My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt

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JOLIET, Ill. —Before I write anything else I want to pay a tribute, which I think is long overdue, to the New York City Police Department for the way in which it conducted itself in a most trying period last month when so many heads of state were in attendance at the United Nations General Assembly.

I know that many of them did not get their usual time off and that many of them worked a 12-hour day. Yet, by and large, I saw no one really discourteously treated and the policemen did their duty in guarding our foreign guests and in keeping our own tumultuous population in order with as little disturbance as possible.

Many of us plain citizens did suffer great inconvenience. The police kept cars and taxis moving and some of us who were accustomed to taking taxis in certain areas were unable to do so. And as citizens I don't think we were always as courteous and kind as we should have been, even realizing that we were suffering far less than the police.

So the least I can say now is that I appreciated what they did during this period of stress and that I commend both Police Commissioner Stephen Kennedy's organization and every individual policeman's sense of responsibility and the effort he made not to show the stress he was under.

I have been reading of the trouble suffered by some of the members of the New York City Police Department who were working on two jobs and the fear that these second jobs would interfere with their duties.

I am not in a position to investigate the rights and the wrongs of this situation, but one thing stands out clearly: New York City, which needs protection more than any other city, is not paying its policemen a living wage. This should not be.

I know all the city's difficulties about taxes and I am more conscious of the need for schools and better teachers' salaries than of anything else, but I think we who depend so much on the police should say a word in their favor. They are men with families even before they are policemen, and they want some of the things for their families that everybody else wants. If the way cannot be found whereby they can earn extra money, then it is clearly the duty of the citizens of New York to pay them adequate living wages.

The other day I said I wanted to draw your attention to another quotation, and this one was quoted from my husband. Here it is:

"The test is not whether we add to the abundance of those who have too much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little."

That is something which, as citizens, I think we should remember. My husband thought seriously at one time that it might be wise to put a ceiling on incomes just as we tried to put a floor under wages. I am not sure whether it is wise to put a ceiling on incomes, but I am quite sure it is wise to try to give everyone who works an adequate living wage.

The community as a whole will benefit by this. The more individuals are able to pay something in taxes, the more the whole community benefits. It is that concern for the individual well-being of the person with a small income that is characteristic of the Democratic party, and I think it should be encouraged.

I am appalled to find that a Georgia court has sentenced the Rev. Martin Luther King to serve four months in prison—a sentence that obviously stems from his participation in a sit-in demonstration.

Previously he was under a suspended sentence in a traffic case, which he felt was trumped up, and now he is sentenced for having violated this suspension because the probation had been based on non-violation of a state or Federal law for a year.

I hardly think that the judge in Atlanta has any idea of the effect this decision will have, not only on public opinion in the North but on world opinion. The people of the world will condemn—not Georgia, unfortunately—the United States for treating as a criminal a man who is looked upon with respect. Our judges seem to have little realization of the effect on the leadership of the U.S. that such decisions have.

Furthermore, keeping Dr. Willard Uphaus, at his age, in a prison in New England because he would not disclose the names of people whom he feared he might injure by so doing has already hurt us immeasurably in many parts of the world. It may not have as great an effect as the Georgia decision, however, because people are more confused as to the cause of Dr. Uphaus's arrest. But they will know clearly what has happened to Dr. King. The prestige of the U.S. will suffer.


(Copyright, 1960, by United Feature Syndicate, Inc.)

Names and Terms Mentioned or Referenced

  • Joliet (Ill., United States) [ index ]

About this document

My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, October 28, 1960

Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962
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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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Transcription created from a photocopy of a UFS wire copy of a My Day column instance archived at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library.