MARCH 25, 1962
HYDE PARK—One day last week I sat in my living room looking at one of the most interesting faces I had ever seen. My visitor was an elderly Korean, Mr. Ham Lok-hun. He was here studying education on a State Department invitation, but it was not schools and colleges he was primarily interested in seeing. He wanted to find out, by talking to people, what they really believed in, what made them do certain things, what were the springs within Americans from which their actions came.
This is no easy study, and I could not help wondering if he would succeed in finding the answer to his questions. I was fascinated to watch his face. When he smiled, the smile began in his eyes. They twinkled and the creases around them deepend and gradually the smile spread all over his face into a most enchanting expression—a mixture of gentleness, irony and amusement which included the ability to smile at himself. I am sure he was wondering whether his quest had really any possibility of solution. His hair was white, his beard came down over his Korean coat, and there was a serenity and gentleness about him which spoke of strength—a kind of fortitude which comes, I think, from having been through so much that you feel there is little left that can surprise you, but also you have gained confidence that there is little you cannot understand and endure.
I have never felt this so strongly in an American as I have in certain people from Asian countries. But only a few days earlier I had the same feeling of strength and gentleness and repose that could be maintained in the face of chaos when I was talking to a middle aged American Negro. He was from Mississippi, a minister, and I am sure he had earned in his own homeland not only the respect of his own Negro people but also the goodwill of white people of the area. The Rev. Smith had come to see me with a young white man who was his lawyer, also from Mississippi, but in his case the descendant of people who had stood high in the Confederacy and had been respected in their community.
Here were two Mississippians born and bred in communities deeply ingrained with the Southern tradition. One was black and he was trying to run for Congress, something unheard of since the days of the Civil War. Yet if his race was to have representation it certainly was eminently fair that he should be on the ballot and that his people should be allowed to qualify for voting if they complied with the legal requirements. We feel that every group in our country has the right to be represented in Congress, and here is a case where it is not a minority that is asking for representation. In the state of Mississippi, it is a majority asking that their interests and needs be considered.
I looked long at Rev. Smith and decided that there was no bitterness or desire for vengeance in him. The same spirit seemed to shine in this man's face that I was conscious of a few days later in my contact with the old Korean philosopher. But it required courage not only on the part of the minister himself but also from his wife and children, for they were under constant threat from anonymous telephone calls which warned of death to the Rev. Smith unless he gave up the idea of running for office.
All the economic pressures that could be brought to bear had already been exerted not only on the Rev. Smith but on the young white man who was his lawyer. One could easily imagine these two men looking at each other now and then and saying: "How long, O Lord, how long in this land of freedom and justice can such things as are happening to us continue to happen?" Yet they do happen day in and day out and the elected representatives from these states, Senators and Congressmen, condone their happening. They do not even move to prevent violence in their states, and this is a sorry spectacle that is not ignored in the rest of the world.
(Copyright, 1962, by United Feature Syndicate, Inc.)
Names and Terms Mentioned or Referenced
- [ index ] Hyde Park (Dutchess County, N.Y., United States)
About this document
My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, March 25, 1962
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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