Monroe Sweetland, one of the original Western Democrats
On Sunday, Monroe Sweetland passed away. He was 96 years old.
Monroe spent a lifetime building the progressive movement in the West - from fighting for interned Japanese-Americans, to creating educational opportunities for Latinos, to shepherding the Democratic Party of Oregon throughout the entire second half of the 20th Century, and more...
I won't attempt a complete remembrance here at WD - as I've inadequately summarized his life over at BlueOregon already.
I'll just quote the speech that Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) made about him on the Senate floor in 2004:
Mr. REID. Mr. President, I would like to say a few words about a citizen of the great western part of America, Monroe Sweetland.
Monroe lives in Oregon, where he has enjoyed a wonderful life of public service. He has been a State Senator, a national leader of teachers, a journalist, and the publisher of a number of small newspapers.
He served in the Pacific with the Red Cross during World War II. After returning home he became the political director for the National Education Association in the western States.
He was a confidant of Eleanor Roosevelt and an ally of President Harry Truman.
His home in Milwaukie, OR, which was built in 1878, is a historic landmark. That isn't just because it is an old house, but also because of the many important people who visited him there.
The most famous visitor was President John Kennedy. In fact, I have been told that Monroe's wife Lillie was the person who suggested to JFK that a rocking chair would ease the pain in his back.
Others who visited Monroe and Lillie included Vice President Hubert Humphrey, Ambassador John Kenneth Gailbraith, and Senators Wayne Morse, ``Scoop'' Jackson and Estes Kefauver.
Monroe recently turned 94 years old. Although he has been legally blind for several years, he is fond of saying that he has lost his sight, but not his vision. As a former newsman, he still enjoys having the paper read to him by visitors.
He has been called the father of the modern Democratic Party in Oregon, and a founding father of Portland State University.
He is also responsible, more than any other person, for a very important piece of Federal legislation--the Bilingual Education Act of 1968.
That law opened the doors of education and opportunity to young people in the West and other parts of the country who are native speakers of Spanish.
Up until then, these students were often placed in classes where they couldn't understand what was going on, with disastrous results. But in the early 1960s a number of innovative programs began to spring up, including a successful one at Pueblo High School in Tucson.
In 1966, Monroe organized a symposium on the education of Spanish speaking children. Prominent educators and elected officials from Western States came together, and a consensus emerged that bilingual education was a realistic approach to the needs of Spanish speaking students.
U.S. Senator Ralph Yarborough of Texas credited Monroe for his decision to attend the symposium, which influenced him to sponsor the Bilingual Education Act of 1968.
Once the bill was introduced, Monroe Sweetland helped marshal support for it. He arranged witnesses for the hearings, and he persuaded the NEA to endorse it. Without his efforts, it would not have passed.
The Latino community in the United States has come a long way since 1968. But we are still fighting to provide better education opportunities for Latino students. As we continue to press onward, I hope we never forget the contributions of Monroe Sweetland and others who helped pass the Bilingual Education Act of 1968.
On a personal note, my long-time chief of staff Rey Martinez was nurtured in the ways of politics by Monroe. Rey would be the first to acknowledge Monroe's political acumen, and I would be the second. Oregon and our entire country are a better place because of this good man.
I'll close comments here, but feel free to post your thoughts over at BlueOregon, as his family and friends are looking for them there.
Kari Chisholm | September 13, 2006
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