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In this address given by H.J. Blackham at the 1940 Annual Congress of the Ethical Union (now Humanists UK), tucked inside the Union’s minute book, Blackham emphasised the vital importance of not abandoning the Ethical movement in times of international conflict and hardship at home. Then the Chair of the Union’s Council, Blackham would go on to be the first Executive Director of the British Humanist Association, known as the ‘architect’ of modern humanism. The movement, he argued, grounded, guided, and informed the values of its members, and would have an important role to play in the post-war world. It was ‘a witness to universal ideals and is founded upon them; and in practical affairs, it gives its members their ground and bearings.’ Blackham continued:

It is not our business to take action on the efficient conduct of the war. It is our business to prepare our own minds and the public mind on what would be the tolerable conditions and adequate safeguards of a negotiated peace. It is our business to take account of the infringements of democratic procedures and civil liberties. It is our business to attempt to mitigate the deleterious moral effects of the war. It is our business to think ahead, and prepare for post-war reconstruction. It is our business to use the Movement for all it is worth in these matters. We must be ready to use it, in a critical case, to bring in the weight of the Rationalist Movement on the side of what is right; and even to rally the nation, to clarify the public conscience and nerve the national will.

Among those who kept the Ethical Union going throughout the war was the incomparable Nellie Freeman, a former schoolteacher and longtime Honorary Secretary. In the same year as Blackham gave this address, a note in the Union’s report expressed ‘deep gratitude to Miss Freeman for her constant and devoted work as Hon. Sec. during one of the most difficult years in the history of the Ethical Union.’ As well as keeping in touch with members, she had provided ‘encouragement and helpful advice to many individuals who had consulted her about personal problems’. When, in 1941, the Ethical Union’s offices were bombed, she swiftly found alternative premises, where – according to her obituary in the Ethical Record – ‘with barely half the accommodation the work of the Union was continued’. Blackham would later describe Freeman as ‘secretary-ruler’ of the Union and, following her death in 1943, conducted her funeral.

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