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Address in Winston-Salem at Groundbreaking Ceremonies, Wake Forest College

October 15, 1951

Mr. President of Wake Forest, Your Excellency the Governor of North Carolina, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen:
It is a privilege for me to be here today. It is a privilege to join my fellow-Baptists in rejoicing at the enlargement and rebuilding of one of our great institutions.

It is a privilege to join the people of North Carolina in celebrating their devotion to freedom of the mind and spirit.

Freedom of the mind and the spirit are very, very important to us and to the whole world today. I believe the history of Wake Forest College has some significant lessons for us in this regard.

Wake Forest College has given 117 years of distinguished service to education and religion in this great State. Over the years this college has sent thousands of graduates throughout the land to positions of leadership and trust.

This college, like others in every part of our country, has remained loyal to the principle that the purpose of education is to seek the truth.

This is an article of faith that underlies our whole educational system: "Know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."

Students and teachers in American schools, seeking the truth without hindrance of censorship, have been largely responsible for the amazing progress of our country. We believe, in America, that the pursuit of the truth is open to all comers. No group that seeks the truth is a dangerous group, or a subversive group--not in the United States of America, at any rate. We know that any attempt to control the mind of man defeats itself. We know that as long as our schools enjoy freedom, our political liberties are safe.

For this reason, Americans of all parties and creeds can join together in their support of education--public and private.

Here in North Carolina you have built a fine public school system, crowned with a State university respected throughout the academic world. And right here I want to pay a tribute to Gordon Gray. He is one great patriot, and I am very fond of him. At the same time, you have made progress in private education, culminating in the endowment, in one generation, of two such institutions of higher learning as Duke and Wake Forest.

Right here I want to pay a tribute to the people who made this situation possible. It is a wonderful thing when men of great wealth do the patriotic things that are being done here today for this great school.

The history of this college shows how all Americans can unite in support of education. It is a Baptist college; yet the magnificent gift that stimulated its rebuilding came from donors who are not themselves Baptists, and the funds that are to go into these buildings were supplied by all kinds of Protestants without regard to race or creed--and by Catholics and Jews, as well.

A college is an institution that is dedicated to the future. It is based on faith and hope--faith in the basic decency of our fellow men, and hope that the increase of knowledge will promote the general welfare.

This faith and this hope are a very important part of the American way of life, so important that if they are lost, that way of life will be destroyed. Faith that the average American is honest and trustworthy; hope that when he knows the truth, that the truth will make him free. This faith and this hope are the strong foundations on which Wake Forest College was built. They are the foundations on which this Republic has stood, unshaken by all the storms that have beaten upon it.

Yet, there are always some who do not share this faith and hope. These people go up and down the land, wailing that we must not do anything, because it might turn out wrong. For faith and hope, they have substituted suspicion and fear.

This is deplorable, but we should not let it alarm us too much, for after all it is nothing new. It is as old as this college, and a lot older.

Indeed, this college was almost strangled at its birth by this sort of reactionary attitude.

On December 21, 1833, the bill granting a charter to Wake Forest came up for final passage in the North Carolina State Senate. Without this bill, the college could not have been founded. Yet, the vote was a tie, 29 to 29, and the bill passed only by the deciding vote of the presiding officer. And he certainly made a great name for himself when he cast that vote.

Think what this means. If there had been one more negative vote, there might never have been a Wake Forest College--with all that it has meant to North Carolina and the Nation. You might never have had such great leaders as the presidents of this college--men like W. L. Poteat, who did so much to defend freedom of thought, or Thurman Kitchin, who built undiscouraged through depression and through war. There might have been no opportunity for men like Harold Tribble to lead this institution into an era of greater service to humanity.

How was it possible for 29 men, back in 1833, to vote against such a constructive step as the founding of Wake Forest ?

We have no proof whatever that they were unpatriotic men, or selfish men, or evil men. They claimed they were not. Indeed, the facts seem to show that they were simply afraid. They allowed their suspicion and fear to overcome their hope and faith.

They argued that to incorporate Wake Forest was to lead to "a proud and pompous ministry." Can you imagine a Baptist preacher being proud and pompous? They said that this sort of school was bound to become "a curse to the Church of God, and to the nations of the earth."

