Walter White to Eleanor Roosevelt

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Walter White to Eleanor Roosevelt

28 December 1945 [New York City]

Dear Mrs. Roosevelt:

Just a few minutes after I had sent you a Special Delivery letter containing Dr. DuBois' and my suggestions, the following telegram came from Mrs. Bethune containing several excellent additional ideas:

"My suggestions for inclusion in letter follow:

First, Careful review concerning the establishment of the trusteeship system;32

Second, One of the basic qualifications for employment on the UNO permanent Secretariat should be sympathetic attitude toward and technical experience with the problems of racial minorities;

Third, Elimination of laws imposing race restrictions on migration and citizenship by several Latin American countries;33

Fourth, Recommend to United Nations Educational and Cultural Organizations34 that Negroes be included among exchange students from Europe and other nations to be invited to attend Southern schools such as Fisk, Talladega, Atlanta University, etc."35

                                          Ever sincerely

                                          Walter White


1. ER did not immediately accept Truman's offer. Franklin, Jr., was lunching with his mother when the president called, and overheard ER telling Truman that she could not possibly accept because she had "no foreign policy experience … and did not know parliamentary procedure." Returning to the lunch table, he pressed his mother to reconsider, and Tommy Thompson seconded his argument. ER later recalled that her immediate reaction was:

"Oh, no! It would be impossible … How could I be a delegate to help organize the United Nations when I have no background or experience in international meetings."

Miss Thompson urged me not to decline without giving the idea careful thought. I knew in a general way what had been done about organizing the United Nations. After the San Francisco meeting in 1945, when the Charter was written, it had been accepted by the various nations, including our own, through their constitutional procedures. I knew, too, that we had a group of people … working with representatives of other member nations in London to prepare for the formal organizing meeting. I believed the United Nations to be the one hope for a peaceful world. I knew that my husband had placed great importance on the establishment of this world organization.

At last I accepted in fear and trembling. But I might not have done so if I had known at that time that President Truman could only nominate me as a delegate and that the nomination would have to be approved by the United States Senate, where certain senators would disapprove of me because of my attitude toward social problems and more especially youth problems (ER, Autobiography, 299).

2. Byrnes, 373. For expressions of a delegate's change of heart about ER see Document 92.

3. In addition to ER, the members of the American delegation were Secretary of State James Byrnes, former Secretary of State Edward Stettinius (as US representative to the Security Council), Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Tom Connally (D-TX), and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Arthur Vandenberg (R-MI). The alternates included Representatives Sol Bloom (D-NY) and Charles Eaton (R-NJ), the chair and ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee; former postmaster general and DNC chair Frank Walker; former senator and RNC chair John Townsend, Jr.; and John Foster Dulles, who advised Thomas Dewey on foreign policy (Lash, Years, 39).

4. James F. Byrnes replaced Stettinius as secretary of state in July.

5. The United Nations Preparatory Commission met in London from November 24 to December 23, 1945, to establish the basic operating procedures governing the UN and to prepare an agenda for the first meeting of the General Assembly scheduled to convene January 10, 1946. Once the parties agreed that discussions related to the atomic bomb would be postponed until the General Assembly convened, the commissioners established procedures governing decisions related to the permanent location of the UN, the composition of the Steering Committee for the General Assembly, the establishment of the Temporary Trusteeship Committee, the observation of the Security Council by member states not on the council, and how organizations established by the League of Nations would be brought into the UN ("Initial UNO Group Postpones Parley," NYT, 20 November 1945, 7; Sydney Gruson, "UNO Body Winds Up Preparatory Job," NYT, 24 December 1945, 6).

6. Majority Leader Alben Barkley polled the Senate, at Truman's request, to see if the Senate would confirm ER. He found some opposition (some Republicans reported John Foster Dulles's opposition to her liberalism and William Fulbright (D-AR) thought her so inexperienced that her appointment could signal disrespect for the UN); however, only Theodore Bilbo (D-MS), who objected to her civil rights positions, voted against her confirmation (Lash, Years, 320).

7. See Document 68.

8. The Soviet Union, for example, formed three all-women air regiments that fought the Germans on the Eastern Front. In Great Britain, men and women served together in antiaircraft artillery units on British soil. In France, many women joined the Resistance (Myles, 6-7, 21; Treadwell, 301; Leckie, 741).

9. America's female work force grew from 14.6 million in 1941 to 19.4 million in 1944. Two million women, encouraged by the Rosie the Riveter campaign, worked in defense plants building aircraft and destroyers and manufacturing weapons and a wide variety of military necessities. By 1943, half of the workers at Boeing's Seattle plant were women. In addition, approximately 350,000 American women volunteered for military service (Woloch, 460; Boyer, 24).

