The Courage to Change the Things I Can

Harry S. McAlpin - Louisville, Kentucky
Broadcast during the 1950s

Basic in my life have been these beliefs: that there are some things for which I am not responsible, some I cannot change, and some I can. Around recognition and acceptance of these facts, I have tried to build a philosophy by which to live in our complex society. Forty-six years ago I was born […]

Basic in my life have been these beliefs: that there are some things for which I am not responsible, some I cannot change, and some I can. Around recognition and acceptance of these facts, I have tried to build a philosophy by which to live in our complex society.

Forty-six years ago I was born a Negro in America. For this, of course, I was not responsible, though I am proud of it. I have traveled around the world and have learned from experience that I would rather be an American, with an inalienable right to fight against discriminations and prejudices and injustices, than to be any other nationality with a pseudo-equality—in slavery to the state, unable or afraid to express or even think my dislikes or disagreements—as is the case in Russia and other communist-controlled countries.

I had a father who regrettably died when I was fifteen years old and a senior in high school. He was a man of great principle. He abhorred injustice. He believed, in spite of the handicaps he suffered because of his color, that all men were created equal in the sight of God, and that included him and me. He instilled me with his beliefs. To live by these beliefs, I have found it necessary to develop patience, to build courage, to pray for wisdom. But despite my fervent prayers, I find it is not always easy to live up to my creed.

The complexities of modern-day living—particularly as I must face them day to day as a Negro in America—often put my creed to test. It takes a great deal of patience to accept the customs of some sections and communities, to try to fit into the crossword puzzle of living the illogic of a practice that will permit me to ride on the public buses without segregation and seating, but deny me the right to rent a private room to myself in a hotel; or the illogic of a practice which will accept me as a chauffeur for the rich who can afford it, but deny me the opportunity of driving one of the public buses I may ride indiscriminately; or the illogic of a practice which will accept me and require me to fight on the same battlefield but deny me the right to ride in the same coach on a train.

It takes a great deal of courage to put principles of right and justice ahead of economic welfare and well-being, to stand up and challenge established and accepted practices, which amount to arbitrary exercise of power by petty politicians in office or by the police. Trying to live up to my beliefs often has subjected me to both praise and criticism. How wise I have been in my choices may be known only to God. I firmly believe, however, that as an American, as a man, and as a Christian, I have been strengthened, and life about me has been made better, by the steel hardening fires through which my creed and my faith have carried me.

I shall continue to pray, therefore, a prayer I learned in the distant past, which I now count as my own: “God, give me serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

Harry S. McAlpin was the first African-American reporter credentialed to the White House, where he covered Presidents Roosevelt and Truman for fifty-one black newspapers. He was also a Navy war correspondent and spokesman for the Department of Agriculture. Later McAlpin practiced law in Louisville, Kentucky, and was president of the local chapter of the NAACP. He died in 1985.