Their objection, in modern terms, was that the college might turn into a subversive organization which would destroy the American way of life. You hear that all the time now. Of course, Wake Forest had not done anything wrong yet, because it did not even exist. But those men argued that if it were given the right to exist, it might do wrong. Therefore, it ought to be killed in the cradle.

Friends of the college argued that it would do good, that it would develop character and intelligence among the people, which is the greatest good that can be done for a nation. But no, in the minds of those 29 men, the hope that it might do good was nothing. The fear that it might do harm was everything. In their minds it was more virtuous-it was safer--to try to avoid doing harm than it was to try to do good. There are a lot of people like that who are with us today by the bushel.

The fear of moving ahead, the unwillingness to try anything new, almost stifled Wake Forest at birth. But let us remember that the forces that nearly prevented the creation of Wake Forest were not peculiar to that time and place. They are deeply embedded in human nature and are alive and powerful today. There are many men of this generation who, like the 29 members of the North Carolina State Senate of 1833, allow their fears to stifle their hopes.

When the fears of such frightened men prevail, whether in a college or in a country, no progress is made, and little is accomplished for the betterment of the world. No institution and no nation can stand before the bar of history and justify itself on the ground that it never did any harm. The question that has to be answered before all mankind is "What good did you do?"

Our country is standing before the bar of history today in a very conspicuous place. All the world is watching us, because all the world knows that the fate of civilization depends, to a very large extent, upon what
we do.

At the present time this Nation of ours is engaged in a great series of positive actions to secure the peace in the world. This effort is costing us a great deal--in taxes, in energy, in unwelcome changes in our daily living. It is even costing us the lives of some of our bravest and best young people who are fighting in the front lines against aggression.

Like every positive effort, this one is being questioned and criticized. There are people who ask whether it is worth doing. There are people who point to the sacrifices, the inconvenience, the cost, and who say it would be better to do nothing--or as dose to nothing as possible.

But it is clear, to most of us at least, that the effort is worth making--indeed, we have to make it.

Our great effort for peace is a national effort. It is not the decision of one group or one person. It is the result of our entire national experience, over the last few decades.

By the end of World War II we had learned, as a nation, that we could not have peace by keeping out of the affairs of the world. We were determined to act, positively and vigorously, with other nations, to preserve peace. That is why we embraced the United Nations, and pledged to support it.

Everything that we have done since has been the result of this decision. All we have done, all our treaties with other nations, our defense program, our aid to other countries, has been the result of our determination to uphold the principles of the United Nations.

It has been harder and more dangerous than we expected, because of the refusal of one of the great powers to carry out the spirit of the United Nations, and to live peacefully and cooperatively with its neighbors.

But, if I understand this country correctly, there is no desire to backtrack on the path we have taken toward peace. There is no intention of running out on the obligation we undertook to support the principles of the United Nations Charter. We made our decision, it was the right decision, we are going to follow it out--and that's that.

It is important to remember, as our defense program begins to turn out more and more weapons, and our alliances for defense begin to take effect, that our basic objective-our only objective--is peace--peace for all the world.

I am afraid that some people, here and abroad, believe that the creation of armed defenses must inevitably lead to war. That is not the case. We do not think that war is inevitable.

We believe that the creation of defenses will make war less likely. So long as one country has the power and the forces to overwhelm others, and so long as that country has aggressive intentions, real peace is unattainable. The stronger we become, the more possible it will be to work out solid and lasting arrangements that will prevent war. Our strength will make for peace.

We saw the folly of weakness in the days of Hitler. We know now that we must have defenses when there is an aggressor abroad in the world.

But once we have defenses strong enough to prevent the sneaking, creeping kind of aggression that Hitler practiced--what is the next step? Must we then have a showdown, and a war until one side or the other is completely victorious?

I think not. Our policy is based on the hope that it will be possible to live, without a war, in the same world as the Soviet Union-if the free nations have adequate defenses. As our defenses improve, the chances of negotiating successfully with the Soviet Union will increase. The growth of our defenses will help to convince the leaders of the Soviet Union that peaceful arrangements are in their own self-interest. And as our strength increases, we should be able to negotiate settlements that the Soviet Union will respect and live up to. And the only way they will respect and live up to their agreements is because they know that somebody is able to carry it out.

For example, the Kremlin may then be willing to discuss the possibility of genuine, enforceable arrangements to reduce and control armaments. Since the end of