Former Congressman Charles Longstreet Weltner Receives 1991 Profile in Courage Award from Kennedy Library Foundation
BOSTON, MA, May 29, 1991 — At a ceremony held today at the John F. Kennedy Library, Richard K. Donahue, chairman of the Profile in Courage Award Committee, presented the second annual 1991 Profile in Courage Award to former U.S. Congressman Charles Longstreet Weltner, 63, of Atlanta, Georgia.
"It is inspiring to celebrate the 74th anniversary of President Kennedy's birth with this tribute to a Congressman whose own career so fittingly demonstrates the values of political courage that President Kennedy admired," said Donahue.
Sen. Kennedy said, "This year's recipient is an outstanding example of a true profile in political courage. At a critical time in our recent history, Charles Weltner put principle and the nation's highest ideals above all other considerations. His story is a tribute to America at its best."
In the spring of 1966, during his second term in the U.S. House of Representatives, Weltner signed an oath of loyalty in support of the entire state Democratic ticket in the November general election. When Lester Maddox, an advocate of segregation, emerged as the Democratic nominee for Governor, rather than "compromise with hate" as Weltner put it, and support the Maddox candidacy, Weltner placed principle above ambition and withdrew from his own race for re-election. This move cost him his seat and ended his congressional career. Since 1981, Weltner has served as a Justice on the Georgia State Supreme Court.
Donahue presented Weltner with a $25,000 stipend and a silver lantern designed by Edwin Schlossberg Incorporated and crafted by Tiffany & Co. The award is in the shape of a ship's lantern as a symbol of truth and hope that reflects the values and ideals of the award. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Caroline B. Kennedy, John F. Kennedy Jr., and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy also participated in the ceremony.
The award takes its name from Profiles in Courage, the 1957 Pulitzer Prize-winning book written by John F. Kennedy when he was a Senator from Massachusetts. The book describes events from U.S. history in which courageous elected officials took principled stands on difficult positions and risked the wrath of their constituents. In the book, President Kennedy described such individuals as persons "whose abiding loyalty to their nation triumphed over all personal and political considerations ... who showed the real meaning of courage and a real faith in democracy."
"Throughout his career, Charles Weltner met the challenge of political courage," Sen. Kennedy added. "He is a hero to all Americans who respect the ability to challenge the status quo, to believe in the value of change and to aspire to a greater good. His unwillingness to compromise with segregation is symbolic of his entire career."
In 1964, when the Civil Rights Act came before the House of Representatives for a final vote, Weltner broke with his region in a courageous act of conscience to become the only Congressman from the deep South to vote in favor of the act.
In response to a widespread search which included an article in USA TODAY calling for nominations, more than 1,000 were received for the 1991 Profile in Courage Award. The award was created by the Kennedy Library Foundation in 1989 to honor President Kennedy and encourage elected officials to display the quality of political courage the former President admired.
Three other individuals were finalists for the award:
Frank P. Graham: In 1950, Frank P. Graham, the U.S. Senator from North Carolina, was defeated in one of the state's most memorable primary races after being branded by his opponents as pro-Communist and unpatriotic. Despite urging by some of his advisors to respond in kind, Graham refused to adopt similar tactics. Rather, Graham endured the ordeal with dignity, secure in his belief of equal rights for all citizens.
George M. Michaels: In 1970, as a New York State Assemblyman, George M. Michaels voted his conscience in favor of the landmark state abortion reform bill. As the bill was about to be defeated, Michaels changed his vote from "no" to "yes" with only seconds remaining. His courage enabled the bill to pass by a single vote. As a result of his action, which was in opposition to the strongly held views of his constituents, his ten-year political career was ended. That November, Michaels was defeated in his race for re-election.
Nicholas C. Wasicsko: In 1987, as Mayor of Yonkers, New York, Nicholas C. Wasicsko stood up to significant public and political opposition in order to comply with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling ordering the City of Yonkers to desegregate public housing and schools. Only 28 years old, he demonstrated political courage by his leadership and unrelenting support for the rights of minorities and the poor throughout a passionate debate that divided the city. Despite calls for his resignation, and threats to his personal safety, he forged a path toward equality of opportunity and access to public housing in all parts of Yonkers. In 1988, he was defeated in his race for re-election.
The recipient of the first annual Profile in Courage Award in 1990 was former Congressman Carl Elliott Sr. from Jasper, Alabama. The four finalists were: Henry Bellmon, former Governor of Oklahoma and a U.S. Senator; Unita Blackwell, Mayor, Mayersville, Mississippi; LeRoy Collins, former Governor of Florida; and Morris K. Udall, U.S. Congressman, Arizona.
The chairman of the Profile in Courage Award Committee is Richard K. Donahue, president of NIKE, Inc., and former special assistant to President Kennedy. Members of the committee include: Jill Ker Conway, history scholar and former president of Smith College; T. Jefferson Coolidge, Jr., president of Thomas Jefferson Forum; John C. Culver, attorney and former U.S. Representative and Senator from Iowa; Charles U. Duly, director of the Kennedy Library and the Kennedy Library Foundation; Antonio. Hernandez, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund; Elaine Jones, deputy director and counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund; Caroline B, Kennedy, attorney and president of the Kennedy Library Foundation; Martin Luther King III, a Georgia county commissioner and board member of The Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change; Paul G. Kirk Jr., attorney and chairman of the Kennedy Library Foundation; Sumner M. Redstone, CEO of National Amusements and chairman of Viacom International; John Seigenthaler, chairman, publisher and CEO of The Tennessean (Nashville); and Theodore C. Sorensen, author, attorney, and former special counsel to President Kennedy.
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Shelley Sommer (617) 514-1662