4: Newspaper excerpt, first appearance of "God Bless America" in the press, "The New York Times," 1938.
This excerpt is from an article documenting the October 28th, 1938, meeting of the Conference of Jews and Christians at the Hotel Astor in New York City. Over 1,500 people attended to hear Jewish and Christian leaders call for the end of racist policies in Europe and for unity among Americans in the fight for tolerance and democratic ideals.
The Conference of Jews and Christians was co-chaired by Jewish, Protestant, and Catholic community leaders; at the meeting documented in this article, Dr. Arthur H. Compton, a Nobel Prize-winning scientist, took over the Protestant co-chairmanship from a deceased predecessor. This excerpt consists of a quotation from the speech Compton gave as he accepted the new position, as well as the final paragraph of the article, which is believed to be the first mention of “God Bless America” in print.
Suggested Activity: Read the excerpt aloud with students and describe the context of the article. Ask students why they think the organizers of this event chose to sing "God Bless America"? Does "God Bless America" have an inherent message? If so, what is it? If not, what was the message being attached to the song by the people singing it together at this meeting? Can you think of contemporary examples of a song becoming political or being sung in different political contexts?
Source: Anonymous, "Tolerance Pleas Led By Dr. Compton" (The New York Times, November 29, 1938), https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1938/11/29/98870892.html?a..., accessed February 8, 2019.