If You Ask Me by Eleanor Roosevelt

If You Ask Me
by Eleanor Roosevelt

July 1953

Mrs. Roosevelt has received so much mail recently concerning Communism, security and civil liberties that she is devoting her entire page this month to questions on this subject.—The Editors


You said recently that a Congressional investigation of schools and colleges won't accomplish anything except scare everybody to death. Does this mean you don't think any Communists are teaching in our schools? Please explain yourself.

I have no idea how many Communists may or may not be teaching in our schools and colleges, but I think the Congressional investigation is likely to be much less effective than a careful survey by the heads of school systems and colleges and universities themselves. They are certainly better fitted to do this kind of housecleaning than the members of the Un-American Activities Committee, and they are less likely to create mistrust and suspicion. When a teacher is called to testify before a Congressional committee nowadays it has a demoralizing effect on other faculty members and on students.


Why doesn't the President order the FBI to give all the information on suspected Communists in the government to the Senate Investigating Committee?

Probably because it would be unwise to do so. FBI investigations are made by agents who collect all kinds of information from all kinds of people—both reliable and unreliable. To be properly understood this must be screened and evaluated by trained people. If you turn a complete file over to a Senate Investigating Committee you are asking untrained people to take over a job which requires experts to do it properly. By exposing all this material to the public you are also, of course, revealing methods of the FBI to certain people who should not know anything about these methods.


One of my grandson's professors tells his classes that the Committee on Un-American Activities is ruining our reputation in the rest of the world. First, Mrs. Roosevelt, do you think there's any truth in this? Secondly, should a man be permitted to say such things in the classroom?

Yes, I think this professor's statement is absolutely correct. As for his right to make the statement, if it is proper for an individual to hold opinions it seems to me proper for him to state them in the classroom, as long as they are not directed against the welfare of the country and do not advocate the overthrow of the government by force.


I read recently that even after you knew the American Youth Congress was Communist-dominated you went right on entertaining them and being friendly with them. I know you're not a Communist, Mrs. Roosevelt, but would you mind telling me why you did a thing like that?

When the American Youth Congress voted to oppose the United States' stand against Hitler, after the Hitler-Stalin alliance, I wrote them that I could no longer work with a group that had obviously fallen under the spell of Communist leadership. I did contribute a small sum of money at that time for work being done for the sharecroppers in Missouri, but the American Youth Congress was not entertained in the White House again.

After Germany declared war on Russia and the Youth Congress decided to back the Allies they wrote me asking if I would work with them again. I told them no, pointing out that they had lied to me. When I had asked them, one after another, at a meeting in my sitting room in the White House, whether they were pro-Soviet or had any connections with organizations favorable to the Soviets, each one had assured me that he had not.

I still believe that the majority of the young people in the Youth Congress were not Communists, though they did fall under the spell of Communist leadership and were led to take certain stands that I do not think they later would have endorsed or upheld.


How would you feel about an investigation of Communists among the clergy?

I would feel it outrageous.


If you had your choice of a Republican Senator to take McCarthy's place as chairman of the Senate Investigating Committee, who would it be?

I would far prefer to see the Senate Investigating Committee done away with, and everything possible done to strengthen the FBI in its functions.


Did the late President Roosevelt ever express to you any suspicion or alarm about Communists in the State Department?

I don't remember my husband ever expressing suspicion about people in the State Department. If he were suspicious of anyone he would not have spoken to me but to Secretary Hull.

As for alarms, if my husband thought a situation was dangerous he immediately took the steps he considered necessary. He did not indulge in expressing alarms or fears.


In your opinion what group or groups in the U.S. are putting up the best fight against Communism?

Labor, the liberals and all those who understand that Communism is fed by misery and despair and are working to prevent that kind of misery and despair from spreading in the world.


If you were asked to testify publicly about a friend who had once been a member of the Communist party but was now a loyal American, and you knew such testimony would cost him his job, what would you do?

Ordinarily if I knew a man had once been a Communist I would not hesitate to say so—and to add that I knew he was now a loyal citizen. But if I were dealing with such a hysterical situation that a statement of this kind would cost this man his chance to earn a living, and if I knew of no overriding reason for giving such testimony, I would refuse to give it.

< Previous Column 1953 Next Column >

About this document

If You Ask Me, July 1953

Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962
[ ERPP bio | VIAF | WorldCat | DPLA | SNAC ]

McCall's, volume 80, July 1953

Digital edition created by The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project

Digital edition published 2014, 2016 by
The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project
The George Washington University
Old Main Building, Suite 406
1951 F Street, NW
Washington, DC