FDR and the Modern Presidency: Leadership and Legacy

By Mark J. Rozell; William D. Pederson | Go to book overview

that "to undo our mistakes is always harder than not to create them originally--but we seldom have the foresight and therefore we have no choice but to correct our past mistakes."34

The horrors of war appalled Eleanor Roosevelt. But she was equally repulsed by the ease with which the majority of Americans succumbed to racial stereotyping and political complacency. And she regretted her compliance with policies promoting such behavior. Thus, when she no longer had to defer to the constraints of the White House, the first organizations she joined, such as the NAACP, were those dedicated to civil rights; the first speeches she gave addressed racial restrictions in housing, education, and employment; and the first commissions she chaired investigated white-onblack violence, lynching, and racially biased court proceedings. And she used her column, lecture tour, and political contacts to press the Truman administration to do what her husband's staff had refused to address. She told a New York Times reporter who questioned her activism, "For the sake of our Souls we should live up to the way of doing things that we believe is the right and civilized thing to do."35

There were limits to Eleanor Roosevelt's power within the White House. Her insistence that the administration address the problems that African Americans and Japanese Americans confronted alienated many of FDR's key aides. Jonathan Daniels later admitted that while she "did a lot of good," she really was a "hair shirt" to the administration and was always complicating policy by "bringing a hell of a lot of cats and dogs" into the discussion. Thus, from the early days of the war until FDR's death, Daniels and other aides worked to keep Eleanor away from the president. She recognized this ploy but refused to give ground. Thus, the changes in policy she was able to achieve--limited intercession for Odell Waller, African--American occupancy of the Sojourner Truth housing project, protection of Japanese- American soldiers--must be assessed in light of the limited influence and power she had within the administration. With that constraint, her diligence made her more than Daniels' hair shirt or Schlesinger's political warhorse. She was more like a Sherman tank.36


NOTES
1.
Interview with Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., June 24, 1994.
2.
Allida Black, Casting Her Own Shadow: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Shaping of Postwar Liberalism ( New York: Columbia University Press, 1996), 23-49, 88-96.
3.
Ralph J. Bunche, Memo on Interview with Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt at the White House, May 15, 1940," Myrdal Study, Senate Interview File, Ralph J.

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