Eleanor Roosevelt to Arthur Murray

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Eleanor Roosevelt to Arthur Murray

13 April 1946 [Hyde Park]

My dear Arthur:

I enjoyed your note very much.

Mr. Churchill thought it wise to make amends in his second speech, but the first one was very unwise.7 There are some things which should be taken for granted. Certainly the United Nations will have all of the problems that one could think of at the present time.

With every good wish, I am,

                                        Very cordially yours,

                                        Eleanor Roosevelt


1. Hamby, Man, 348; Harold B. Hinton, "Briton Speaks Out," NYT, 6 March 1946, 1.

2. MD, 7 March 1946. ER continued to criticize the speech in her remarks before the Women's Joint Congressional Committee (see Document 99) and in her March 27, 1946, column.

3. For Arthur Murray and ER's account of the evening in London with him, see n29 Document 84.

4. From December 31, 1945, to February 19, 1946, ER attended the first session of the United Nations General Assembly in London (January 10-February 15, 1946) and toured refugee camps in Germany (Meisler, 358; MD, 31 December 1945, and 16, 18, and 19 February 1946; James B. Reston, "Assembly of UNO Adjourns; Organization Survives Test," NYT, 15 February 1946, 1).

5. The British Labour government resisted demands from its left wing to repudiate Churchill's speech, but it tried to disassociate itself from his remarks by saying that he spoke as a private citizen. Undersecretary Hector McNeil, speaking on behalf of Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin, said that "the question of an Anglo-United States military alliance has not arisen" and that Britain intended to continue to pursue its foreign policy goals through the United Nations (Ramsden, 156, 168; Herbert L. Matthews, "Britain Is Shaken by Russia's Moves," NYT, 12 March 1946, 1).

6. In her London diary of January 27, ER does not say what Murray said to her, but does mention that she disagreed with him on one point: "I'm not so convinced that Great Britain and ourselves must line up to keep the Russians in hand. I think we must be fair and stand for what we believe is right and let them either or both, side with us." See Document 84.

7. Churchill's "Iron Curtain Speech" generated both strong support and a storm of criticism from Stalin and the British and American left. Ten days later, speaking in New York City, Churchill said, "I do not wish to withdraw or modify a single word," but took a more conciliatory stance. "It's my earnest desire that Russia should be safe and prosperous." He then admitted that he favored a cooperative relationship between Britain and the United States rather than a military alliance, conceded that the Russians did not currently want to go to war, recognized the great losses they suffered during the war, and praised them for all their contributions to defeating the Nazis. "There is deep and widespread sympathy throughout, if I may be permitted to use the expression, the English-speaking world for the people of Russia, and an absolute readiness to work with them on fair and even terms to repair the ruin of war in every country." However, he warned, "If the Soviet Government does not take advantage of this sentiment, if on the contrary they discourage it, or chill it, the responsibility will be entirely theirs" (Ramsden, 160-61; "Text of Speech by Churchill at Dinner Given in His Honor by City," NYT, 16 March 1946, 2).

Eleanor Roosevelt and the Columbia, Tennessee, Riot

What began as a conflict between two African Americans and a white radio repairman on the morning of February 25, 1946, erupted into a situation that the national press described as a "race riot" in the small town of Columbia, Tennessee. That morning, unsatisfied with the repair work performed by William Fleming, Gladys Stephenson took her son James, recently returned from overseas service in the navy, to demand a refund. Heated words turned into a physical conflict between Fleming and James Stephenson. When the sheriff arrived on the scene, he arrested the Stephensons. News of Stephenson's physical confrontation with Fleming attracted a large crowd of armed whites to the town square who demanded that the sheriff turn over James Stephenson. Unbeknownst to the crowd gathered in the square, the sheriff released the Stephensons after leaders of the black community posted bond for the mother and son.

As they watched the crowd of whites increase in size, members of the black community took up arms to protect themselves from what seemed an imminent raid on their section of town. Their fear was not ungrounded: whites in Columbia had, on two separate occasions in the last two decades, lynched African Americans. Meanwhile, "a big bunch" of fifty beer-drinking whites tried to kick in the side door of the jail to kidnap the Stephensons. After the sheriff repelled their attack, two other whites, armed with revolvers and a shotgun, took a gallon of gasoline to burn down the Bottom, the African American business district. As the two arsonists entered the alley, both were wounded by shots fired from nearby buildings. Recognizing that the situation had escalated to the point where he could no longer control the townspeople, the sheriff called in the governor, who ordered the Tennessee State Guard and Highway Patrol to intervene.

The Highway Patrol raided the Bottom early in the morning of February 26. At least one member of the black community opened fire during the initial attack of the patrolmen. The troopers responded by emptying 125 rounds of ammunition into the building from which the shot was fired. They then proceeded to storm through the Bottom, destroying black property and beating the community's men, who, frightened by the troopers' quickness to open fire, now offered little resistance. In all, the troopers arrested more than 100 African Americans and detained them in the Columbia jailhouse. Two days later, after one prisoner seized a weapon and took aim at an officer, troopers released several rounds, killing two men and seriously wounding another. These two deaths, the first casualties during the series of events in Columbia, attracted the attention of the national press.1

The press tended to accept the view that the African Americans of Columbia were to blame. Both the New York Times and Washington Post ran the Associated Press article that included only the testimony of whites involved. The AP reporter included the sheriff's interpretation of events, which "attributed the disturbance to high feeling engendered by an altercation yesterday in which a Negro woman and her son pushed a white radio repairman through a window and the subsequent wounding of four policemen."2

NAACP leaders, fearing both a recurrence of racial violence and racially skewed prosecution strategy, immediately began preparing for the defense of those African Americans whose fate an all-white grand jury would soon decide. On March 14, the NAACP invited several organizations to its New York office and established the National Committee for Justice for Columbia, Tennessee. Having worked with ER in similar circumstances and knowing of ER's relationship with those whom he had asked to join the committee, Walter White then wired ER asking if she would serve as its co-chair.3

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Eleanor Roosevelt to Arthur Murray

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Eleanor Roosevelt to Arthur Murray