May 13, 2021 would have been President Tolbert 108th birthday. He made this 1974 speech when he received the “Family of Man” award
By Dr. William R. Tolbert, Jr.
[Dr. William R. Tolbert, Jr., president of Liberia and a practicing Baptist minister, was the recipient of the 1974 Gold Medallion of the Society of “The Family of Man” of the Council of Churches of New York. We take pleasure in sharing with our readers the concluding remarks of Dr. Tolbert’s address given at the Awards Dinner on October 31 in New York City.’ — ED.]
We seem to live in a world where respect for power leads to greater results than awareness of, and reverence for, the human person. We strive at a time when expediency abuses humanity; when practical considerations can obscure the humane tenderness of spirit.
The existence of basic conflicts, of poverty and unbearable misery still constitute a challenge to which the human family must now respond in a more genuine, personal and pragmatic manner. It must respond because it is more enlightened and technologically more advanced today than it was ten years ago. It must respond because human problems grow more urgent and acute. Indeed, if, as Ruskin puts it, mankind is a balance of nobility in nature and in spirit, then now, certainly, is the time for mankind to manifest positively true impulses of spirit in his deeds.
It is true that, in an academic sense, the human family can already be defined as a “group of interacting and interdependent and intercommunicating individuals, united by an irreducible, biological bond.” This definition has virtue insofar as it describes man’s fundamental basis and linkage, emanating from the Eternal Source, extending forth from the basic household unit to the clan, the village, the community, the nation, and then the world.
This concept is more inclusive because it contains a deeper dimension of the ‘soul.’ We believe in the Testimony of the Soul: that “man is one name belonging to every nation upon the earth; that in them all is one soul though many tongues and different colors; that [while] every country has its own language, yet the subjects of which the untutored soul speaks are the same everywhere.” Although we may not prefer the peoples and climates of various lands, or may fail to understand their mores and ideologies; although we feel estranged by their motivations, instinctively we must embrace the depths of their humanity, intrinsic to our own very souls.
In the more spiritual context, therefore, the family of man truly reflects the nature of the Divine. Out of generic beginnings in an Eternal Source, “He hath made of one blood all nations of men to dwell on the face of the earth,” and hath crowned each child of the universe with an “aura of Divine Love.” As indeed all men were created to dwell on the face of the earth, then all men are entitled to benefit from and enjoy the resources of the earth. Into each human creature within each family and nation hath He poured out a measure of creative and intellectual blessing — gifts of leadership and of love; gifts of service, sacrifice and of humility.
Thus the beauty of our one world shines forth only as members of the human family undertake the responsibility of love, service and leadership, in a manner as to evoke the practice of kindness and fellowship. It shines forth as members take the lead in creating wholesome environments and enlightening and satisfying human conditions everywhere. It shines forth out of the deepest sense of human dedication and commitment to the cause of lifting the less fortunate, or strengthening the weak and the helpless, or sharing with the needy.
In the Family of Man individual members must have and demonstrate genuine concern for one another; they must be free from bigotry, prejudices and complexes; they should not possess self-centered lives and selfish nationalism but rather lives centered around a consciousness of consistent altruism and a sense of responsibility for and obligation to others. Indeed there must be reflected in their day-to-day living, and not simply articulated in their verbose professions, unadulterated human love rendering them obligated, accountable keepers of one another.
In all manner of human aspirations must we learn to share: in the triumphs as well as the trials; in the graces and the disgraces; in the comforts and the discomforts; in the joys and in the sorrows; in the wealth and in the wants and poverty. We must gently learn to melt the frozen bitterness of those in need, and courageously handle the condescending indifference of those who possess.
Mankind must come to sharpen his outlook of mutual human affinity, and be made sensible to the binding kinship that renders us all ONE. Individual human families must come to mobilize their spirits in a universally binding effort for a better humanity.
When there is a monetary crisis, the rallying call is “monetary reform.” If inflation seriously threatens, we mobilize against a “number one public enemy.” To contain local hostilities, we exhort hostile nations to negotiate.” In a cosmopolitan human society, however, where individual and families live within absolutely contrasting levels of affluence and of destitution, in this modern world where cleavages and cooperation are insufficiently motivated by moral convictions, in a changing cosmos where brotherly relationships seem tightly and narrowly defined, I believe it is rally time for mankind. And the clarion rallying call is human endearment and total involvement for human upliftment and fulfillment.
Perhaps it is unthinkable, but I believe that the presence of disguised confrontation within, between, and among nations, whether slight or potential, must become neutralized by individual, human connectedness. Perhaps it is inconceivable, but I believe that nations and peoples must meet the challenge of human responsibility in moving from what is purely necessary into relationships that are warmly welcomed and desired. Perhaps it is unthinkable and too ideal to perceive, but I believe that peoples and nations must take further steps forward from structured interdependence into a bonded spirit of human endearment for the well-being of the Family of Man.
It is time for the rich and the poor with togetherness to meet the humane challenge of responsibility to the Family of Man. It is high time for the more mature and enlightened nations and peoples of the Family of Man to kindle a glowing flame that will verily fire the human spirit to acts of nobility and deeds of virtue. It is due time when emerging nations and powers that ardently seek the goals of economic and political independence strive earnestly to discover and unrelentingly build upon solid foundations of moral sovereignty.
It is rally time in the human family for a personal outreach from the ghetto flats and the bedrooms of suburban areas to higher planes of living standards. It is rally time for a personal outreach from the village huts to the high towers of palatial residences in urban areas. It is rally time for an outreach of the human spirit from the outposts of human degradation, oppression and social injustice to the strongholds of human freedom and dignity. Oh, I know it takes a whole lot of human sensibility but let there be rally time for a personal outreach, of families and of nations, to attain the higher heights of a wholesome functioning world society in which there will exist true human brotherhood.
It indeed is my fervent hope that the society of man will evolve sufficiently so that in no area of our One World will the question of race remain a decisive factor in human relationships. It definitely should be the commitment of all members of the Family to work unrelentingly to achieve this objective.
Perhaps nothing is more unthinkable today, yet nothing could be more joyfully fulfilling in these times. For only thus would we grow dearer each to the other, until in the hearts of men with a ceaseless pulsation of love shall come a realignment of humanity. Only thus shall we realize the ultimate challenge of humanism with all of its responsibilities. For truly as members with natural affinity, of the Family of Man, our eternal challenge is mankind.
(Permission to reproduce the above was granted by George M. Duff, Jr., President of the Council of Churches of New York; reprinted in Sunrise magazine, March 1975)