All Or Nothing

Walter White - New York, New York
As heard on This I Believe Podcast, February 19, 2018
Walter White
Library of Congress

Long-time NAACP Executive Secretary and civil rights activist Walter White was inspired by his parents as well as Jesus and Gandhi to believe in upholding moral principles and committing to human equality.

Themes: race, tolerance
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The more I have thought about what I believe, the more certain have I become that it is what I have been taught to believe. I have been blessed with great teachers. The first and greatest of them were my mother and father.

As Negroes of quite modest means in an often hostile environment in Georgia, they were buffeted from both sides because their skins were of such color, they could have lived on either side of the racial fence. Through thrift and hard work, they had provided for us children a modest but immaculate and attractive home. But neither envy nor hostility of poor whites or poor Negroes ever caused them to deviate one fragment of an inch from the stern code of ethical behavior they had established for themselves and their children.

The second body of teachers were the idealistic, courageous men and women who had given up better and safer jobs in the North to teach in southern missionary schools like Atlanta University, from which my five sisters, my brother, and I graduated. Theirs, too, was a stern moral code. Both my parents and they were devoted to the principle that comprise is not only evil, but in the long run does not pay.

I am totally and irrevocably convinced that in personal behavior, political life, and other areas of human activities, the seeds of decay begin to sprout the minute a man or a nation begins to consider surrender of moral principle to attain a given end, however moral and desirable that goal may be. Naturally, I have been assailed countless times for being an all-or-nothing person. I am proud to plead guilty to that charge.

A second article of faith to which I cling is that love of one’s fellow human beings can conquer whatever obstacles he faces. In traveling more than two million miles in all parts of the world during the past 30 years, I have seen again and again what misery and degradation of the human spirit hate has brought to mankind. Its corrosive effect on the human mind and spirit, which has found expression in war, religious bigotry, and racial schisms, has been so appalling as to convince me that the codes of behavior given us by men like Jesus and Gandhi offer the only hope of our survival.

Therefore, I believe that no human being should ever be judged on the basis of race, creed, sex, religion, economic status, or place of birth. To measure any man, or to accept or reject him as friend by any other standard than his individual worth, is to deny oneself the vast benefits which come from knowing fellow human beings as fellow human beings. My own life has been immeasurably enriched by knowing people, both famous and obscure, all over the world.

Finally, I believe it is imperative that we recapture that passion for human equality and justice, which inspired the early Christians to create a world of ethical behavior to replace barbarism.

Walter White was executive secretary of the NAACP from 1931 to 1955. As a writer and activist, he lobbied for federal anti-lynching laws and desegregation of the United States armed forces. Although fair-skinned with blond hair and blue eyes, White considered himself an African-American.