The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers, Digital Edition > My Day
My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt

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NEW YORK.—On last Sunday morning in two New York newspapers I read front-page stories about a group of men who took a Negro from a prison in Mississippi, where he was awaiting trial on an accusation of possible rape of a white woman, and beat him and removed him to parts unknown. He had been left unguarded, at least so the story was told, and the mob just walked in and took him out of his cell.

Up to the time I write this no one has been found who could be charged with the responsibility for the kind of cruelty for which we and our three allies at the end of World War II tried the makers of policy in Nazi Germany.

We have not reached the point as yet, thank God, when mass murders of people in gas chambers are going on, but when a mob does not wait for the action of the law, then you are no longer a law-abiding nation.

This occurrence in Mississippi was not something that could be shrugged off by the rest of the country by saying: "Well, this is unfortunate. But it did not happen in our community." Nor can it be explained that it happened in a particular area where people are so conditioned by their past that their emotions have led them to forget their obligation to be law-abiding citizens.

This was something about which we all have some responsibility. If we in other parts of the country do not express our feelings of shock at such conduct, then we are as guilty as the men who actually were in the kidnapping group.

It was only a few people who decided that they wished to eliminate a certain group of people in Germany, but it grew to such dimensions that 6,000,000 Jews died in the prison camps. When you begin to allow yourself to override the law you do not know where you will end. When you begin to allow yourself a kind of self-righteous prejudice against another race or another religion, you do not know what the end may be, and in the end you may suffer as did those who sowed the seeds of World War II by their policies.

This can be seen in the films of the Nuremberg trials. Here were the men who thought they would never suffer as they saw others suffer, and yet they were condemned to hanging. The mobs that lynch today may well be running before future retribution, or their children may be in the years to come.

There is nothing that concerns the people of only one section of our country. This unspeakable behavior in Mississippi concerns all of us. And if we feel strongly enough none of our citizens will dare to stand up against a real moral reaction to what happens to our own citizens who may be of another race and color but who are American citizens and entitled to equal justice before the law.

I am sick at heart and ashamed that I belong to a race that can commit the same kind of cruelty that made us shudder when it came to the fore in Nazi Germany. We shudder when we hear of it today in Communist Russia and in Communist China.

What has happened to us that we do not see in this kind of action the seeds that will bring destruction upon us all in the future?

E. R.

(Copyright, 1959, by United Feature Syndicate, Inc.)

Names and Terms Mentioned or Referenced

  • New York (N.Y., United States) [ index ]

About this document

My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, April 29, 1959

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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MEP edition publlished on June 30, 2008.

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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.