Abba Schwartz1 Memorandum of Conversation with Eleanor Roosevelt, November 18, 1960 By Abba Schwartz
November 23, 1960
MEMORANDUM OF CONVERSATION WITH MRS. F. D. R. IN NEW YORK, NOVEMBER 18, 1960
I met with Mrs. Roosevelt on November 18 to discuss the many inquiries, letters and requests which she had received about Adlai and suggestions and advice which people wanted her to pass on to the President-elect.
We reviewed briefly the campaign trips we had taken together, and I brought to her attention the many letters of thanks which I have received for the arrangements I had made for her appearances, all of which credited Mrs. R. with having obtained many votes in the areas in which she spoke. She told me that she, too, had received similar letters but that she wondered whether she was, in fact, helpful. She was pleased when I told her about the rebroadcast of many of her speeches, particularly on the religious issue, in Pennsylvania and other states.
She told me that she has received a great deal of mail from Adlai supporters complaining that he was being "dumped";2 and that she had spoken to Mary Lasker and was afraid that Mary "wasn't very pleased", because "I was rather sharp with her." Mary complained that Adlai wouldn't be Secretary of State and "she told me I must do something about it." Mrs. R. told Mary Lasker: (1) that she was a bit "fed up" with people who didn't understand the burdens and problems which face Mr. Kennedy; (2) that she had told Jack Kennedy on several occasions that she felt Adlai was an excellent person in the field of foreign affairs; but (3) that it would not only be presumptuous on her part, but grossly improper, for her or anyone else to tell Jack Kennedy whom he should choose as his Secretary of State, since the President must take into account many factors in deciding the membership of his cabinet, such as (1) the question of personality and whether he can work closely with the particular individual concerned; (2) his concept of his own role in the field of foreign affairs; and (3) political problems particularly in relation to 1964.
Mrs. R. said that while Mary Lasker was probably "annoyed", the time had come when Adlai supporters, whoever they might be, must realize that the choice of Secretary of State as well as other positions must be the choice of Mr. Kennedy; and that any type of undue pressure or attempted influence on Mr. Kennedy would be a disservice to him and to the country. She went on to say that having been the wife of a President of the United States for many years perhaps she is better able to understand the burdens and pressures on Mr. Kennedy and, therefore, she may be more sensitive to avoid doing anything which would add to those burdens.
I told her that I was sure that Jack Kennedy would appreciate her understanding and viewpoint; but that I nonetheless felt that because of her experience, particularly in U.N.,3 she was uniquely qualified to pass on advice regarding the type of persons and perhaps particular individuals who might be considered to fill U.S. posts in U.N., without regard to whom Jack Kennedy might choose as the U. S. representative at U.N. She agreed that her six years in U.N. as a member of the U. S. delegation and as the U.S. Representative to the Human Rights Commission, together with her activities since that time on behalf of the American Association of U. N., might qualify her to speak with knowledge and understanding, but that she did not want to make any suggestions in any direct manner which might leave the impression with Mr. Kennedy that she was urging or promoting the candidacy of any individual for any post. He must be "left free, to make his choice and best judgment." She added, however, that she would be willing to pass on her thoughts and the many inquiries and suggestions which she is receiving, if I was willing to channel the suggestions and letters to the proper persons and bring whatever I consider of important to the President-elect's attention through Jim Landis' or any other channel.4
We then discussed specific areas of U.N. activities. Mrs. R. first mentioned the need to carefully choose the U.S. Representative to the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). She said that the present U.S. Representative, a young Republican, is a "nice boy but completely ineffective"; that the Economic and Social Council is one of the most important organs of U.N. today, since all questions of economic and technical assistance involving the underdeveloped areas come before it; that neither the principal U.S. representative, nor his deputy, had made full use of the opportunities in ECOSOC; and that she had no names to suggest at present but would hope that very careful consideration will be given to the naming of the U.S. representative and staff to ECOSOC.5
She then touched upon the Human Rights Commission, to which she had for six years served as the U.S. representative. She felt that her successor, Mary Lord,6 had done a good job in making friends with the countries represented on the Human Rights Commission, but that the ground had been cut from under her by Mr. Dulles who made clear at the outset that the Eisenhower Administration would not agree to signing a covenant on human rights. I asked her what she would think of the appointment to that post of a qualified Negro. She felt this desirable if a qualified Negro were available. I asked about Edith Sampson,7 of Chicago, who she felt would not be the best person since she was not someone who is accustomed "to doing her homework", and is too concerned about promoting herself. She said, however, that it might be worthwhile to look into the qualifications of Carl Rowan8 who is a top-notch reporter on the Minneapolis Tribune. She thought that he was an extremely well-educated gentleman,9 very highly regarded in the Negro community and in the newspaper world. She did not urge his appointment, but merely indicated that it might be worthwhile having someone check on him.
