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Selected Writings of Eleanor Roosevelt

Abolish Jim Crow!
Eleanor Roosevelt

Publishing Information

    Originally printed in the New Threshold 1 (August 1943): 4, 34.

  1. A senator stood up in the Congress the other day after listening to a lengthy discourse on the poll tax, and spoke his mind on the discussion which was going on. Later he asked: "Are we fighting the Civil War all over again?"

  2. Sometimes when I look at the Lincoln statue and read the things which he said, I think that we fought a bitter war which brought suffering to many people and yet achieved no answer to the question—are the colored people free in fact or only in word?

  3. In that war we succeeded in establishing our unity. We would be one nation and not two and we said that all the people in our nation should enjoy equal rights and privileges, but in our hearts we never really believed what we said.

  4. That is why we have to set to work to persuade our citizens not only to give lip-service to the results of the Civil War, but actually to put those results into practice, even though we are engaged in fighting a war to assure these same rights and privileges of freedom throughout the world.

  5. A great many people believe that there should be no intermingling of races. Hitler has proved with bloody massacres that he holds this belief. Nevertheless, down through the ages, it has been proved over and over again that this is one of the questions which people settle for themselves, and no amount of legislation will keep them from doing so. We would not have so many different shades of color in this country today if this were not so. This is a question, therefore, that I think we have to leave to individuals, not only all over the United States, but all over the world, to handle.

  6. There is no more reason to expect that there will be more intermarriage if the four fundamental basic rights of citizens are granted to all people in this country than there will be if they are withheld. In fact, I think it probable that there would be less.

  7. An equal opportunity for education may raise economic standards as a whole—may make it possible for colored people to get equal pay, because they will have training equal to that of white people. There will be more self-respect; the dignity and pride of race will be enhanced and the bitterness of inferiority removed.

  8. I am not writing from the point of view of the scientists, as their point of view is amply covered in many scientific books. I am trying to state the case clearly because we need firm ground to stand on as we fight this war.

  9. Many a boy, when asked, still says he does not know what he is fighting for. While he knows we have to beat Hitler and the Japs, he will be glad when it is done and he is back home again. That would be all right if winning the war would settle all the racial questions, but it is after the war when we live together that they will become really important. In addition, if every boy was sure that he would be going back home again, he could decide later for what objectives he had fought and work for them, but if he is to die, he must be sure that what he died for is worthwhile to his parents, his brothers, his sisters, his wife or his sweetheart.


  10. We are fighting a war today so that individuals all over the world may have freedom. This means an equal chance for every man to have food and shelter and a minimum of such things as spell happiness to that particular human personality. If we believe firmly that peace cannot come to the world unless this is true for men all over the world, then we must know in our nation that every man, regardless of race or religion, has this chance. Otherwise we fight for nothing of real value.

  11. So here at home I think we have to fight for these four simple freedoms.

  12. Equality before the law, which assures us of justice without prejudice, for Jew or Gentile, for any race or any color, as far as human beings can obtain justice.

  13. Equality of education for everyone, because of the need for an equal opportunity in life.

  14. Equality in the economic field, which means we are so organized in our communities and in our system of economics that all men who want to work will have work and that work will be suited to their capacity and will be rewarded without prejudice.

  15. Finally, because we believe in the democratic and republican form of government, by which we are governed through the consent of the governed, we must give to all the citizens of a democracy a chance for equality of expression. We believe that there should be no impediment which prevents any man from expressing his will through the ballot.

  16. The acceptance of these fundamental rights seem to me the only basis on which the men who fight this war can look forward into the future with real hope to a world organization which may gradually bring about a betterment of human conditions the world over.

  17. If we have no hope that this is going to be the case, and that this is the real objective for which we fight, then I think there are many people who will feel that they cannot bear the sacrifice and the cruelty and the horror which those they love have to go through. If the future only holds a repetition of the past, if in each nation there are to be real slaves, even though they do not exist in name then the boys who say they do not know why they fight have a right to say so. There would be no world worth fighting for and the only men who would have any reason for fighting would be the professional soldiers who fight for the love of fighting. No man would be fighting for a cause or a country because they provided a fulfillment of his hopes and desires, or at least the right to struggle for them. Our men are not professional soldiers, they fight because they believe that the cause involved is worth fighting for—the freedom of people the world over to strive for greater happiness.

  18. There will be ups and downs in the future, because progress is never made on an even course. If we can keep steadily marching forward so that each generation can count some gains in human progress, if we can eliminate war and feel that we are again devoting all of our energies to constructive instead of destructive ends, I believe that youth will have enough hope to keep on with the struggle. With hope and faith they can solve the economic questions, the racial questions, the spiritual questions, which are bound to arise from time to time and bring the world nearer to Tennyson's vision of The Brotherhood of Man.