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My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt

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MANILA, Philippines, Sept. 2—When one is far away from the United States certain things which happen there and pass almost unnoticed by the average citizen at home take on an entirely different color, when seen through the eyes of the people of another country.

A few days ago there appeared in the paper a story of a manager in an airport restaurant in Houston, Texas, who had mistaken the Indian ambassador and his companion for Negroes and had requested them to move from the regular restaurant to a small room reserved for Negroes.

The Indian people vary in color from light brown to dark brown. Our American Negroes vary in color from very light brown to black. And where segregation is practiced incidents of this kind are apt to happen.

Every person I have met almost since this came out in the papers has spoken to me of it with indignation, surprise and horror. How could an ambassador be treated in this way? A better question is: How could any human being be treated in this way?

The restaurant manager in Texas was probably carrying out a rule made to cover citizens of the U.S. who happen not to be white. Have we a right anywhere in the United States to assume that the accident of color changes our rights as citizens?

Many of us have looked charitably on the difficulties of the people in our country who have grown up for generations thinking of colored people as slaves and, therefore, inferior, but it is a long time since President Lincoln declared that we have no slaves in the U.S. and only citizens of our country. Whether the color is yellow or white or brown, the rights are equal and the mere fact of citizenship gives us these rights. I have had attempts to justify discrimination by quotations from the Bible but such defense hardly coincides with much of the teaching in the New Testament and it is hardly a way to increase friendship for our country in the great Asian and African continents.

When will we learn to see ourselves as others see us and not be content with the mere words that we have freedom and equality and consideration for the dignity of man in the United States of America. Our Secretary of State John Foster Dulles at once apologized to India, but he cannot undo what one man in Texas did.

A doctor here said to me, "I was the doctor in charge of a missionary hospital in China and yet my color kept me out of the white man's garden." Each man is reminded by an incident like this of his personal grievance.

Mr. Maxwell, who is chief of police in Hong Kong, told me some interesting things the other day. They are very proud there of their police force. The city has the same number of policemen, in ratio to its population, as the city of St. Louis, Mo., has.

In the United States we think our standard of living is fairly adequate, even for the poor. In the city of Hong Kong there are many people living under very overcrowded conditions and there is a large influx of refugees from Communist China. These people arrive penniless and practically without any possessions. There is anger and dissension in certain cases and yet the police have been able to keep down thefts so that the record shows St. Louis has about three times as many thefts as Hong Kong.

The great difficulty, of course, is the control of narcotics because opium or morphine can be done up in such little packages. Mr. Maxwell said, "My men find it difficult to find 200,000 little packages which have perhaps been smuggled in originally as one 20 pound package."

A remarkable job is being done by the Hong Kong police, and their morale must be very high.

We left Hong Kong on Thursday afternoon for Manila. Fortunately, we seem to enjoy good weather and have not yet run into any typhoons.


Names and Terms Mentioned or Referenced

  • Manila (Philippines) [ index ]
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About this document

My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, September 2, 1955

Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962
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Nevada State Journal, , SEPTEMBER 3, 1955

Digital edition created by The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project The George Washington University 312 Academic Building 2100 Foxhall Road, NW Washington, DC 20007

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Digital edition published 2008, 2017 by
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Available under licence from the Estate of Anna Eleanor Roosevelt.

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Transcription created from a published My Day column instance. Nevada State Journal, SEPTEMBER 3, 1955, page 4