Father Hesburgh

A common purpose

A common purpose, standing for civil rights // About

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Father Hesburgh and President Kennedy

President Kennedy, Fr. Hesburgh, and the Civil Rights Commission, 1961 // About

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Father Hesburgh visits with political activist Sargent Shriver, civil rights lawyer Howard Glickstein, and M. Carl Holman, a member of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission and director of the National Urban Coalition, at the March 1974 dedication of the Center for Civil Rights. The center, established within the Notre Dame Law School and home to Hesburgh's commission papers, is now the Center for Civil and Human Rights, working for justice and peace on a global scale.

Dedicating the Civil Rights Center, March 1974 // About

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Bold Leadership

Bold leadership in the cause of civil rights // About

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President Eisenhower congratulating the inaugural members of the Civil Rights Commission in January 1957.

The birth of the Civil Rights Commission, January 1958 // About

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Father Hesburgh visits with a woman during his fact-finding travels through the South with the U.S. Civil Rights Commission in 1962.

Father Hesburgh on civil rights fact-finding mission, 1962 // About

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  • A common purpose

  • Father Hesburgh and President Kennedy

  • Father Hesburgh visits with political activist Sargent Shriver

  • Bold Leadership

  • President Eisenhower congratulating the inaugural members of the Civil Rights Commission in January 1957.

  • Father Hesburgh visits with a woman during his fact-finding travels through the South with the U.S. Civil Rights Commission in 1962.

Champion of Civil Rights

This photograph now hangs in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery. It shows Father Hesburgh, Notre Dame's president, together with Martin Luther King Jr. during a 1964 civil rights rally at Chicago’s Soldier Field. That same year Father Hesburgh was awarded the Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, for his visionary work against elements of apartheid in America.

From the exhausting fact-finding missions to the final deliberations over wording, Father Hesburgh was acknowledged as the principal architect of the Civil Rights Act and served on the Civil Rights Commission from its inception in 1957 until 1972, when President Nixon replaced him after he criticized that administration’s civil rights record.

When President Barack Obama spoke at Notre Dame in 2009, he acknowledged the central role the Holy Cross priest, awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 1999, had played in this chapter of American history.