Eleanor and Anna Roosevelt Radio Program [ER's segment]

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Eleanor and Anna Roosevelt Radio Program [ER's segment]

8 November 1948

Mrs. Roosevelt: There will probably be several interesting results of President Truman's reelection, and the one I would most like to see is the permanent ousting of the Southern Dixiecrats from the Democratic party.11

During the Democratic convention, when it seemed that President Truman had almost no chance of being elected, these reactionary Southerners broke with the Democratic party over the President's Civil Rights program and formed the Dixiecrats. They won four Southern states and 38 electoral votes which might well have defeated Mr. Truman if the voting had been closer.12

Now, when to their utter amazement Mr. Truman has been reelected over their strenuous opposition, they are anxious to get back into the Democratic party. Mr. Thurmond, the Dixiecrat candidate for President, says that he and his fellow southerners are still Democrats and that their revolt was just "a family quarrel."

The Southern Dixiecrats are still opposed to the Civil Rights bill and the rest of President Truman's progressive policies which the voters just put their stamp of approval on. However, they have a very good reason to come back now all slicked up as good Democrats and with their explanation that it was "all just a family spat."

The reason is that since the Democrats have now won a majority in both the House and Senate, several of these Southerners are entitled to important committee chairmanships under the seniority system, IF they are considered as Democrats. Among those who would lose committee chairmanships if they are NOT considered Democrats are John Rankin of Mississippi, one of the worst Southern reactionaries,13 and Senator Olin Johnston of South Carolina who snubbed President Truman, campaigned against him, and then was one of the first on the train at Washington to congratulate Mr. Truman after his election.14

As I understand it, the Democratic members of the new Congress will vote on whether Mr. Rankin, Senator Johnston and the rest of the Southerners who walked out and formed the Dixiecrats are now Democrats or Dixiecrats.15

It is inconceivable to me how these Southerners who walked out of the Democratic convention, formed their own party, won four states and did their best to beat the Democratic President, can now walk back into the party, explain that "boys will be boys" and then take up several committee chairmanships won by the uphill fight of loyal and progressive democrats. I think the people who voted for President Truman did so out of approval for his Civil Rights bill and other progressive measures, and would not want to see him hampered by having important committee chairmanships in the hands of the very legislators who most bitterly opposed the President.

I have felt for a long time that there are really only two major political factions in the United States—Liberals and Conservatives—and that it would be much more logical if our political parties were divided along those lines. The Democratic party has seemed to me to be predominantly the party of liberalism, although through the sometimes curious evolution of politics it embraced Southerners who number among their ranks some of the most reactionary men in public life. Similarly the Republican party is traditionally the party of conservatism, although it embraces some fine liberals.16

Now, for the first time in history the Democrats have won an election without the "Solid South." Some of the more reactionary Southerners have chosen to break with the Democratic party and I think it would be a good idea to make the break final. Possibly the southern conservatives would be welcomed into the Republican party, with whom they have voted so often in recent years. My husband tried to rid the Democratic party of some of the most reactionary Southerners some years ago when he undertook to defeat several legislators whom he felt were sabotaging the liberal measures he felt he had been given a mandate to put into effect. He failed in this, but now that the Dixiecrats have chosen of their own accord to walk out on their party during an election I think the Democrats should insist that they stay out.17


1. "Mrs. Roosevelt Backs Truman and Party," NYT, 1 November 1948, 17.

2. Edward Flynn to ER, 1 November 1948, EJFP, FDRL.

3. The final popular vote was apportioned as follows: Truman (Democrat), 49.5 percent; Thomas E. Dewey (Republican), 45.1 percent; Henry Wallace (Progressive Party), 2.4 percent; and Strom Thurmond (States' Rights), 2.4 percent; HSTE.

4. ER to Harry Truman, 3 November 1948, and Harry Truman to ER, 6 November 1948, HSTPF, HSTL.

5. ER to Lash, 5 November 1948, JPLP, FDRL.

6. In his letter of November 1, Flynn quoted the president as saying privately, "Win, lose or draw, we must keep the Democratic Party the liberal party of the country." In her letter to Lash, ER further elaborated on her fears that Truman and other Democrats might forget this commitment, writing, "I do feel however that those among us who want the Democratic party to stay a progressive party will have to try to remind the members of Congress that they were elected on that basis and owe labor groups and liberals some real consideration" (Edward Flynn to ER, 1 November 1948, EJFP, FDRL; ER to Joe Lash, 5 November 1948, JPLP, FDRL).

7. The Democratic Party did not purge the Dixiecrats from its ranks and those Democratic governors, who campaigned for the Dixiecrat ticket, remained in their state parties and worked to shore up coalitions within their state party apparatuses sympathetic to their positions. Strom Thurmond, the States' Rights Party presidential nominee, would remain a Democrat until September 16, 1964, when he announced over a statewide radio broadcast that he had become a "Goldwater Republican." He told his constituents that "if the American people permit the Democratic Party to return to power, freedom in this country as we have known it is doomed." Angry at the party platform and Lyndon Johnson's commitment to enforcing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Thurmond declared that the party had "turned its back on the spiritual values and political principles which have brought us the blessings of freedom under God and a bountiful prosperity." Moreover, it had "forsaken the people to become the Party of minority groups, power-hungry union leaders, political bosses and big businessmen looking for Government contracts and favors" (Lewis Lord, "Thurmond Switches to Goldwater Party," WP, 17 September 1964, A1).

8. Helen Margaret Jones Flynn, whom Flynn married in 1927 (ANB).

9. ER agreed to do the show in order to help her daughter Anna out of a large accumulated debt resulting from the failure of Anna's newspaper in Arizona and her separation from her husband, John Boettiger. The show ran as a fifteen-minute, daytime program, three to five days a week, on 200 stations until it went off the air on August 31, 1949, after failing to secure a commercial sponsor. During the show's thirty-nine week run, guests ranged from politicians, notably George C. Marshall and Ralph Bunche, to entertainment figures, such as the actress Tallulah Bankhead (Asbell, 240, 242, 257; Beasely, Eleanor Roosevelt, 172).

