In 1951, the leaders of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) convened in Detroit, Michigan to bestow their highest honor on U.S. Senator James E. Murray from Montana. On the program to honor Murray were Irving Abramson, Phillip Murray, and Walter Reuther. Telegrams were read from those that could not attend in person; President Truman, Senator Hubert Humphrey, and a former colleague, Claude Pepper. There was also a congratulatory telegram from Detroit’s own Congressional representative, the Honorable John D. Dingell. The congressman wrote about Sen. Murray,
“there is none more deserving of this or any other high honor premised upon his service to humanity he has done more in the field of social advance than any other man of my knowledge.”
Was this how Dingell really felt? Or, were his feelings better expressed in a letter he wrote the selection committee just four days earlier? The earlier communication presented a much different viewpoint than his upbeat telegram, expressing frustration and claiming he deserved the award more than Murray.
Dingell’s first letter advised the CIO that he could not attend the dinner due to pressing work engagements, and then added that it would be inappropriate to attend,
“because it would reflect discredit upon me in the light of my service to the cause of labor in the initiations and support of social legislation. There has been no member of either house in the last 20 years, I dare say, who has taken a more prominent part in the establishment of labor’s rights by congressional action than has the writer.”
Dingell continued, writing that his presence “would cast a shadow of unworthiness in the presence of my good friend Senator Murray” and that it would “cast discredit upon me” due to the fact that the festivities were in his hometown and congressional district.
Dingell closed his letter, admonishing the selection committee:
“a closer scrutiny of the record will disclose the fact that I too have been in the line of fire and frequently led the fight in Committee on Ways and Means which constitutionally enjoys the right and privilege of initiating most important legislation. Your failure to recognize the singularly important services which I have rendered and the deservacy of co-equal rating does not in any way detract from the happiness which I experience in the recognition accorded my good friend, James Murray. I trust I have made my position clear to the National CIO Community Services Committee.”
Crystal Mr. Dingell. Crystal.