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Eleanor Roosevelt | Article

Eleanor Roosevelt's "My Day"

Eleanor Roosevelt's "My Day" was a syndicated newspaper column published from 1935 to 1962. During those years, Eleanor wrote the column consistently six days a week, the only interruption being when her husband died, and even then she missed only four days. The column allowed Eleanor to reach millions of Americans with her views on social and political issues, current and historical events, and her private and public life. Dealing with subjects far out of the range of the conventional first lady's concerns, "My Day" is an outstanding example of the breadth of issues and activities which occupied Eleanor Roosevelt's life.

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First lady inspects war workers' homes. 1913. Courtesy: Library of Congress

DAR Resignation
WASHINGTON, FEBRUARY 27, 1939 - I am having a peaceful day. I drove my car a short distance out of the city this morning to pilot some friends of mine who are starting off for a vacation in Florida. I think this will be my only excursion out of the White House today, for I have plenty of work to do on an accumulation of mail, and I hope to get through in time to enjoy an evening of uninterrupted reading. I have been debating in my mind for some time, a question which I have had to debate with myself once or twice before in my life. Usually I have decided differently from the way in which I am deciding now. The question is, if you belong to an organization and disapprove of an action which is typical of a policy, should you resign or is it better to work for a changed point of view within the organization? In the past, when I was able to work actively in any organization to which I belonged, I have usually stayed until I had at least made a fight and had been defeated.

Even then, I have, as a rule, accepted my defeat and decided I was wrong or, perhaps, a little too far ahead of the thinking for the majority at that time. I have often found that the thing in which I was interested was done some years later. But in this case, I belong to an organization in which I can do no active work. They have taken an action which has been widely talked of in the press. To remain as a member implies approval of that action, and therefore I am resigning.

Invasion of Poland
HYDE PARK, SEPTEMBER 2, 1939 - At 5 o'clock this morning, our telephone rang and it was the President in Washington to tell me the sad news that Germany had invaded Poland and that her planes were bombing Polish cities. He told me that Hitler was about to address the Reichstag, so we turned on the radio and listened until 6 o'clock.

Curiously enough, I had received a letter on my return last evening from a German friend who roomed with me in school in England. In this letter she said that when hate was rampant in the world, it was easy to believe harm of any nation, that she knew all the nations believed things that were not true about Germany, did not understand her position, and therefore hated her. She begged that we try to see Germany's point of view and not to judge her harshly.

As I listened to Hitler's speech, this letter kept returning to my mind. How can you feel kindly toward a man who tells you that German minorities have been brutally treated, first in Czechoslovakia and then in Danzig, but that never can Germany be accused of being unfair to a minority? I have seen evidence with my own eyes of what this same man has done to people belonging to a minority group--not only Jews, but Christians, who have long been German citizens.

Can one help but question his integrity? His knowledge of history seems somewhat sketchy too, for, after all, Poland possessed Danzig many years prior to the time that it ever belonged to Germany. And how can you say that you do not intend to make war on women and children and then send planes to bomb cities?

No, I feel no bitterness against the German people. I am deeply sorry for them, as I am for the people of all other European nations facing this horrible crisis. But for the man who has taken this responsibility upon his shoulders I can feel little pity. It is hard to see how he can sleep at night and think of the people in many nations whom he may send to their deaths.

Race Riots
FRANKTOWN, NEV., JULY 14, 1943 - Some days ago, as the newspapers have recorded, I came to spend a few days in this beautiful valley. There are farms around us settled long ago by some hardy Swiss pioneers. Gurgling streams run down even now from the Mountains. Wildflowers bloom in the meadows, the pine trees and cottonwoods give you shade.

I have walked in the early mornings with the sun coming up, and again in the evening under the moon and watched the stars come out, and renewed my understanding of our pioneers who gave us this vast land of ours. They had no fear of new adventure, there was no pattern to follow in their lives, they accepted men as they proved themselves in the daily business of meeting emergencies.

Have we lost this spirit, do we fear to face the fact that we have new frontiers to conquer? I was sick at heart when I came here, over race riots which put us on a par with Nazism which we fight and make one tremble for what human beings may do when they no longer think but let themselves be dominated by their worst emotions. We are a mixed nation of many peoples and many religions, but most of us would accept the life of Christ as a pattern for our democratic way of life, and Christ taught love and never hate.

