A. Philip Randolph to Eleanor Roosevelt

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A. Philip Randolph to Eleanor Roosevelt

28 January 1946 [New York City]

Dear Mrs. Roosevelt:

I am extremely grateful to know of your acceptance of Honorary Chairman for the FEPC rally being held at Madison Square Garden on February 26th.3 The filibuster now going on in Congress makes public awareness urgent and your attendance at the rally imperative.4 More important still would you consent to speak at the rally. Your message is invaluable to the cause.

Would it be possible for you to mention your Chairmanship in your Column?5

                                    Very sincerely yours,

                                    A. Philip Randolph


1. Asa Philip Randolph (1889–1979), labor organizer and president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters from 1925 to 1968. In early 1940, he assumed a leading role in organizing a coalition demanding both the government and private industries end discriminatory hiring practices in the defense industry. Under pressure from Randolph's March on Washington movement, FDR created a temporary Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC) by executive order in June 1941; Randolph continued to lobby for a permanent FEPC as co-chairman of the National Council for a Permanent FEPC (FDRE; HSTE).

2. J. Anderson, 241-61; A. Black, Casting, 93, 94, 122.

3. For a discussion of the Fair Employment Practices Committee, see n2 Document 12. On February 28, ER left a fund-raising dinner for the Union for Democratic Action to address the crowd of more than 15,000 who rallied at Madison Square Garden in support of a permanent Fair Employment Practices Act. Although no formal text of her remarks exists, the Times reported: "Mrs. Roosevelt said that at the recent UNO sessions, representatives of fifty-one nations had pledged themselves to a program of equality without discrimination, and declared that we could not exercise the leadership in the world that is ours by right and obligation if we failed to eliminate discrimination at home" ("Fight by Truman for FEPC Pledged," NYT, 1 March 1946, 23).

4. Truman supported statutory continuation of the committee beyond the beginning of 1946, but southern Democrats in Congress succeeded in blocking FEPC legislation through the first half of 1946. At the opening of the debate on legislation to renew FEPC funding, Senator John Overton of Louisiana (1875–1948) began a filibuster that southern Democrats sustained for 23 days, to delay voting on the bill. New York City Mayor William O'Dwyer (1890–1964) had designated February 28 as "Fair Employment Practice Committee Day" and the rally held at Madison Square Garden was used to attract public support for the FEPC bill stalled in Congress. Several other fair employment committees were established by executive order [after 1941], but they only received full legislative legitimacy in 1964 through the Civil Rights Act (Hamby, Man, 365; HSTE; C. P. Trussell, "Senate Is Thrown into Furor as FEPC Bill Is Called Up," NYT, 18 January 1946, 1; "Filibuster on FEPC Balks the Senate," NYT, 19 January 1946, 3; "Proclaims FEPC Day," NYT, 27 January 1946, 9; "Closure Defeated, FEPC Sidetracked; Filibuster Ended," NYT, 10 February 1946, 1; "Fight by Truman for FEPC Pledged," NYT, 1 March 1946, 23; "FEPC Bill Balked Again in House," NYT, 23 May 1946, 15).

5. Although ER used My Day to support the FEPC, she did not mention the rally in her column.

Opposing Refugee Repatriation

One of the most contentious issues debated at the first meeting of the UN General Assembly involved the question of what to do with displaced persons and other individuals who fled their countries after the war and refused repatriation for fear of political reprisals or death in their home countries. As she wrote to friends, "The battle is on about the refugee resolution."1

On January 26, Yugoslavia proposed halting assistance to those individuals who refused to return to their homelands, a resolution which many nations, among them the United States and Britain, considered a policy of forced repatriation.2 Explaining the Yugoslav delegate's position in My Day, ER wrote: "Any who did not wish to return to their own country, from his point of view, were either war criminals or people who were out of sympathy with the form of government in their country and would, therefore, form pockets of resistance to the whole democratic movement in the world." Yugoslavia's resolution declared that "the problem of displaced persons has ceased to be one of the important international questions," and asked that the General Assembly refrain from establishing any body, permanent or temporary, to handle the refugee problem.

The General Assembly referred the proposal to the Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Affairs Committee (the Third Committee) where debate began on January 28. British minister of state Philip Noel-Baker opened the debate with a proposal that the refugee problem be referred to ECOSOC, where the United Kingdom hoped open discussion would lead to the creation of a new UN body—"under the direct authority of the Assembly"—whose sole responsibility would be to aid refugees. Britain had taken a leading role in the refugee debate for reasons that ER summarized in her diary on January 9:

A new type of political refugee is appearing—people who have been against the present governments and if they stay at home or go home will probably be killed. Britain is supporting most of them and would like the expense shared—the budget for the job might run to double what is contemplated for the whole of UNO.

Thus, although ER also empathized with the Yugoslav delegate and wrote that she could "quite see his point that no democratic government wishes to support groups of their citizens who are working to overthrow that form of government," she believed that the refugee problem was one that the UN could not ignore and delivered the following speech in support of the British position.3

She dictated the final version of the statement while getting her hair and nails done.4