TMs, PPP, MBJFK
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1. This memo was written by Washington attorney and partner of James M. Landis (see n4 below), Abba Schwartz, a close friend of both ER and JFK. In 1956, at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Schwartz arranged a meeting between ER and JFK, hoping to enlist her support for Kennedy as Adlai Stevenson's running mate. ER, concerned that the senator had not opposed Joseph McCarthy and his red-baiting tactics energetically enough, refused to support him. [Herbert S. Parmet, Jack: The Struggles of John F. Kennedy (New York: The Dial Press, 1980), pp. 367-69.]
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2. Following JFK's nomination for president at the 1960 Democratic National Convention, Adlai Stevenson (as well as George Ball, Mary Lasker, Bill Blair, Page Field, ER, and many other prominent supporters) expected or hoped that Kennedy would appoint Stevenson secretary of state. They argued that his foreign policy experience would not only enhance Kennedy's image but would also galvanize liberal activists in New York and Illinois, two heavily contested states essential to a Kennedy victory. Despite ER's support for Stevenson's nomination for president, however, she surprised Kennedy by not pressing him to appoint Stevenson secretary of state. Instead, as they drank tea at Val-Kill, she told him she thought a president must choose his own Cabinet, but that it would be politically to his advantage to seek Stevenson's counsel during the campaign. Other of his supporters and major financial contributors continued to press, especially Lasker and Field, who were two of Stevenson's closest friends. On December 10, 1960, Kennedy announced that Dean Rusk would serve as secretary of state and a disappointed Stevenson accepted the position of U.S. ambassador to the UN. [Allida Black, Casting Her Own Shadow: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Shaping of Postwar Liberalism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996), pp. 189-191; John Bartlow Martin, Adlai Stevenson and the World (Garden City: New York, 1976), pp. 528-565.]
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3. In December 1945, Truman appointed ER to the first American Delegation to the United Nations. In 1949 he reappointed her to a five year term; however, when Eisenhower won the 1952 election, she followed custom and, despite her deep desire to continue the work, she submitted her resignation effective January 1953 so that he could appoint a Republican woman. In her six year tenure, she served on the important Committee Three (Humanitarian, Social and Cultural Affairs) where she dealt with issues concerning refugees and repatriation. She chaired the UN Commission on Human Rights from 1947 to 1951, when she relinquished her position saying she did not believe in permanent chairmen. She also chaired the subcommittee charged with drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. ER was also extremely active in non-governmental organizations such as Americans for Democratic Action, Bonds for Israel, and the NAACP. [Mary Ann Glendon, A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (New York: Random House, 2001), passim; Black, Casting Her Own Shadow, passim.]
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4. James M. Landis (1899-1964), a protégé of Felix Frankfurter, volunteered his legal expertise to FDR in the early days of the New Deal, helped draft the Securities and Exchange Act of 1934, and succeeded Joseph Kennedy as chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission. In 1942, he succeeded Fiorello LaGuardia as director of the Office of Civilian Defense, where he worked closely with ER. Joseph Kennedy put Landis on the family retainer after Truman fired him and Landis spent the rest of his life advising the Kennedy family, especially JFK, for whom he wrote speeches, planned campaign strategy, and advised on regulatory issues. In the Kennedy administration, Landis served as special counsel to the president. [American National Biography Online. Internet on-line. Available From http://www.anb.org.]
