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Twenty Five Years of the Annual Equal Opportunity Day Dinner

Monday, November 19, 1956, saw the inauguration by the National Urban League of its annual Equal Opportunity Day, timed to coincide with the 93rd anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. For the League, the day was one to focus attention throughout the United States on positive efforts to insure fair and equal treatment of all citizens, regardless of race, color, religion or national origin; and to remind Americans from all walks of life that the greatness of our country rests upon the principle of equal opportunity for all.

The day before, Sunday, November 18th, the Very Reverend James A. Pike, Dean of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York, delivered an address based on the theme of equal opportunity, to a nationwide audience over ABC television. Dean Pike also served as national chairman of "Equal Opportunity Day." Theodore Kheel was then President of the National Urban League and the late Lester Granger, its Executive Director.

Across the nation, the governors of 17 states and mayors of 29 cities proclaimed the day, and in Washington, D.C., President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued a statement, which said in part:

"Every American who helps, even in the smallest way, to make equality of opportunity a living fact, is doing the business of America. He is strength against its enemies in the cause of freedom."

The Equal Opportunity Day Dinner began the next year, in 1957, when the Equal Opportunity Awards were presented for the first time to two outstanding individuals, who had made significant contributions to equal opportunity. The first recipients were the Honorable James P. Mitchell, Secretary of the Department of Labor, and Jacob S. Petofsky, President, Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America.

The annual presentation of two awards has continued, except in 1970 when the award was presented to eight black mayors; in 1971, when a single award was made in memoriam to Whitney M. Young, Jr. the Executive Director of the National Urban League who drowned in a tragic accident earlier that same year; in 1973 when the award was made to James A. Linen III, Chairman of the Executive Committee of TIME Inc. who served as President of the NUL from 1968 to 1973; and in 1978 when it went to Donald H. McGannon, Chairman of the Board of Westinghouse Broadcasting Company, who served as the President of the NUL, 1973-78.

The purpose of "Equal Opportunity Day" has remained unchanged, and on this, the 25th Anniversary of the Equal Opportunity Day Dinner, the National Urban League continues to urge Americans from all sectors of our society to rededicate themselves to the affirmation of their belief that "all men are created equal," and to pledge their allegiance to the fulfillment of the American democratic ideal.

[[images – 5 photos from the event]]

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