The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers

Excerpt, My Day

NEW YORK. -- The National Conference on Constitutional Rights and American Freedom,1 organized at the suggestion of Sen. John F. Kennedy, held a two-day meeting in this city last week which was pronounced an outstanding success. Four hundred people from 42 states came to the meetings at their own expense to discuss and recommend to a possible future President what action should be taken on human rights. I would estimate that the colored attendance was about 60 percent as against 40 percent white.

The over-all chairman of the sessions was Sen. Hubert H. Humphrey of Minnesota, who took time out from a very active campaign because he considered this question of paramount importance to the country. Former Gov. Herbert H. Lehman presided over a panel, as did Gov. G. Mennen Williams of Michigan and Mr. Philleo Nash. Many of the people who knew quite well that they risked reprisals in coming to the conference told their stories of conditions as they actually are in their states on such fundamental human rights as the right to register and vote.

Vice-President Richard M. Nixon may be very worried about the morals of our children -- as he indicated in his reaction to a statement made by former President Truman recently -- but he does not seem overly concerned as to whether the government has done everything it could do so that everyone has equal rights or even the one very fundamental right which allows us to participate in our government.2 To be content with what is being done -- and not to examine whether something better can be done -- may lead to less trouble for the government, but it does not lead to more accomplishments in the area of civil liberties.

The final recommendations from this two-day meeting will be given to Senator Kennedy and, if he is elected, will form a basis on which to work out new plans. There was a recognition in this conference that legislative leadership and accomplishment were essential, but there was also recognition that executive leadership and accomplishment could be extremely important also and should never be ignored. Executive leadership may mean the difference between an effective job being done without using force as against using force to make people live up to the law of the land.

I hope the people from one end of our country to the other will become aware of the recommendations that came out of this conference and will insist on knowing what eventually is done as a result of the meeting.


     1. JFK convened a national conference on civil rights which met in Harlem October 11, 1960. The conference featured addresses by Eleanor Roosevelt, Adam Clayton Powell, and other noted civil rights leaders as well as workshops addressing discriminatory policies in the laws regulating employment, housing, public facilities, voting, and individual liberty. JFK ignored the advice of his campaign staff, who argued that he should send greetings rather than attend the gathering, and attended the conference to hear the presentation of its recommendations. After listening to its call for action, he promised executive action "on a bold and large scale." [Harris Wofford, Of Kennedys and Kings: Making Sense of the Sixties (New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1980), pp. 63-64.]
     2. The right to vote is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. The 15th Amendment (ratified 1870) extended that right to all male citizens regardless of race and the 19th Amendment (ratified 1920) gave women the right to vote. In 1964, the 24th Amendment ensured the right to vote by prohibiting the imposition of any tax on voters. In 1971, the 26th Amendment lowered the voting age from twenty-one to eighteen years of age. [U.S. Constitution, amend. 15, amend. 19, amend. 24, and amend. 26.]

Index to this Document: Civil rights: Hubert H. Humphrey and; JFK and; Herbert Lehman and; Phileo Nash and; NCCRAF and; Nixon and; Adam Clayton Powell and; ER and; G. Mennen Williams and; Humphrey, Hubert H.: civil rights and; NCCRAF and; ER on; Kennedy, John F.: civil rights and; NCCRAF and; Lehman, Herbert: civil rights and; NCCRAF and; My Day; Nash, Phileo: civil rights and; NCCRAF and; National Conference on Constitutional Rights and American Freedom (NCCRAF): Hubert H. Humphrey and; importance of; JFK's role in; Herbert Lehman and; Phileo Nash and; Adam Clayton Powell and; racial composition of; racial discrimination and; recommendations of; ER on; voting rights and; G. Mennen Williams and; Nixon, Richard: civil rights and; ER's criticism of; Truman criticized by; Powell, Adam Clayton: civil rights and; NCCRAF and; Racial discrimination: ER on; Roosevelt, Eleanor: on civil rights; on Hubert H. Humphrey; on Herbert Lehman; on Phileo Nash; NCCRAF and; Nixon, criticism of; on racial discrimination; on G. Mennen Williams; Truman, Harry S.: Nixon's criticism of; Voting rights: NCCRAF and; Williams, G. Mennen: civil rights and; NCCRAF and

Published by the Model Editions Partnership

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. .

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