Civil Rights Leaders Call for Unity in the Face of Terrorist Attacks Against the United States

Media 09.14.01

The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the nation’s largest and most diverse civil and human rights coalition of more than 180 national organizations whose members include more than 50 million Americans, has called for national unity in the aftermath of the September 11th terrorist attacks on the United States.

“President Bush spoke for all Americans on Tuesday night when he said, ‘A great people has been moved to defend a great nation,” declared the Leadership Conference’s executive director, Wade Henderson.

“Regardless of our ethnic origins, our religious convictions, or our political affiliations, Americans have come under attack as one nation, and we are responding as one nation,” Henderson said. “From the emergency rooms to the blood banks to everywhere that people are helping their neighbors and rebuilding their communities, Americans are coming together as we always do in times of crisis.”

Representing constituencies including people of color, people of faith, labor union members, people with disabilities, older Americans, gays and lesbians, and advocates for civil and human rights, women’s rights, and civil liberties, the Leadership Conference also called upon all Americans to refrain from racial, religious or ethnic scapegoating.

“Those who attacked America hope we will respond with fear and divisiveness,” Henderson continued. “But Americans are showing we are braver and better than that. In New York City, in Washington, D.C., and all across this country, we are standing together and standing united.”

Members of the Leadership Conference’s executive committee, representing a cross-section of Americans, offered insights about how the nation can maintain its strength and unity.

The chairperson of the Leadership Conference, Dr. Dorothy I. Height of the National Council of Negro Women, recalled: “Six decades ago, Americans found a new measure of unity in responding to the attack on Pearl Harbor. After we defeated fascism on three continents, we went to work eradicating racism here at home. We need to continue that work and not turn our anger on our neighbors, particularly Arab Americans, because of their ethnic origin.”

The vice chairperson of the Leadership Conference, Antonia Hernandez of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, declared: “A diverse America is standing behind the President and the decisions he is making. He will lead our country as we work with the rest of the world to find the perpetrators and seek a just response to these unspeakable, terrorist acts.”

Another member of the Leadership Conference’s executive committee, Rabbi David Saperstein of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, warned against scapegoating Arab-Americans, Muslims, or any other racial, religious or ethnic group:

“The Union of American Hebrew Congregations is concerned, in particular, with reports that some in our nation have directed their understandable anger at Tuesday’s carnage at individual Arab Americans and Muslim Americans. We are outraged at reports of attacks on Arab Americans, Muslim Americans, and their mosques and businesses and condemn all such acts of lawlessness. Such attacks, such scapegoating, are deeply un-American. They also violate what is perhaps a preeminent lesson of Jewish history ? the danger of group hatred, of imputing to a group the actions of a few individuals.”

“The overwhelming majority of Americans from every background are loyal, law-abiding, and respectful of the rights of their fellow citizens,” Saperstein said. “Especially when we come under attack, Americans must remember that the enemy is not each other.”

Pledging the Leadership Conference’s support for efforts to defend the nation, protect constitutional liberties, and promote national unity, Henderson said, “America always will be the nation we celebrate in song ? ‘the land of the free and the home of the brave.’ We can’t be one without the other.”