The Hideaway Times: Article
Sunday, October 16, 2005
Strong voice of support
Editorial | By CHIAZAM UGO OKOYE
The United Nations is celebrating its 60th anniversary. Yet little or no acknowledgment is given to the African Americans who contributed to the formation, founding ceremonies and 60-year history of this great international body. Among them: Mary McLeod Bethune, who was present when the official United Nations Charter was signed in 1945 in San Francisco.
Before the founding of the United Nations and decades before a black man became the U.N. Secretary-General, Mary McLeod Bethune worked tirelessly to pave the way for blacks, women and people from the developing countries in the great global organization. She played a significant role in the designing and structuring of the United Nations and consequently in the role the international organization played in the lives of these groups of people.
Her global efforts and her achievement set the stage for Kofi Annan, U.N. secretary-general; Dr. Ralph Bunche, first U.N. under-secretary general; Andrew Young, first black U.S. ambassador to the United Nations; Donald McHenry, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations; Gen. Colin Powell, first black U.S. Secretary of State; and Dr. Condoleezza Rice, U.S. Secretary of State.
In April 1945, President Harry S. Truman´s administration sent invitations to representatives to serve as consultants on the U. S. delegation at the United Nations Conference on International Organizations (UNCIO) in San Francisco. The U.N. Conference was held from April 25 to June 26, 1945. At the conference, 50 nations came together to draft and sign the United Nations charter. Among the United States representatives, only four African Americans were invited: Mary McLeod Bethune, Walter White, W. E. B. Du Bois and Ralph Bunche. (Bunche was an adviser to U.S. government.)
Bethune, White and Du Bois, as consultants, presented a formal request urging the U.S. delegation to put on the agenda the issues of racial equality, an International Bill of Rights with a strong implementation mechanism, and abolition of colonialism with the substitution of an international trusteeship for dependent nations.
Bethune, Du Bois and White worked assiduously to secure a much stronger provision.
The three black consultants asked that the charter not only declare the equality of all races and peoples but also set up a Commission on Human Rights with real authority to implement such a declaration. They feared that merely looking with disfavor upon a nation that is guilty of discrimination would not be very effective toward ending racism.
In their efforts to include the clause in the U.N. Charter, the three black consultants solicited the help of other delegates and used all forms of political pressure. Bethune interviewed and conferred with delegates, spoke at town hall meetings throughout the country and developed close friendships with other prominent women global leaders, such as Vijaya Pandit of India (the sister of Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru).
Led by the United States, Great Britain and the Soviet Union, the United Nations Conference on International Organization deliberated the proposal for new world organization, which was drafted at the Dumbarton Oaks conference in 1944. Immediately, the increasing deference between the United States and the Soviet Union became an issue. Events began to change.
Before the death of President Franklin Roosevelt on April 12, just prior to the conference, the U.S. had started changing positions on some issues, such as the U.S. position on anti-colonialism. People who went to the conference hoping for a radical departure in the struggle to change colonialism, racism and gender equality were essentially disappointed when the U.S. failed to submit a proposal that included anti-colonialism and human rights. However, the United States´ effort to create a favorable public opinion for the United Nations provided a unique opportunity to make racism, colonialism and gender equality visible.
The U.S. government realized that international realities required the active participation of United States in global affairs, and made efforts to persuade U.S. citizens that the isolationism of the past would not work in the future.
In March 1945, at the Inter-American Conference on Problem of War and Peace, 20 American nations decided to amend and pass a resolution, submitted by Haiti, that called on all American nations to recognize the principle of equality of opportunity and rights regardless of race. France, India, the Philippines and the Soviet Union joined the American states to endorse the principle. At the conference, Bethune pushed for the rights of women and for women to play key leadership role in the new world order.
Bethune made an impressive contrast to other feminists. She was capable of exploiting maternalistic rhetoric for gender equality.
At every opportunity she had, Bethune discussed the role the United Nations could play in achieving independence for colonial people, racial equality and gender equality.
