1946: January–May

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1946: January–May

Memorandum of Press Conference Held by Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt...182
London Diary...193
London Diary...194
London Diary...195
Minutes of Meeting of Committee 3 Group4...202
Memorandum of Press Conference...207
Eleanor Roosevelt's London Diary...213
Albert Hall Speech...216
Eleanor Roosevelt to Mrs. Lafayette A. Goldstone...219
Eleanor Roosevelt's London Diary...221
London Diary...221
A. Philip Randolph to Eleanor Roosevelt...228
Problem of Refugees: Speech Delivered by the Representative of the United States of America at the Fourth Meeting of the Third Committee5...230
Eleanor Roosevelt to Joseph Lash...234
Eleanor Roosevelt's London Diary...238
My Day...242
Andrei Vyshinsky's Speech before UN General Assembly 29th Plenary Session...244
Eleanor Roosevelt's Speech before UN General Assembly 30th Plenary Session...246
Eleanor Roosevelt to Joseph Lash...248
My Day...252
My Day...253
Speech before Women's Division of the United Jewish Appeal of Greater New York17...255
If You Ask Me [excerpt]...262
Memorandum for the President...264
Harry Truman to Eleanor Roosevelt...267
Address by Eleanor Roosevelt to the Women's Joint Congressional Committee...271
Arthur Murray to Eleanor Roosevelt...280
Eleanor Roosevelt to Arthur Murray...280
Walter White to Eleanor Roosevelt...283
Eleanor Roosevelt to Walter White...283
Mary McLeod Bethune to Eleanor Roosevelt...283
Walter White to Eleanor Roosevelt...284
Minutes of Meeting of National Committee for Defense of Columbia, Tennessee "Riot" Victims...286
"Mrs. Roosevelt Speaks"...290
Eleanor Roosevelt to Allen Smith...293
Eleanor Roosevelt to James McDonald...295
Commission on Human Rights of the Social and Economic Council Summary Record, Fourth Meeting [excerpt]...298
My Day...303
Carrie Chapman Catt to Eleanor Roosevelt...305
James Evans to Eleanor Roosevelt...309
Eleanor Roosevelt to James Evans...310
My Day...312
Eleanor Roosevelt to Harry Truman...313
Harry Truman to Eleanor Roosevelt...314
Fund-Raising Letter for National Committee for Justice in Columbia, Tennessee...318

"When will our consciences grow so tender that we will act to prevent human misery rather than avenge it?"

Eleanor Roosevelt joined her fellow delegates to the United Nations December 31, 1945, as they sailed to London for the first meeting of the General Assembly. When reporters traveling with the delegation asked what she wanted to accomplish, ER replied: "I have one main interest—that we do set up an organization that can function," adding that given "the kind of background I have, my interest is in things that contribute—which are the causes of war." She deflected speculation about a more political career. She wanted to do as much writing and organizing as she could and that she expected "to continue doing what I have done."1 As the excerpts from her London diary indicate, she kept as packed a schedule as she did in the White House, often beginning before breakfast and ending after midnight.

When her male colleagues chose ER to represent the United States on the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian, and Cultural Affairs), she, to the surprise of all involved, soon had to grapple directly with issues in which she had long taken a keen interest: refugees, relief and rehabilitation, and human rights. Ironically, refugees emerged as the most prominent issue before the General Assembly, as the Communist and non-Communist delegates clashed over the management of the displaced persons camps in Europe and plans for a new agency to take over the refugee functions of UNRRA. The Soviet Union and its allies contended that displaced persons should be required to return to their nations of origin, but the United States and other Western nations argued that refugees should have the right to resettle elsewhere if they chose to do so. ER first debated this issue with the Communist representatives in the Third Committee, then "fought it out" in the General Assembly with Andrei Vyshinsky, the Soviet delegate. As ER told Joe Lash, "when Mr. Dulles said goodbye to me this morning, he said 'I feel I must tell you that when you were appointed I thought it was terrible and now I think your work has been fine!' So—against the odds, the women inch forward but I'm rather old to be carrying on the fight!"2

ER's journey abroad also deepened her understanding of the plight of refugees. At the close of the General Assembly, she flew to occupied Germany to tour displaced persons camps for Jews, Poles, and people from the Baltic. She heard the stories of the survivors of the Nazi concentration camps and the pleas of Jewish survivors to emigrate to Palestine. While still there, she used her My Day column to try to communicate to her readers the impact the camps had on her. She described conditions with "an aching heart." She then asked, "When will our consciences grow so tender that we will act to prevent human misery rather than avenge it."3

ER's experience in London and Germany defined many of the challenges she would confront and discuss over the next two years: how to make the UN strong, how to deal with the Russians, how to arouse Americans to shoulder their international responsibilities, how to create effective agencies to meet the needs of displaced persons, how to resettle thousands of refugees scattered among dozens of displaced persons camps throughout Europe, and how to reach an international agreement on the principles of human rights to forestall future abuses. The documents in this section reflect these themes.

