference and will insist on knowing what eventually is done as a result of the meetings.
In the case of Laos we are acting under the threat of what the Soviets may do rather than because of our own decision and our own understanding with the Laos authorities. Again, the initiative is lacking.
We suspended aid because "of the confused situation." We now have resumed that aid because while it was suspended the Soviets moved in and offered it. To me, this never seems a good way to give aid to any foreign country.
At the United Nations on Monday the General Assembly unanimously approved the resolution urging "constructive steps" to reduce world tensions and create greater harmony. This was presented by Ambassador Krishna Menon, the Indian Defense Minister, and sponsored by 28 nations, most of them small nations of Asia, Africa and Latin America.
Mr. Menon must have been surprised to find that the Soviet Union in response to this resolution made another violent attack on the United States, which is not exactly a way of reducing tensions. And I wonder if Mr. Menon thinks that the U.S. should do all that needs to be done and that nothing is required of the Soviet Union. I would be interested to know if he has made any protest to this reaction from the Soviets.