LRSH Student Gives Speech Before State Legislature, Receives Letter from Eleanor Roosevelt

Paul Coburn, a ten-year-old at LRSH, made a speech before the State Legislature, in favor of the Ives-Quinn Anti-Discrimination Bill, which would make New York the first state to enact legislation curtailing the practice of discriminating against job applicants and employees based on race, religion, or creed. It was short and to the point, and brought the house down, the applause lasting five minutes.

Paul’s speech contained two important points in favor of the bill:

Reason 1: Our class thinks that the Bill should be passed because when children of New York grow up they should be able to get jobs regardless of their race, creed, color or national origin.

Reason 2: Some people disagree with the legislation. They are in favor of education. But it might take ten or fifteen or even fifty years to educate them. Our class believes that you should legislate and educate.

Paul’s trip to Albany was prompted when a white student invited a Black student to his house. The white elevator operator in the building refused to take the friend upstairs and forced him to go up the back way. The white student became upset and on the way to school the next morning he met a friend on the subway and the Abraham Lincoln Carries on Club was formed.

The club held a meeting and decided to write a letter to the Mayor, asking him to aid in the fight against discrimination. The letter was printed in newspapers and magazines. They received many replies, from public school children, members of the Catholic Church, adults wanting to join the club and contribute money, from an incarcerated Black man, and from Eleanor Roosevelt.

The term “Negro,” which appears in the document above, was in widespread use by Civil Rights activists and others who looked to celebrate African American history during the 1940s and 1950s. Although many people accepted the term in the 1950s, activists in the 1960s and 1970s argued for the term “Black,” and in the 1980s for the term “African American.” By the 1970s the word “Negro” was widely viewed as an insult or a term of derision, and the news media (eg, the New York Times) and other mainstream institutions had largely stopped using it by the end of that decade.