10. Wendell Willkie (1892–1944), though defeated by FDR in 1940, accepted FDR's 1942 request to fly around the world to show that American political opponents were united in their determination to defeat Fascism. Willkie visited battle zones in Africa, the Soviet Union, and China and described his goodwill journey in One World. Published in 1943, it quickly became an influential plea for postwar international cooperation (FDRE; Boyer, 5).

11. For example, see Chester S. Williams to ER, 28 December 1945, AERP.

12. For examples of MacLeish's work on the UN see n 2 Document 3. See also Biographical Portraits.

13. In the eleven-page Summary Letter for the President MacLeish described the rationale for and the organization of the United Nations. He began with the San Francisco conference, which "had one purpose and one purpose only: to draft the charter of an international organization through which the nations of the world might work together in their common hope for peace." After recapping the focus and "the demonstrated capacity of its members to work together," MacLeish then summarized the "moral and idealistic" and the "realistic and practical" functions of the UN, as defined in its charter:

As a declaration, the Charter commits the United Nations to the maintenance of "international peace and security", to the development of "friendly relations among nations based on the principle of equal rights and self determination of peoples", and to "international cooperation in the solution of international problems", together with "the promotion and encouragement of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms". More precisely, the United Nations agree to promote ("with a view to the creation of conditions necessary for peaceful and friendly relations among nations") "higher standards of living, full employment, and conditions of economic and social progress and development; solutions of international economic, social, health, and other related problems; international cultural and educational cooperation; and universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, language, religion or sex".

Further, in its capacity as a declaration, the Charter states the "principles" (although they are, for the most part, rules of conduct rather than principles) which its members accept as binding. "Sovereign equality of the member states" is declared to be the foundation of their association with each other. Members are to "settle their international disputes by peaceful means" and in such manner as not to endanger international peace, security and justice. Members are to "refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any member or state or in any manner inconsistent with the purposes of the organization". At the same time members bind themselves to give "every assistance to the organization in any action taken by it" in accordance with the Charter, and to refrain from giving assistance to any state against which the Organization is taking preventive or enforcement action.

The Summary concluded with a review of the four major UN bodies: the Security Council, the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council, and the International Court of Justice. MacLeish ended his summary with an appeal for strong US commitment:

If we are earnestly determined, as I believe we are, that the unnumerable dead of two great holocausts shall not have died in vain, we must act in concert with the other nations of the world to bring about the peace for which these dead gave up their lives. The Charter of the United Nations is the product of such concerted action. Its purpose is the maintenance of peace. It offers means for the achievement of that purpose. If the means are inadequate to the task they must perform, time will reveal their inadequacy as time will provide, also, the opportunity to amend them. But whatever its present imperfections, the Charter of the United Nations, as it was written by the Conference of San Francisco, offers the world an instrument by which a real beginning may be made upon the work of peace. I most respectfully submit that neither we nor any other people can or should refuse participation in the common task (Summary Letter to the President from Edward R. Stettinius, Jr., 23 June 1945, AMP, DLC).

14. Adlai E. Stevenson II (1900–1965), the Chicago attorney whose grandfather served as Grover Cleveland's vice president, had rejoined the Roosevelt administration in 1942 as special assistant to Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox. Stevenson had just returned home in 1944 after Knox's death, disappointed that he did not receive a higher post within the Navy Department, when his good friend MacLeish pressured him to serve as his deputy in the State Department. Stevenson agreed, after Stettinius also offered him the position of his special assistant to the San Francisco conference, where, in addition to being the delegation's official "leaker," he drafted Security Council-related proposals for both Stettinius and John Foster Dulles and helped MacLeish secure the inclusion of freedom of speech and communication in the UN Charter. Although Stevenson had returned to Chicago once the conference ended, he lobbied to continue working with the delegation. Stettinius tapped him to serve as his deputy to the London Preparatory Commission charged with "bridging the gap" between the adoption of the charter and the convening of the first General Assembly. There he focused primarily on the organizational issues confronting the General Assembly, argued for the UN to be permanently located in the United States, and worked closely with other delegation leaders, especially Andrei Gromyko, J. P. Noel-Baker, and Paul-Henri Spaak. In November, Stevenson replaced Stettinius, whose sudden illness forced his early departure, as chair of the American delegation. Stevenson hoped to serve on the American delegation and, when Truman did not select him, appealed to Illinois leaders to urge his appointment, at least, as an alternate. Disappointed, he nevertheless agreed to Acheson's request that he serve as "one of the senior advisors" accompanying the delegation to London (J. Martin, 220-34).

