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Justice Hugo Black


Justice Hugo Black

Oct 01 1937

ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, we are speaking to you from the residence of Claude E. Hamilton, Jr. in Washington, D. C., where, on this occasion, the Honorable Hugo L. Black, Justice of the United States Supreme Court, is about to address an entire nation. 

On August 12th, 1937, President Roosevelt appointed the senior senator from Alabama Associate Justice of the Supreme Court to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Justice Willis Van Devanter.

After a brief but spirited debate, the Senate confirmed the appointment and on August 17th Senator Black took the oath of his new office. Justice Black was in London on September 13th when the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published the first of a series of articles purporting his alleged affiliation with the Ku Klux Klan. Pressed for a reply to these allegations, Justice Black adamantly refused to comment in any way on his part in this Number One story of the nation.

On September 20th, however, he sailed from England and arrived in Norfolk, Virginia, Wednesday. Up to the present moment, the contents of Justice Black's first statement have not been divulged, even to the broadcasting companies which are carrying his speech. 

The next voice you will hear will be that of the Honorable Hugo L. Black, Justice of the United States Supreme Court.


BLACK: Ladies and gentlemen:

The Constitution is the supreme law of our country. The Bill of Rights is the heart of the Constitution.

The constitutional safeguard to complete liberty of religious belief is a declaration of the greatest importance to the future of America as a nation of free people. Any movement or action by any group that threatens to bring about a result inconsistent with this unrestricted individual right is a menace to freedom.

Let me repeat:

Any program, even if directed by good intention, which tends to breed or revive religious discord or antagonism can and may spread with such rapidity as to imperil this vital constitutional protection of one of the most sacred of human rights.

I believe that no ordinary maneuver executed for political advantage would justify a member of the Supreme Court in publicly discussing it. If, however, that maneuver threatens the existing peace and harmony between religious or racial groups in our country, the occasion is not an ordinary one. It is extraordinary.

During my recent absence on a short vacation abroad, a planned and concerted campaign was begun which fans the flames of prejudice and is calculated to create racial and religious hatred. If continued, the inevitable result will be the projection of religious beliefs into a position of prime importance in political campaigns and to reinfect our social and business life with the poison of religious bigotry. It will bring the political religionist back into undeserved and perilous influence in affairs of government. It will elevate the least worthy to political positions because religion or race bars others from a password. It will resurrect practices and arguments from which this country suffered sorely in the Nineteen Twenties. It will revive the spirit which, in 1928, caused a national campaign to be waged largely upon issues unworthy of a free people. It will bankrupt many business men whose sole offense is that they have religious beliefs which do not accord with the prevailing religion in their communities. It will punish the professional man whose patients and clients boycott him, not because of lack of professional ability, but because there are in his locality few members of his faith or his race. It will again set neighbor against neighbor and turn old friends into new enemies.

To contribute my part in averting such a catastrophe in this land dedicated to tolerance and freedom, I break with precedents of the past to talk with you tonight.

An effort is being made to convince the people of America that I am intolerant, and that I am prejudiced against people of the Jewish and Catholic faiths, and against members of the negro race. These insinuations are advanced despite the fact that, for the last eleven years, I have served in the Senate of the United States under constant and microscopic public scrutiny.

My words and acts are a matter of public record. I believe that my record as a senator refutes every implication of racial or religious intolerance. It shows that I was of that group of liberal senators who have consistently fought for the civil, economic and religious rights of all Americans, without regard to race or creed.

The insinuations of racial and religious intolerance made concerning me are based on the fact that I joined the Ku Klux Klan about fifteen years ago. I did join the Klan. I later resigned. I never rejoined. What appeared then, or what appears now, on the records of the organization, I do not know.

I never have considered and I do not now consider the unsolicited card given to me shortly after my nomination to the Senate as a membership of any kind in the Ku Klux Klan. I never used it. I did not even keep it.

Before becoming a senator I dropped the Klan. I have had nothing whatever to do with it since that time. I abandoned it. I completely discontinued any association with the organization. I have never resumed it and never expect to do so.

At no meeting of any organization, social, political or fraternal, have I ever indicated the slightest departure from my steadfast faith in the unfettered right of every American to follow his conscience in matters of religion. I have no sympathy with any organization or group which, anywhere or at any time, arrogates to itself the un-American power to interfere in the slightest degree with complete religious freedom. No words have ever been or will ever be spoken by me, directly or indirectly, indicating that any native or foreign-born person in our free country should or could be restricted in his right to worship according to the dictates of his conscience. I have supported candidates for public office without regard to their faith. In my endorsement of applicants for governmental positions, I have acted without discrimination of any kind or character.

I number among my friends many members of the colored race. I have watched the progress of its members with sympathy and admiration. Certainly they are entitled to the full measure of protection accorded to the citizenship of our country by our Constitution and our laws.

Some of my best and most intimate friends are Catholics and Jews. Shortly after I moved to Birmingham, more than a quarter of a century ago, I formed one of the most valued friendships of my life with a son of Jewish faith. He was one of my closest associates and strongest political supporters. Months of our lives were spent together, much of the time in his home. He stood so nearly in the place of a father to me that while in the army in 1918 I designated this trusted Jewish friend as sole executor of my will. In my campaigns for public office his counsel and assistance were always mine. His widow who was a guest in my home at the recent inauguration of President Roosevelt was one of the first to congratulate me upon my nomination to be a Justice of the Supreme Court.

When this statement is ended, my discussion of the question is closed.

I believe the character and conduct of every public servant, great and small, should be subject to the constant scrutiny of the people. This must be true if a democracy serves its purpose.

It is in this spirit that I now bid those who have been listening to me goodnight.


ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, you have just heard the Honorable Hugo L. Black, Justice of the United States Supreme Court. Justice Black spoke to you from the home of his personal friend Claude E. Hamilton, Jr., general counsel of the R. F. C. This program originated through the facilities of WOL in Washington, D. C. Your announcer is Stephen McCormick. 

This is the coast-to-coast network of the Mutual Broadcasting System.