Convinced that America had been "spared for a purpose" from the destruction that other nations endured during the war, ER used all avenues at her disposal—columns, speeches, articles, private conversation, correspondence—to urge Americans recognize what they had at stake and assume both the responsibility and the financial cost of world leadership. Less that twenty-four hours after returning from Europe, ER addressed a United Jewish Appeal rally, telling the audience, in graphic detail, what she saw and heard in the camps. In a March 1 meeting with Truman, ER summarized the delegation's work and her visit to the camps. She then followed up with a detailed memo highlighting her major concerns. Two weeks later she returned to Washington to address the Women's Joint Congressional Committee, insisting Americans must learn that "you cannot live for yourselves alone. You depend on the rest of the world and the rest of the world depends on you."4

The correspondence in this section also addresses many of the themes that emerged in London and Germany. For example, she recounted her concerns over Argentina's admission to the UN to Joe Lash. She shared her dismay that the US-British alliance proposed by Winston Churchill in his March 5 "Iron Curtain Speech" would sharpen differences with the Soviet Union and weaken the UN with Arthur Murray. When the Anglo-American Commission of Inquiry, on which James McDonald served, recommended the admission of 100,000 refugees into Palestine, ER expressed her approval to McDonald and told him, "I think we should have the courage to tell the Arabs that we intend to protect Palestine."5 Later that spring, Carrie Chapman Catt wrote asking for ER's help with the proposed Subcommission on the Status of Women.

Documents in this section also reflect the human rights issues ER addressed at home, including horrific racial violence, discrimination in housing, fears of inter-racial marriage, workers' rights to organize, and labor's right to strike. Her correspondence with Walter White and others documents ER's response to the "racial pogrom" in Columbia, Tennessee and her work with the National Committee for Defense of Columbia, Tennessee Riot Victims. When Allen Smith wrote to report that "the white people in my part of Virginia" think "you have done the Negro far more harm than you have done good,"6 ER used her short retort to reframe the debate. Furthermore, as the material on the railroad strike illustrates, ER used a variety of venues to explain volatile political actions while carving out her own unique stance.

In March, ER accepted an assignment that enabled her to further develop the role of international human rights leader she assumed in London. After the conclusion of the General Assembly meeting in February, the UN Economic and Social Council appointed her to the "nuclear" commission on human rights and when the commission met for the first time in May 1946, its members unanimously elected ER chairman. The excerpt from the fourth meeting of the nuclear commission included in this section shows ER urging her colleagues to think of themselves as "representatives of the peoples of the world," not just their own governments and, when necessary, "to advocate something that it may be difficult for one's own government to carry through."7

1. See Document 74, Memorandum of Press Conference, 3 January 1946.

2. See Document 92, ER to Joseph Lash, 13 February 1946.

3. See Document 93, My Day, 16 February 1946.

4. See Document 99, Address by Eleanor Roosevelt to the Women's Joint Congressional Committee, 14 March 1946.

5. See Document 101, ER to Arthur Murray, 13 April 1946.

6. See header Document 108, ER to Allen Smith, 24 April 1946.

7. See Document 110, Commission on Human Rights of the Social and Economic Council Summary Record, Fourth Meeting [excerpt], 2 May 1946.

"I Can Say Just What I Want"

ER held her first press conference after her appointment to the American delegation to the United Nations aboard the London-bound Queen Elizabeth, the luxury sea liner turned troop ship carrying the delegation, its staff, and the reporters assigned to the first meeting of the UN General Assembly in London, England.1 The text below is the only extant coverage of her remarks. Although ER thought this transcript "incorrect," she retained it for her files and distributed it to friends at home. The questions she fielded reflect the continued interest in her political career, the system she developed to handle her mail, and the expectations she held for the General Assembly's first session. Of particular note is her off-the-record comment that "for the first time in my life I can say just what I want" and how "wonderful" it was "to feel free."

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1946: January–May

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1946: January–May