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

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SIMSBURY, Conn..—Many people in the country were happy when the two Negro students, who had applied for admission to the University of Georgia, were admitted. But the pressure brought to bear on the university's students evidently proved to be too great.

A riot resulted, and the Klu Klux Klan, who made it clear where they stood on the issue, appeared without their white robes and distributed rascist literature. Finally, the two Negro students were suspended from the university for their own safety.

It would seem wise for Negro students, when they are first admitted to a Southern university, to live off campus. Putting them in a dormitory, such as the one where the Georgia riot occurred, seems to put an extra strain on Southern sensibilities.

I had a deep emotional experience earlier this week when I went to see Millard Lampell's play "The Wall," which is based on a novel by John Hershey and stars George C. Scott and Marion Seldes. It is deeply moving, beautifully acted and produced.

All young people in particular should see this play so they will not forget what happened because of race prejudice in the highly educated and civilized center of Europe in the late '30s of this century.

In Warsaw, Poland, the Jews were forced to live in a walled ghetto. Innumerable restrictions followed, and they were required to wear those horrible Star of David arm bands.

In America, if your skin is black or even light brown, there is no demand that you wear an arm band. But there is the ghetto pattern that we know so well. And although there is no wall around our ghettos, they expand day by day and the restrictions grow, too, unless there is a concentrated effort by government and good citizens to prevent it.

Happily, to be sure, there is one difference: When racial restrictions are put into effect in this country, they are in opposition to the law of the land, and here and there we have enforceable state and city laws against them. This means that those who fight to wipe out this cancer on our civilization have the backing of the supreme law of the land, and this is a great difference, for in Europe the ghettos and discrimination very often were sanctioned by the government.

The struggle of minority people for equality of opportunity and recognition of their civil rights goes on in many areas of the world to this day, but the United States can ill afford to appear before the world as a nation that treats its own people with such contempt and heartlessness that we deprive them of equal opportunity in education and, therefore, equal opportunity to become of value to the nation in any but the most menial ways.

Those of us who worry about this situation comfort ourselves by saying, "Well, at least we are better than South Africa." But this is cold comfort, for we know sooner or later we must arrive at peaceful relations within our own country if we are ever to move towards peaceful relations in the world where two-thirds of the people are colored.

It is a curious thing that unless the hearts and the minds of men are changed, even the law—which must be the base of all reform—cannot assure individuals protection against suffering if they try to obtain rights to which they are entitled.

Twenty-odd years ago we learned that sharecroppers were being evicted from Arkansas cotton plantations for joining unions. Today, in the same way we hear that 700 sharecroppers are about to be evicted in Tennessee for attempting to register and vote in a national election.

If these cases are studied, we soon see that again injustice is being done because of color. Many complicated reasons for it exist in the background, but if there was not discrimination because of color, it would be far easier to work out a pattern for adjustments of living conditions of these sharecroppers, many of whom have lived for 40 or 50 years on the land from which they are now being evicted.

To obtain real justice is hard at all times, but when a pattern of discrimination exists, real justice is almost impossible.


(Copyright, 1961, by United Feature Syndicate, Inc.)

Names and Terms Mentioned or Referenced

  • Simsbury (Conn., United States) [ index ]

About this document

My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, January 13, 1961

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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Digital edition published 2008, 2017 by
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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.