10. The following excerpt contains the complete transcript of the statement ER recorded for the first program.

11. ER's statement about the Dixiecrats' membership in the Democratic Party made headlines around the country when the Associated Press sent out a wire story on Eleanor and Anna, quoting extensively from ER's part of the broadcast. The Richmond Times-Dispatch headlined the AP article: "Mrs. Roosevelt Asks Purge of 'Revolters.'" In the weeks leading up to the election, ER criticized the Dixiecrats in My Day, calling their filibustering of the anti-poll-tax legislation "an insult not only to the intelligence of the Senate but to the people of the United States" (MD, 5 August 1948). See also, MD, 4 and 10 September, and 2 November 1948. For background on the Dixiecrats, see n7 above.

12. For the Democratic National Convention of 1948, see n3 Document 361. The Dixiecrats won a total of 39 electoral votes in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and South Carolina.

13. John Rankin (1882–1960), a Democratic congressman from Mississippi from 1920 to 1950, chaired the Committee on World War Veterans' Legislation from 1931 to 1946. On the opening day of Congress in 1945, Rankin's legislative maneuvering created a permanent House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC). HUAC provided him with an anti-Communist platform, which he used until he left Congress. Rankin championed rural electrification, TVA, trustbusting, and the GI Bill. He opposed civil rights legislation (including abolition of poll taxes and any law that would weaken segregation), proposed laws to prevent inter-racial marriage, supported Citizens Councils, and vehemently opposed fair employment practices legislation. His 1960 New York Timesobituary concludes: "When the Communist issue came to the fore in American politics, the Mississippi legislator seized it as a vehicle for his recurrent anti-Semitism and attacks on Negroes and labor" ("John Rankin Dies," NYT, 27 November 1960, 86; Goodman, 167-69, 173-75; Belfrage, 30, 56; Carr, 19-23, 223; Frederickson, 33-34). On HUAC, see n1 and header Document 144; n11 Document 184, n3 Document 223, n3 Document 262, and Document 271.

14. Olin Johnston (1896–1965) served as governor of South Carolina from 1935 to 1939 and again from 1943 until elected to the US Senate in 1944. As a senator, Johnston often voted with the Northern liberals on domestic legislation, except on the issue of civil rights. He supported labor legislation and, unlike most of his Southern colleagues, opposed the Taft-Hartley Act. An avowed segregationist, Johnston wanted to "keep white Democratic primaries pure" as well as "maintain white supremacy," and worked to block President Truman's civil rights initiatives (Simon, 251-52; "Senator Olin D. Johnston Dead; South Carolina Democrat, 68," NYT, 19 April 1965, 29).

15. Rankin remained a Democrat and became chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs in 1949 following the Democrats' recapture of the House and Senate. ER is partially mistaken about Sen. Johnston. Johnston "snubbed" Truman by pointedly boycotting the Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner at the Statler Hotel in Washington, D.C., on February 19, 1948, at which the president was the guest of honor. When the Democratic National Committee chairman, Senator J. Howard McGrath, would not assure Johnston's wife that she would not be seated "next to a Negro," Johnston and a group of his friends cancelled their attendance. Johnston paid a professional boxer to guard their table, located in front of the podium from which Truman spoke, to ensure that it would remain empty. Although Johnston's strong objection to the civil rights plank the Democrats adopted at their 1948 national convention led him to support Eisenhower over Truman for the party's presidential nomination, contrary to what ER says, he never left the party for the Dixiecrats. Once Truman won the nomination, in fact, he campaigned for his election. In 1949, he became chairman of the Post Office and Civil Service Committee (Frederickson, 80-81; "Senator Olin D. Johnston Dead; South Carolina Democrat, 68" NYT, 19 April 1965, 29; "Truman Charts Campaign of Progressive Liberalism," NYT, 20 February 1948, 1).

16. Liberal Republicans at the time included presidential candidate Harold Stassen of Minnesota, Senators Wayne Morse of Oregon and Irving Ives of New York, Representatives Margaret Chase Smith of Maine and Jacob Javits of New York (Gould, 314; CDAB; NAWCTC; Savage, 107, 119).

17. FDR tried to carry out a realignment of the Democratic Party during the 1938 mid-term elections by working to defeat Democratic senators and congressmen who, despite his decisive 1936 election victory, had voted with the Republicans to block his more liberal New Deal initiatives. The "Purge" of 1938 proved largely ineffective when Roosevelt's campaigning against conservative Democrats during the primaries did not produce the desired results, especially in the South where most of the candidates he stumped for lost. After the election the split between liberals and conservatives in the Democratic Party became more pronounced and the states' rights segregationists began to coalesce as a political faction (FDRE).

On Being Called a Communist

While ER struggled in Paris to reach agreement with Soviet and other Communist delegates over the wording of the declaration of human rights, she found herself castigated in the Russian press for making her criticisms public. As the Soviets stepped up their criticism of her, voters in Pennsylvania and Illinois rejected Representatives John McDowell (R-PA) and Richard B. Vail's (R-IL) bids for reelection. Both candidates had used their positions on the House Un-American Activities Committee as a cornerstone of their campaigns, only to have the voters defeat them in great part because of the zealousness with which they participated in committee activity. Moreover, charges of corruption tailed McDowell and HUAC chair J. Parnell Thomas.1 The juxtaposition of these events inspired the following reflections on the Eleanor and Anna radio show.

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Eleanor and Anna Roosevelt Radio Program [ER's segment]

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