The Charter That Started a Revolution

An excerpt from the Grand Award-winning speech for the 2021 Cicero Speechwriting Awards.

Written by speechwriter Bill Bryant, this speech—and all the others that won Cicero Speechwriting Awards in this profoundly momentous year—may be downloaded in These Vital Speeches: The Best of the 2021 Cicero Speechwriting Awards.


Imagine, if you will, a world without Howard … a world in which this charter—modest as it may have been—was never written, never signed, and never realized.

Without Howard, Thurgood Marshall—who was rejected by the University of Maryland’s law school because of the color of his skin—might never have litigated Brown vs. Board of Education, giving segregation greater opportunity to grow as the law of the land.

Without Howard, Dr. Charles Drew might never have conducted the research necessary to store blood in blood banks, making injury and trauma, war and natural disaster even more fatal. Without that research many of the 4.5 million American lives saved by blood transfusions each year might instead be lost.

Without Howard, Harry G. Robinson III, Dean Emeritus of the School of Architecture and Design, might never have developed the skills with which he, quite literally, helped build and shape this city, this country, this world.

Without Howard, Toni Morrison might not have picked up a pen and recreated the “great American novel,” depriving generations of female writers and writers of color the inspiration to pick up their own pens.

And without Howard, my soror, Zora Neal Hurston, who co-founded the Hilltop newspaper as a student here, might never have gone on to become the great renaissance woman she is and to put her stamp on the Harlem Renaissance.

These are just a few examples. Add those to the thousands more I could mention, and it’s impossible for me to conclude anything but this: With- out Howard, our nation’s—and our world’s—story would not be the same. Not as rich, not as dynamic, not as complete, and not as accomplished. …

When the founders of Howard signed that charter 153 years ago, they planted a simple seed. But one that would produce a bountiful harvest. We should be thankful for their foresight and courage.

We should also be thankful for what Howard has given each of us, as should our nation and our world. And we should also be eager to repay the debt. With our minds and with our continued contributions to every aspect of society. Because that is now what is expected of us.

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