The Value of Diversity

Joel Springarn was born in 1875 to a well-to-do Jewish family. After receiving his Ph.D. from Columbia, he continued to teach there. His degree was in English, and he focused on comparative literature.

He advocated that literature should not be viewed from traditional categories but each literary work should be viewed for its own distinct contribution to literature irrespective of preassigned labels. This was perhaps his first experience with an appreciation of the value of diversity.

He was active in politics but was unsuccessful in two attempts at a run for the U.S. House of Representatives. He had a lifetime belief in the need for racial justice. He joined the NAACP in its early days and served as the chair of its board from 1913-1919. In 1914, he created an award to honor the achievement of an outstanding African American.

With the outbreak of World War I, he became an advocate for the training of African Americans to become military officers. Following the war, he continued to serve with the NAACP becoming its treasurer and its president.

His efforts to provide opportunities in the military for African Americans were a necessary first step in the integration of the military by President Harry Truman. Again, he was a visionary who saw the value of diversity.

Joel’s own career was one of diversity. He was a professor and author. He was also an entrepreneur and co-founder of one of our leading book publishing companies: Harcourt, Brave, and Company. He was also a devoted horticulturist and had the world’s largest collection of clematis.

Just imagine how one person can be an advocate for diversity in so many areas. He was a bold visionary who saw possibilities by breaking down constraining barriers. The name Joel Springarn may not be well known but we do know the names of Thurgood Marshall, Jackie Robinson, Martin Luther King Jr., Duke Ellington, Sammy Davis Jr., Hank Aaron, Alex Haley, Rosa Parks, Colin Powell, Maya Angelo, Oprah Winfrey, and Quincy Jones. All of these persons have received the Springarn Medal named in honor of Joel Springarn and endowed by him to honor outstanding African Americans.

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“Never a day passes that I do myself the honor to commune with some of nature’s varied forms.” – George Washington Carver

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