Streams

Happy Fourth of July From Mayor La Guardia

Number 20

Monday, July 04, 2011 - 09:00 AM

Mayor La Guardia's weekly Talk to the People is one of our favorite programs here in the New York Public Radio Archives. It was broadcast every Sunday from January 1942 until he left office in December 1945. The primary purpose of these broadcasts was to keep New Yorkers up-to-date on the city administration and services.

Often His Honor spoke of policies and changes as a result of World War II, so rationing and civil defense regulations were typical fare. However, in this July 4th edition from 1943, the Mayor urged listeners to sign a "Unity Pledge" against fear and discrimination. He called it "a constant reminder of our desire to keep peace, tranquility and happiness in our city."

 

"We the citizens of New York say it can't happen here, but we want to make sure. Moved by a deep sense of anguish and horror that in the midst of a war being fought for democracy there could be manifestations of racial hatred and violence against Americans of any race, color, or creed, we pledge:

  1. That we shall not be moved to mob action against any fellow-citizen or group of fellow-citizens.
  2. That we shall not listen to, nor report any rumors designed to divide us among ourselves.
  3. That we shall, at all times, live up to the spirit of our American citizenship and do what is in our power to forward mutual understanding and friendliness among all the various groups which make up our city and our America."

 

A few months later, during a speech opening the Citizens Emergency Conference for Interractial Unity, La Guardia referred to his commitment to the pledge and warned the audience, "the problem is not new or easy to solve. We must have no illusions. Rip-roaring speeches don't get you anywhere. There are those who seek to exploit the situation, those who want something for themselves or for a group."

He continued:

"Unless there is an understanding of the problem or a desire to solve it all over the country, the efforts of an understanding community are made so much more difficult, and we have suffered a great deal for just that reason. The uplift must be all over the country. Occasionally we receive a setback and when we do, it retards local efforts and hampers the welfare of Negroes all over the country.

"There are sections of the country where educational opportunities are lacking or woefully inadequate. This makes extremely difficult the task of communities that recognize the obligation of equal opportunities for schools and makes unfortunate people victims of exploitation and economic conditions." [1]

Following his speech, actress Jean Muir presented the Mayor with a "Unity Pledge" signed by 96,000 New Yorkers.

After his initial presentation of the "Unity Pledge" on July 4th, the Mayor continued with his talk, touching on food prices, conservation, employment of children, and pressure cookers. Yes, pressure cookers. 

In July, 1943, the home front war effort demanded sacrifices and economizing in every possible way. The Mayor was an advocate of using pressure cookers to save on fuel and help homemakers prepare canned foods for the winter. The rationing of staple goods and fuel, price regulations, nighttime blackout requirements, and clothing shortages were all frequent topics of these weekly WNYC broadcasts. Perhaps best known is his reading of the comics during the newspaper deliverymen's strike in July, 1945. But above all, the Mayor aimed to keep listeners informed about why the various restrictions were needed to win the war. As well, he knew it was critical that people remain optimistic about the Allies' progress during one of the country's darkest periods. In brief, The Talk to the People program provides us with a snapshot of the daily concerns of all Americans during World War II.

 

 [1] New York Times, September 26, 1943

 

Audio courtesy NYC Municipal Archives collection.

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