15. A reference to the League of Nations headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.

16. While meeting in London in 1945, representatives of forty-four nations endorsed the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), an advisory body authorized by its constitution "to contribute to peace and security by promoting collaboration among the nations through education, science and culture, in order to further universal respect for justice, the rule of law and for the human rights and fundamental freedoms which are affirmed for the peoples of the world, without distinction of race, sex, language, or religion, by the Charter of the United Nations." As detailed in Article I, its main function is "to collaborate in the work of advancing the mutual knowledge and understandings of peoples through all means of mass communication and to that end recommend such international agreements as may be necessary to promote the free flow of ideas by word and image (Boyd, 124-25; Archibald MacLeish to Dean Acheson, 30 December 1945, in Winnick, 337-38).

MacLeish, who led the American delegation to the UNESCO meeting, viewed the organization as "the intellectual steel for the UN itself." Because it moved beyond the academe "to the level of the child," MacLeish thought UNESCO's commitment to using international media to promote mutual understanding essential to the preservation of peace (Donaldson, 393).

17. Three days after MacLeish wrote ER, he wrote Dean Acheson, then undersecretary of state, "If the Department, having sent a Delegation to London to set up UNESCO, is now in doubt as to whether UNESCO should be entrusted with two of its most important functions [overseeing exchanges of scientific information and monitoring the international activities of the mass media] it would seem to follow that the Department's confidence, or, at any rate, interest, in UNESCO was fairly slight" (Archibald MacLeish to Dean Acheson, 30 December 1945, in Winnick, 337-38; Donaldson, 393).

18. Byrnes, who had flown to Moscow to meet with Stalin, secured Stalin's endorsement of a UN commission on atomic energy. Stalin agreed, with the provision that the commission report to the UN Security Council where the United States and the USSR had vetoes. UNESCO did not come up in the discussions. The Soviets, who did not participate in the UNESCO organizing conference, did not join the agency until 1954 (Chace, 123-24).

19. Lewis, 505.

20. After World War I the victorious European allies reallocated the German colonies in Africa and many of the lands that made up the Ottoman Empire, which had allied itself with Germany. At the same time, the Japanese wanted to take over the German concessions in China. The League of Nations ultimately sanctioned all these arrangements.

The territories under consideration for UN trusteeship status included: the African territories of East and West Togoland, North and South Cameroons, Tanganyika, Ruanda-Urandi, South-West Africa, Libya, Eritrea, Italian Somaliland, British Somaliland, and Ogaden; the Far East ter-ritories of North-East New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, New Britain, New Ireland, Nauru, Western Samoa, the Mariana, Caroline and Marshall Islands, the Kurile Island, and Korea; and in the Middle East, Palestine (MacMillan, 98-106, 381-409, 423-25; Boyd, 94-96).

21. See n2 Document 37. At the San Francisco conference, the NAACP and the State Department's highest-ranking African American, Ralph Bunche (1903–1967), tried to pressure Stettinius and the American delegation to support a trusteeship plan that would promote independence for all colonial people through quiet diplomacy and a public relations campaign. Their efforts failed. Balancing the United States' preference for independence with the need to maintain good relations with Great Britain and France, both of whom had large colonial empires, Edward Stettinius worked out a series of compromises in the UN Charter that called for both self-government and independence for colonial peoples. The NAACP did not support these compromises because they left the colonial system intact while providing no outlet for colonial people to submit their grievances. The NAACP also wanted the Trusteeship Council to have jurisdiction over all colonies, not just those that had been League of Nations mandates or those the Allies acquired as a result of World War II. For ER on the trusteeship issue, see Document 37 (Anderson, 50-51, 53-54, 57; S. Schlesinger, 232-36; Hoopes and Brinkley, 204).

22. After World War I, South Africa accepted the League of Nations mandate for German South-West Africa (modern-day Namibia), which it had captured during the war. In 1946, the UN ended the mandate after refusing South Africa's request to annex the territory and made it a trusteeship territory under South African administration (OEWH; EUN, 532-33).

23. Originally an Italian colony, Eritrea came under British military rule in 1941 (OEWH).

24. In the 1880s, Britain, Italy, Ethiopia, and France divided up Somaliland to prevent any other country from taking over the territory. Despite internal resistance, the British Protectorate endured until 1940, when it fell to the invading Italians. British and South African troops recovered the area in 1941, and a British military protectorate governed the land until 1948 when British civilian administration took control (World History at KML History of Somalia, accessed 22 September 2005).

