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Why FDR Didn’t Support Eleanor Roosevelt’s Anti-Lynching Campaign

January 31, 2019 in History

By Becky Little

In December 2018, the U.S. Senate passed a federal anti-lynching bill for the first time. The significant milestone is preceded by at least 240 failed attempts since 1901 to pass any bill or resolution mentioning lynching in Congress. These attempts to outlaw lynching peaked during Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidency. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was a strong supporter of anti-lynching legislation, but FDR never supported it for fear of alienating white Democratic voters in the south.

Eleanor joined the NAACP during FDR’s first term in 1934 and began working with leader Walter White to outlaw lynching. This work earned her a lot of enemies, as well as some death threats. Critics of her husband like J. Edgar Hoover spread racist rumors that she was mixed race; and in the 1950s, the Ku Klux Klan put a $25,000 bounty on her head. Her work also caused a rift between her and her husband, whom she could never convince to support her cause.

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt with Mary McLeod Bethune, National Youth Administration Director of Negro Activities, at the opening session of the National Conference on Problems of the Negro and Negro Youth.

In the mid-30s, the NAACP persuaded Democratic Senators Robert Wagner and Edward Costigan to sponsor an anti-lynching bill. The legislation couldn’t survive without the president’s support, so Eleanor arranged a meeting with White and FDR to try to convince the president to endorse it. The meeting didn’t go well.

“Somebody’s been priming you. Was it my wife?” FDR asked in annoyance after White presented his case. “If I come out for the anti-lynching bill now, [southern Democrats] will block every bill I ask Congress to pass to keep America from collapsing. I just can’t take the risk.”

Those bills he wanted to pass to keep America from collapsing were part of the New Deal. At the time, “the southern Democrats in the Senate are holding the New Deal hostage and refusing to move on New Deal issues unless the rest of the Democratic party backs off the anti-lynching bills,” says Eric Rauchway, a history professor at the University of California, Davis.

The demographics of Republican and Democratic voters back then were much different than they are today. From the mid-19th century through the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Democratic party’s base was made …read more

Source: HISTORY

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