Some U.S. consultants were disturbed when they heard that the U.S. delegates did not include the human rights clause in its recommendations for the U.N. charter or submit a proposal on racial equality. The U.S. government did not want to offend the European colonial powers. Winston Churchill said that he became the leader of Britain to protect her majestic vast empire and not to liquidate it. In spite of the disappointment, Bethune and other delegates continued with their lobbying campaign. As a result of the pressure, the big four nations, United States, China, Britain, and the Soviet Union, approved the inclusion of these rights in the U.N. charter.
The original proposal, which was “to develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples,” was amended to “encouragement of respect for human rights, in particular the right to work and the right to education and also for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, language, religion or sex.”
On June 23, 1945, Bethune organized a national conference of African Americans in Washington, D.C. The conference was attended by 50 African American leaders representing about 30 groups with a total membership of 8 million people. The delegates to the National Conference of African Americans unanimously approved the U.N. Charter with the understanding that under Article 87, the Trusteeship Council could hear oral petition from the colonized peoples. The leaders agreed that the Trusteeship Council was a great improvement from the League of Nations´ mandates and the right step toward decolonization.
Meanwhile, the National Council of Negro Women met with the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Archibald MacLeish on the issue of colonial powers. A year before the San Francisco Conference, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) met with President Roosevelt requesting that he state clearly that the United States would not support the continuation of colonization exploitation. The Council on African Affairs produced two papers, “What Does San Francisco Mean for the Negro” and “The San Francisco Conference and the Colonial Issues,” which emphasized the importance of an effective global organization to deal with the issues of colonialism and racism.
Bethune also established a two-part program to get African Americans involved in the work of the United Nations through the National Council of Negro Women. First, she called for a nationwide annual United Nations Day celebration, sponsored by NCNW. And she worked with NCNW to institute seminars and forums. The work was vital in educating African Americans about the implications of the United Nations for black people all over the world and how they could help the new organization.
The second aspect of the program was to continue to influence the U.S. government and U.N. agencies on positions regarding human rights, colonialism and racial equality. Bethune and the NCNW lobbying campaign were extensive and effective.
Bethune wrote to the U.S. government requesting that African Americans be appointed to jobs in the United Nations. She wrote to the United Nations requesting that the NCNW be allowed to participate in U.N. conferences, seminars and institutes in order to present the positions of blacks, women and people of Third World nations. As a result, the NCNW was given an observer status in the United Nations in the 1940s and 1950s. Also many African Americans were hired by the United Nations and the State Department in high-level positions.
After ratification, Bethune and the NCNW were very active in the United Nations. She was in the directorate and involved with the United Nations Commission on Human Rights; United Nations International Children´s Emergency Fund (UNICEF); Committee for the International Federation of Children´s Community, founded under UNESCO auspices; and the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA).
Bethune demanded that United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration establish a policy “to hire individuals based on their competence, character and integrity, without discrimination on the basis of sex, race, nationality or creed, and to select individuals with the highest qualification within their own particular field of endeavor.” The UNRRA adopted the policy. The agency policy opened a floodgate of opportunity for many top-qualified African Americans in U.N. work. However, the UNRRA jobs were in the field of international development and relief, which involved more implementation than formulation of global policy. Nevertheless, it increased the number and interest of African Americans in international affairs.
With the help and letters of recommendations from Mary McLeod Bethune, many African Africans were employed by the U.S. government and the United Nations. Among them was Ralph Bunche, who was recruited as an Africanist by the U.S Office of Strategic Services during WW II. In January of 1944, he was hired by the State Department, and in the spring of 1946 he joined the United Nations to assist the Trusteeship Department and later, became the Director of U.N. Trusteeship.
Bethune also worked closely with and wrote letters of recommendation for Edith Sampson, was the first black woman to serve as alternate delegate to the U.N. General Assembly.
The contributions of Mary McLeod Bethune in the United Nations paved the way for so many blacks, women and people from developing countries. She accomplished all in an era when women were to be seen and not heard and when all black people were still fighting for basic freedoms. Blacks, women and people from developing world continue to play key roles in the United Nations without fully understanding the struggles and sacrifices made by champions like Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune. She was a great American and a global citizen.
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