We cannot settle strikes by refusing to understand their causes; we cannot prepare for a peaceful world unless we give proof of self-restraint, of open mindedness, of courage to do right at home, even if it means changing our traditional thinking and, for some of us, a sacrifice of our material interests.

Jews in Europe
HYDE PARK, AUGUST 13, 1943 - I talked a little while yesterday morning with a representative from the group which is trying to formulate plans to save the Jewish people in Europe. Some people think of the Jewish people as a race. Others think of them purely as a religious group. But in Europe the hardships and persecution which they have had to endure for the past few years, have tended to bring them together in a group which identifies itself with every similar group, regardless whether it is religious or racial. The Jews are like all the other people of the world. There are able people among them, there are courageous people among them, there are people of extraordinary intellectual ability along many lines. There are people of extraordinary integrity and people of great beauty and great charm.

On the other hand, largely because of environment and economic conditions, there are people among them who cringe, who are dishonest, who try to take advantage of their neighbors, who are aggressive and unattractive. In other words, they are a cross-section of the human race, just as is every other nationality and every other religious group.

But good or bad, they have suffered in Europe as has no other group. The percentage killed among them in the past few years far exceeds the losses among any of the United Nations in the battles which have been fought throughout the war.

Many of them for generations considered Germany, Poland, Rumania and France their country and permanent home. It seems to me that it is in the part of common sense for the world as a whole to protest in its own interest against wholesale persecution, because none of us by ourselves would be strong enough to stand against a big enough group which decided to treat us in the same way. We may have our individual likes and dislikes, but this is a question which far transcends prejudices or inclinations.

It means the right of survival of human beings and their right to grow and improve. You and I may be hated by our neighbors, but if we know about it we try to change the things within us which brought it about. That is the way civilized people develop; murder and annihilation are never a satisfactory answer for the few, who escape grow up more bitter against their persecutors, and a day of reckoning always comes, which is what the story of Moses in the bulrushes teaches us.

I do not know what we can do to save the Jews in Europe and to find them homes, but I know that we will be the sufferers if we let great wrongs occur without exerting ourselves to correct them.

Navajo Indians
NEW YORK, OCTOBER 5, 1949 - One of the Soviet attacks on the democracies, particularly the United States, centers on our racial policies. In recent months the Russians have been particularly watching our attitude toward the native Indians of our country. So, the question of what we do about our Indians, important as it used to be for the sake of justice, is enhanced in importance now because it is part of the fight which we and other democracies must wage, day in and day out, in perfecting our governmental household so that it will not be vulnerable to attack by the Communists.

For that reason our country as a whole should understand what is going on at the present time in Congress in this connection. This particular little plot, shall I call it, has to do with the Navajo and Hopi. There are 11 Hopi pueblos, surrounded by Navajo country. The Navajo number about 65,000 and are the largest Indian tribe north of Mexico. The Hopi represent the most perfect flowering of pre-Columbian culture from the Rio Grande to the Arctic.

For purposes largely of publicity, because it was not really necessary, the Interior Department drafted a bill to authorize a rehabilitation program. This bill re-authorized already-authorized appropriations, and the interested public and the Indians gained an impression that the bill actually appropriated $90,000,000 for their needs. It did nothing of the kind. The hope was that it would create public interest and thus stir the appropriations committee in Congress to appropriate some very much needed money.

The bill was approved by voice votes in the House and the Senate and sent to President Truman. Even if it is signed by the President, funds must still be appropriated to put the bill into effect.

I certainly hope President Truman will veto this bill. One provision of it would place all Navajo and Hopi Indians under the state laws of Arizona, Utah, New Mexico and Colorado. Only a few minor exceptions in the matter of land law and property taxation were made; nothing was said of water rights; and without any exceptions the Navajo and the Hopi are placed under the jurisdiction of the state and local courts.

For a hundred years it has been the U.S. policy to allow Indians their own tribal, customary law. Under Section 9 of this new bill we will interfere with all the things that are important to them--their religion, their art, their self-governing arrangements. The very things that those who study Indian life consider most important, this bill would destroy.