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5. The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the non-military counterpoint to the UN Security Council is a principle organ of the UN, "responsible for promoting higher standards of living, full employment, and economic and social progress; identifying solutions to international economic, social and health problems; facilitating international cultural and educational cooperation; and encouraging universal respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms." It also served as the parent committee for the UN Commission on Human Rights. The "young man" ER referenced was probably Neil Herman Jacoby, former dean of UCLA Graduate School of Business Administration, who served as the U.S. representative to ECOSOC from 1957 to 1979. ["Charter of the United Nations." United Nations Home Page. Internet on-line. Available From http://www.un.org/aboutun/charter/index.html.]
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6. Mary Lord, a prominent New York socialite who first met Eisenhower in 1944 when she chaired the Civilian Advisory Committee to Aid the Women's Army Corps (WAC), brought strong political and humanitarian experience to the UN. She had chaired the U.S. Committee for the United Nations Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and had served as president of both the National Health Council and the Council's Committee for World Health. A skilled politician, she helped Eisenhower prepare legislation that gave the WAC official status within the military and as co-chair of Citizens for Eisenhower she played a critical role in "rounding up the women's vote" for him in 1952. In 1953, Eisenhower appointed Lord to the first of her eight years as American delegate UN Human Rights Commission. She faced the difficult diplomatic task of promoting human rights while also defending the policies established by Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, who, soon after assuming office, declared that the America would not "become a party to any human rights treaty approved by the United Nations" and insisted that foreign aid and education were the most effective venues to promote and define human rights. [Richard Pearson, "Mary Lord Dies at 73, Served as U.N. Delegate," The Washington Post, 23 July 1978, Section B, p. 10; Paul Gordon Lauren, The Evolution of International Human Rights: Visions Seen (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998), pp. 247-248.]
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7. Edith Sampson (1901-1979), the daughter of a cleaning woman, the first woman to graduate from Loyola University School of Law (1927), and the first African American woman appointed to the United Nations (1950), was just as out-spoken in support of civil rights as she was critical of communism. In 1949, as part of the World Town Hall of Air lecture, she made headlines when she responded to a heckler by saying, "You ask, do we get fair treatment. My answer is no. Just the same, I'd rather be a Negro in America than a citizen of any other country." She was just as blunt as an alternate delegate to the UN, telling Soviet delegate Andrei Vishinsky, "we Negroes aren't interested in communism – we were slaves too long for that." When Eisenhower won, she returned to Chicago, where she practiced law, served as the city's corporate counsel, and, in 1962, began a sixteen year career as a circuit court judge. [Gloria V. Warren. "Edith Sampson," in Darlene Clark Hine, et al., eds., Black Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia. (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1994), pp. 1002-1003.]
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8. Carl Rowan (1925-2000), the passionate African American journalist who began his career covering southern civil rights conflicts for The Minneapolis Tribune, paid his way through Tennessee State College by working as a janitor in a tuberculosis hospital. While in Nashville the Navy selected him to be one its first fifteen African American commissioned officers. After completing his service, he used the G.I. Bill to attend Oberlin College and the University of Minnesota. Rowan's Tribune reports, especially his series on the struggle to implement the Brown decision, made him one of the most visible African American men in the country. ER first met Rowan when he wrote a three-part series on her political activities in September 1957 and soon she began to praise his work in "My Day". Kennedy, too, was impressed by Rowan, appointed him to a series of positions: deputy assistant secretary of state responsible for the integration of the state department, delegate to the United Nations during the Cuban missile crisis, and ambassador to Finland. In 1964, President Johnson made Rowan the highest ranking African American in his administration when he appointed him director of the United States Information Agency. Rowan left the government a year later and resumed his journalism career, becoming a syndicated columnist, television commentator, and author. [Elaine Sciolino, "Carl Rowan, Writer and Crusader, Dies at 75," The New York Times, 23 September 2000, p. 54.]
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9. Typographical error "gentlemen" corrected.
Recommended citation: Eleanor Roosevelt, John Kennedy, and the Election of 1960: A Project
of The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers, ed. by Allida Black, June Hopkins, John Sears, Christopher Alhambra, Mary Jo Binker, Christopher Brick, John S. Emrich, Eugenia Gusev, Kristen E. Gwinn, and Bryan D. Peery (Columbia, S.C.: Model Editions Partnership, 2003). Electronic version based
on unpublished letters. .