May 1 is Law Day in the United States, as it has been since being proclaimed by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1958.
In Minneapolis, the first formal observance of Law Day was in 1964. On Law Day 1968, a remarkable ceremony took place at City Hall in downtown Minneapolis.
A large group of dignitaries, including at least 28 mayors of Hennepin County communities, in addition to members of the County Board and the Minneapolis City Council, gathered at City Hall to hear former Gov. Elmer L. Andersen speak about a Declaration of World Citizenship jointly adopted by Minneapolis and Hennepin County on March 5 of that year.
The United Nations flag was then raised alongside the U.S. flag on what later became the Hennepin County Government Center Plaza.
Gov. Andersen was rightly proud of his speech that day and in 2000 highlighted it in a chapter on world citizenship in his book, “I Trust to Be Believed.”
But 1968 was also a turbulent time in the United States and around the world. Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were assassinated; a riotous Democratic National Convention in Chicago doomed Hubert Humphrey’s presidential candidacy. The Soviet Union snuffed out any pretense to freedom in Czechoslovakia. Well more than 500,000 American military personnel were deployed in Vietnam. Our country was divided, and there was scant hope for peace.
But political leaders in Minneapolis and Hennepin County came together on May 1 to send a different message. The 1968 World Citizenship Declaration, likely the first in the United States, echoed hundreds then circulating worldwide.
It proclaimed “the sovereign right of our citizens to declare that their citizenship responsibilities extend beyond our city and nation. We hereby join with other concerned people of the world in a declaration that we share in this world responsibility and that our citizens are in this sense citizens of the world. We pledge our efforts as world citizens to the establishment of permanent peace based on just world law, and to the use of world resources in the service of man and not for his destruction.”
The United Nations flag was raised alongside the U.S. flag as a symbol of Americans being a part of the world family. There was bipartisan unity in their determination.
The resolution was unanimously endorsed by the County Board and City Council. Three years later, the state also proclaimed our world citizenship.
In his May 1 address in 1968, Andersen quoted Eisenhower: “We see as our goal not a superstate above nations, but a world community embracing them all, rooted in law and justice and enhancing the potentialities and common purposes of all peoples.”
A few Law Day observances continue, but seldom attract much public attention. Yet, we could all benefit this year by taking time to reflect on the importance placed on world citizenship by Minnesota leaders in 1968 and on observing Law Day nationwide.
Joseph E. Schwartzberg is Distinguished International Emeritus Professor at the University of Minnesota and president of the Minnesota chapter of GlobalSolutions.org.