There is a constant effort going on to transfer Indian property to whites, and one of the most successful ways in the past has been to disrupt the Indian social system. Between 1887 and 1933, through land allotments, we transferred 90 million acres of the best Indian land to whites. This was largely done by the method of persuading or compelling the individualization of tribal properties.

In 1934, under the Indian Reorganization Act, land allotments were stopped. Now there is still another bill up for consideration, called the Butler-D'Ewart Bill. This authorizes any Indian individual, if declared competent, to sell his equity regardless of the consent of the co-owners and, of course, strikes a body blow at all Indian corporate holdings. The intent is similar to the Indian Omnibus Bill of 1923 which Albert D. Fall nearly succeeded in getting enacted.

There are many other things that are being done in Congress at the present time and which the public knows little or nothing about.

Often the Indians themselves and the welfare groups that are trying to watch legislation for them know nothing about what is being done by the conferees in Congress.

Are we indifferent to the way our Indians are treated? If not, we had better let our representatives in Congress know that we do not like the present trend of legislation.

Brown vs. Board of Education
NEW YORK, MAY 20, 1954 - While I was on the "Tex and Jinx [television] Show" I was given the news of the unanimous Supreme Court decision that wiped out segregation in the schools. I am delighted this was a unanimous decision because I think it will be difficult for the states with segregated school systems to hold out against such a ruling.

If it were not for the fact that segregation in itself means inequality, the old rule of giving equal facilities might have gone on satisfying our sense of justice for a long time. It is very difficult, however, to ensure real equality under a segregated system, and the mere fact that you cannot move freely anywhere in your country and be as acceptable everywhere as your neighbor creates an inequality.

Southerners always bring up the question of marriage between the races, and I realize that that is the question of real concern to people. But it seems to me a very personal question which must be settled by family environment and by the development of the cultural and social patterns within a country. One can no longer lay down rules as to what individuals will do in any area of their lives in a world that is changing as fast as ours is changing today.

HOUSTON, TEX, MAY 24, 1957 - I am in Texas for two lectures on behalf of Bonds for Israel and arrived in Houston when a court hearing was being held on the speed for compliance with the Supreme Court's order on desegregation of schools.

This led the press to ask me a number of questions which, as a guest, I felt it was unfortunate for me to have to answer, particularly since I feel that my attitude and beliefs on this question have been so well known.

I was glad, however, to be able to express my strong feelings against violence in this issue anywhere in our country. And so I regret the decision made in Texas against the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, for it seems to take away the right to use legal action to enforce the desegregation decision and, in a way, makes it more difficult to prevent violence.

I hope that I am wrong and that we will see a continuation of the staunchness shown by the citizens in Montgomery, Ala., who under the leadership of the Rev. Martin Luther King have adhered to nonviolence.

But human beings have a breaking point if denied an outlet for their emotions and convictions. Then violence may seem to be the only answer, and that hurts us, both at home and abroad.

NEW YORK, DECEMBER 2, 1957 - People all over the world have been asked to sign a Declaration of Conscience to observe a day of protest against South Africa's apartheid policy. An international committee, composed of more than 150 world leaders from more than 43 nations, has designated Human Rights Day, December 10, as this worldwide day of protest. Particularly in India and in Africa, as well as in many other countries of the world, there will be demonstrations protesting the policy which is felt to be harmful to human relations the world over. Therefore it cannot be the domestic concern of one nation only, but of all nations.

More than 20 American communities have already said they would hold similar meetings. The Very Rev. James A. Pike is the U.S. national chairman and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. is the vice president of the committee in this country. The list of those who have signed the Declaration of Conscience is composed of the names of men all over the world who are known to have stood for equal rights for all human beings. It is true that there are peoples who are not as advanced as others, but as a rule this is due to lack of opportunity and can be corrected in one or two generations by education and environment.

