Notre Dame Magazine
Father Theodore Hesburgh, CSC, answered the phone on the morning of July 21, 1964, a date that would become famous for the murder of three young civil rights workers in Mississippi. Martin Luther King’s crusade had moved north to Chicago, and a massive rally was scheduled in Soldier Field that day. The caller told Hesburgh that Mayor Richard Daley and Cardinal John Cody had turned down invitations. Would Hesburgh, a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, show the flag for church and state?
Hesburgh’s answer was to drive the 90 miles to Chicago. As he later told the story, he was mingling in the crowd when someone on King’s staff spotted him, and he was hoisted onto the platform. He gave an impromptu endorsement of the milestone Civil Rights Act, which banned segregation in the nation’s schools and public places, and was awaiting President Lyndon Johnson’s signature.
“Be proud to be a Negro,” he told a crowd estimated at 57,000. “We want to strive for dignity with you.” He linked arms with King to sing the movement’s anthem, “We Shall Overcome.”
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