Police Chief Giving His Badge To Civil Rights Leader Is Named Winner Of Allegheny College Civility Prize
May 4, 2015 – Mounting racial tensions in America set the stage for the winner of the 2015 Allegheny College Prize for Civility in Public Life.
Allegheny College President James H. Mullen, Jr. had previously announced that, in recognition of Allegheny’s 200th anniversary this year, the 2015 Civility Prize would be used to recognize the most important moment of civility in American history. Prominent historian Douglas Brinkley helped lead the effort and joined Mullen for today’s announcement.
The winning moment, announced by Mullen today at the National Press Club: former Montgomery (AL) Police Chief Kevin Murphy taking off his badge and giving it to Congressman John Lewis (D-GA), as an act of contrition for the police department’s treatment of Lewis in 1961.
“Historians could rightly say that other moments of civility were more important in American history,” said Mullen. “Perhaps that’s true. But I believe this is the moment America needs to reflect upon right now. Because it shows the incredible power of civility to bridge our racial divides. To foster reconciliation. And to give us all hope. And with America jarred so deeply by images from Ferguson, Cleveland, Staten Island, Brooklyn and now Baltimore, that is what we most dearly need.”
The other historic moments named 2015 Civility Prize finalists were:
- President Abraham Lincoln and William Seward’s working relationship following their sharp rivalry in the presidential election of 1860.
- First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt enabling African-American opera singer Marian Anderson to perform at the Lincoln Memorial in front of 75,000 people in 1939.
- Presidential candidate Wendell Willkie’s willingness to work with President Franklin D. Roosevelt after losing the 1940 election.
Brinkley said that some of America’s most well regarded historians submitted nominations for this year’s prize, including Yale University’s David Blight; Doris Kearns Goodwin; David Levering-Lewis of NYU; and the Allegheny College history faculty. Brinkley, a 2013 Allegheny College honorary degree recipient and nationally renowned historian, helped lead the civility effort and was on hand to announce the finalists.
“Each of these moments is a uniquely powerful story for today and the tensions, conflicts and incivilities we face,” Brinkley said.
Former Pennsylvania Governor and the first U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge, a Civility Prize advisor to Allegheny, opened the event by explaining the history of the Prize. “We risk losing an entire generation of young people to public service because all they hear are our leaders bickering and posturing,” Ridge said. “Allegheny’s own research has shown that to be the case. We must work hard to reverse course, and that’s what the Civility Prize aims to do. And since Allegheny this year is celebrating a 200-year arc of history that nearly parallels our nation’s – it seemed right in 2015 for the Prize to turn to history for inspiring examples of civility.”
The College created the Civility Prize in 2011 to highlight and reinforce the unheralded public figures that advance civility. The Allegheny College Prize for Civility in Public Life annually recognizes two political figures, one from the left and one from the right, who argue passionately but with civility for their beliefs. The Prize seeks to honor politicians who have demonstrated steadfast civility throughout their career or shown authentic, courageous civility at an important moment in time.
The inaugural award was bestowed at the National Press Club in February 2012 to political journalists David Brooks and Mark Shields, in recognition of their longstanding record of civil commentary. In 2013, the College awarded the Prize to Senators Dianne Feinstein (D) and Lindsey Graham (R) for their efforts to exemplify civility while leading debate in some of the most contentious issues of our time. In 2014, Allegheny College judged that the most fitting recipient was an entire group of Democrat and Republican lawmakers – the Women of the Senate – for their role in helping to end the government shutdown in October 2013.
Additional information on the winning moment of civility, and the three other 2015 finalists:
- In 1961, Civil Rights activists, known as the Freedom Riders, were beaten at a bus station in Montgomery, Alabama. With racial tensions and segregation still an issue in the South, the Freedom Riders received no protection from law enforcement. One of those activists was now-Congressman John Lewis. And in 2013, Lewis received reconcilement – from the Montgomery Police Chief Kevin Murphy. To show his sincerity, Murphy removed his badge and presented it to Lewis, who still carries the badge with him today. This moment was nominated by Yale University historian David Blight, among others. Video of the 2013 exchange: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IhetkfyS54Q
- Nominated by historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, William Seward was a front-runner to take the Republican nomination for president in 1860. However, based on reputation and being the most articulate candidate, Lincoln swooped in and stole the party nomination from Seward. Shortly after taking office, Lincoln offered Seward a position in his cabinet as Secretary of State. Understandably upset about losing a shot at the presidency, Seward soon gained an appreciation for Lincoln, as the two became close – professionally and personally. This two-fold relationship continued to benefit both men all the way up to Lincoln’s death in 1865. This moment was nominated by multiple people, including historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, whose book Team of Rivals focused in significant measure on the Lincoln-Seward relationship.
- The Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) refused to let singer Marian Anderson put on a concert at Constitution Hall in 1939. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt stepped in and organized a concert for Anderson on Easter Sunday at the Lincoln Memorial before a crowd of more than 75,000. Roosevelt, who was a DAR member, resigned her position and put forth a selfless effort in a very contentious time for race-related issues to ensure Anderson received the result she deserved. This moment was nominated by Allegheny alumnus Bob McGee. Video highlights: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XF9Quk0QhSE
- Franklin D. Roosevelt faced off against dark-horse Republican candidate Wendell Willkie in the 1940 Presidential election. Roosevelt won the historic election, becoming the first President to ever win a third term. Willkie was highly critical of Roosevelt’s inability to end the Depression, but after losing the election, Willkie became a dependable and reliable ally for Roosevelt. Willkie became a supporter on controversial initiatives and an unofficial ambassador by developing relations with a number of foreign countries. This moment was nominated by New York University professor David Levering Lewis, among others.
About Allegheny College
Allegheny College is a national liberal arts college where 2,100 students with unusual combinations of interests and talents develop highly-valued abilities to explore critical issues from multiple perspectives. A selective residential college in Meadville, Pa., Allegheny is one of 40 colleges featured in Loren Pope’s “Colleges That Change Lives” and is also featured in “Harvard Schmarvard: Getting Beyond the Ivy League to the College That Is Best for You” and Peterson’s “Competitive Colleges, 400 Colleges That Attract the Best and the Brightest,” among many other guidebooks. Allegheny is one of the nation’s oldest liberal-arts colleges and is celebrating its 200th anniversary of learning at its picturesque campus in 2015.
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