25. Indonesia, a Dutch colony, had also been occupied by the Japanese during World War II (OEWH).

26. India, the largest British colony, had been agitating for its independence since the end of the nineteenth century (OEWH; Ralph et al., 638-48).

27. Britain annexed Burma (Myanmar) in 1886, and made it part of British India (OEWH).

28. France governed Indo-China (present day Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos) until the Japanese seized control in 1943. In December 1945, the French demanded that the territory be returned to them and prepared to evict the Japanese from Vietnam (OEWH, 111-12, 381, 706).

29. Siam, also known as Thailand, remained an independent nation while maintaining strong ties to France (OEWH).

30. See n11 Document 60.

31. Francisco Franco Bahamonde. At the Potsdam conference, Truman, Atlee, and Stalin agreed not to support Spain's admission to the UN because of its government's ties to the Axis Powers before and during World War II. Following World War II, the Allies regarded Spain as the last stronghold of Fascism, and in 1946 the UN prohibited Spanish membership until Franco was deposed. As Cold War tensions increased in the late 1940s, Truman resumed relations with Spain as a buttress against Communist encroachment in Europe. The UN admitted Spain in 1955. Franco ruled until his death, when a constitutional monarchy was restored. Also see Document 161 and Document 172 regarding ER on Franco (EWH, 242; DPB, 173, 174; EUN, 771).

32. State Department advisor and NAACP ally Ralph Bunche continued to strengthen the Trusteeship Council's provisions regarding colonial people at the meetings of the UN Preliminary Commission's Executive Committee in London in the early fall of 1945 and at the first two sessions of the UN General Assembly in 1946. At critical points in these meetings, he was able to put in place processes that ensured the concerns of colonial people would be heard and acted upon. The Trusteeship Council, established in December of 1946, met for the first time in March 1947; by then Bunche directed the UN's Trusteeship Division (Urquhart 126-27; 131-36).

33. During the last half of the nineteenth century many Latin American countries, among them Brazil, Argentina, Cuba, and Uruguay, encouraged the immigration of white Europeans to "whiten" their societies and meet labor shortages in their expanding economies. When European migration failed to provide the necessary workers, Latin American countries imported nonwhite workers from Asia and the Caribbean including hundreds of thousands of black workers from the French and British West Indies who arrived between 1900 and 1930. Many of these people worked for large American agricultural concerns such as United Fruit or the burgeoning sugar and oil industries. By the 1930s the employment bubble for both whites and blacks burst causing economic dislocation, heightening racial and political tensions, and contributing to the growth of Fascist-like, right-wing groups. Some countries including Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, and Uruguay tightened their immigration laws in an effort to keep their own citizens employed and minimize internal turmoil. For example, in 1926 the Panamanian legislature made it illegal for non-Spanish speaking blacks to settle there and specified that 75 percent of the workforce in local businesses be native born. Brazil and Cuba also passed similar workforce legislation in the 1930s (Andrews, 135-40; 153-54).

34. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). See n16 above.

35. The leading African American universities, established by the Freedmen's Bureau in the aftermath of the Civil War.

On the American Committee for Yugoslav Relief

Throughout the summer, ER used her column to raise funds for war relief. She paid particular attention to Yugoslavia, whose citizens rose up against their German-allied government to lead a brutal guerrilla war against the German army. Her appointment to the United Nations did not curtail her support. December 24, she reported to readers of My Day that the previous Thursday she met with the American Committee for Yugoslav Relief and agreed to serve as its honorary chairman because she had been "particularly touched by the stories of the want and suffering among the children of that country." "This rather small population," she continued, "became a unit in the Allied war against Fascism. Women and children were included as part of the fighting forces. Now there are many children without parents, and the casualties among them from privation and starvation are somewhere around 80 percent."

Hoping to gain her readers' attentio, she recounted how two children "brought me samples of the kind of food which we hope will be sent" to Yugoslav children:

One of them, a little boy who might have been six years old, looked at me with solemn and sad eyes, so I asked him where he came from. Without a smile, he answered: 'I am a Filipino guerilla.' I imagine there are many similar sad-eyed and solemn children in Yugoslavia, Greece, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Russia and many other countries where the horrors of war have born1 as heavily on the children as upon their elders.2

As the letter below illustrates, the day before ER sailed to London, she also appealed to major individual donors to support the relief effort. Here she approaches Orson Welles, who had lent very public support to FDR, to support the committee. The following day, the committee announced that Welles would be the master of ceremonies at its New Year's Day concert in Town Hall.3

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Walter White to Eleanor Roosevelt

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