When I was asked to sign this Declaration of Conscience, I at first hesitated. I felt that a country which needed to look at its own situation and acknowledge the basic rights of all its own citizens and work for the necessary changes which would bring every citizen in the United States the opportunity for complete development of his powers might better perhaps first sign a Declaration of Conscience covering his own country. I signed, however, because the situation here, bad as it is, is not quite the same as the situation in South Africa. The Negroes of our South have good leaders and though their education has been insufficient and their opportunities for advancement certainly not equal, still they have begun their upward climb. They are able to do much for themselves, and on the whole in this country there is a vast majority of people who are ready and willing to help them achieve equality of opportunity in every area of our complicated civilization.

Bitter as the feeling is at present in the South and in spite of the fact that communications between the races in many Southern states seem to have deteriorated, the Supreme Court decision and the feeling of the majority of the people of the nation will eventually, I am sure, bring about a solution to the present difficult situation. Someone suggested to me the other day that it might be started in the South by dividing boys' schools and girls' schools and putting all boys without discrimination into one school and all girls without discrimination into another, which would remove one of the chief objections of the Southerners. Whether this would help or not, I don't know. But I am confident that the pressure of the majority feeling in this nation will be so overwhelming for equal rights for all our citizens that sooner or later this problem must have a solution which satisfactorily safeguards these rights.

HYDE PARK, MARCH 26, 1960 - We have all been very much upset by the situation in South Africa. But equally upsetting has been the news from Alabama, where nine college students were expelled from school for their sit-down strike. A visitor came to tell me that when a sympathy strike was attempted on behalf of these students, the police set up gun posts around the college campus, tapped the telephone lines to the church where meetings were being held, and altogether created an atmosphere so much like South Africa that it is not comfortable for an American citizen to think about.

Fortunately, students in colleges in the North have realized that the students in the South will need help, so within hours $1,000 was expedited from campuses in the North to the beleaguered students in Alabama. I think we should organize to support these students in any way it is possible to do so.

As I have said before, I do not think boycotting lunch counters that are segregated in the North has much value except in letting off our own steam. But I do think that refusing to buy South African goods such as lobster tails, diamonds, caracul coats, etc., none of which we buy every day-and at the same time refusing to buy anything at all from chain stores that have segregation of any kind in our South will have a very salutary effect.

It is curious that the United States and South Africa have much the same problem. However, the degree, thank heavens, is different. But we must move forward here at home or we cannot protest with sincerity what goes on abroad.

Civil Rights Bill
NEW YORK, APRIL 11, 1960 - It is a good thing that the Senate has finally passed the civil rights bill after an eight-week fight, with 42 Democrats and 29 Republicans in favor. This is only the second civil rights legislation to pass the Senate since the Reconstruction Era. The first civil rights act of 1957 was also a voting rights measure. Already those who want a really fair bill giving the Negroes their full rights are denouncing this bill, and I am quite sure that it will continue to be denounced. But I hope that it is at least a step in the right direction.

All of us in the Democratic Party, I think, owe Senator Johnson a vote of thanks. He has risked repercussions among his Southern colleagues and among his own constituents. He has made it possible for the Democrats to claim equal, if not more, responsibility for the passage of the bill, which of course should never have had to be passed for the right to vote should be something which every citizen of this country enjoys without any question. Since it was necessary to pass the bill, however, we are fortunate to have had a parliamentary leader with the skill of Senator Johnson.

My one fear is of intimidation, which I feel sure will be tried to prevent Negro citizens in the South from registering and voting. I hope the Attorney General can find ways of protecting the registration and of preventing retaliation when the Negro citizens of the South exercise their constitutional right.

It is notable that the House of Commons in London unanimously approved the resolution deploring South Africa's racial policies and urging the British government to voice a strong feeling of disapproval at the forthcoming Commonwealth conference. It is difficult to imagine the kind of atmosphere that will exist at this conference--with Ghana, India and Great Britain itself, as well as other Commonwealth countries, protesting the policy of one of their members.

Things seem to go from bad to worse in South Africa, and nothing seems to move the people there but fear. When you have to arrest hundreds of Africans and formally ban two African political groups, you are not living in a safe community or one that has reached a point of understanding where reasonable living conditions can be arranged between the races. It is a very sad situation and one where the fundamental rights of human beings are so clearly involved that world public opinion is turning completely against South Africa.

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