First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt Addresses the NAACP at Metropolitan AME in 1935Mrs. Roosevelt’s Address to the NAACP in Washington
The Afro American
April 20, 1935
Women, Like Minority Groups, Have Had to Work Hard for Rights and Privileges. Nation Needs to Work for Equality of Wages and Opportunity for All. Antagonism Between Classes and Races Unprofitable. Equal Educational Opportunities Called the First Step. Voters are Urged to Use Reason Instead of Sentiment at Polls. Don’t Follow Leaders Blindly; Make Them Explain What They Are Doing.
Address of Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt to the Washington, D.C. branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People at the Metropolitan A.M.E. Church. Sunday afternoon, April 13, at 3 p.m.
Mrs. Roosevelt spoke as follows:
"I am very happy to be with you this afternoon and speak at this meeting because I have seen a good deal of the work which this association is doing and have come to count Mr. Walter White as one of my friends. I hope that he will agree that that is true. And so, I am glad to be with you this afternoon.
"Now, I asked a number of people what subject might interest you that I could talk about. I had a number of suggestions, and I finally decided to talk about something that has not been suggested to me at all but which I feel is of interest to me and perhaps would be of interest to you.
"The other day I was sent a report by a Government official – a colored man who had spent, I imagine, most of his life in the North and had gone to make a trip through the South. He sent me a report of his trip. I gave it to the President to read. I have a little habit of putting things I think worth while reading on the table next to the President’s bed at night, so sometimes they get read.
"Today when I said where I was coming, he said, ‘It was a very interesting report I read the other night.’ I said, ‘Yes, I put it by your bed so you would read it.’
‘I then proceeded to say that it was interesting for a man who had evidently lived most of his life in the North to get to know the problem of his own people in another part of the country.
EDITOR’S NOTE- The booklet referred to is a pamphlet describing his recent tour of the South by Dr. Wm. J. Thompkins, recorder of deeds of the District of Columbia.
"Now, I have felt for a very long time that all of us
need to do that. We need- no matter what our race-to
know the problems of all the people living in different
parts of our country.
"out of that has come – well, I do not know that it is a better understanding, but at least I have acquired certain convictions.
"For a long while I worked with women on bills that had to do with women and laws and conditions for women who work and for rights of women in different lines, and I have come to believe that what obtained as far as women were concerned, obtains also as far as various minority groups are concerned.
Must Do Things Better
"Women have had to work to obtain certain rights and certain privileges, and still women have to do certain things better than men to obtain the same recognition.
"Now, that same thing holds good where minority groups are concerned. Minority groups have to do things better in order to get the same recognition. But I think what all of us in this country need to do today is to work for equality of recognition for work which is rendered and for equality of opportunity regardless or race or religion or color.
No Immediate Equality
"Now, practically I know equality is not going to come immediately. It is going to mean hard work to obtain equality of education, equality of opportunity. But the think which I believe we want to bring home to people all the time is standards have got to be raised, and they must be raised all over the country for all the people.
"There is no use of raising them for one group of people because in any community there is a group of people that are living below a certain standard, that are willing to live below a certain standard, that are receiving lower wages and therefore are forced to live below a certain standard – I do not care where it is – if that exists, it pulls down all the standards.
"It helps no one. It pulls everybody down to the lower level. Therefore, it is to the interest of all of us – and this is the purely practical argument – it is to the interest of all of us to see that standards are raised equally.
Must Have Same Chance
"Now, in order to raise standards equally people have got to have the same opportunities. They must be given as good a chance at an education and as good a chance at earning a living.
"I think that probably that for certain groups in this country that are minorities their members will have to give more in the way of ability and training in order to get the same equality of pay just as women have to always give more in order to get the same amount of pay. But in time I hope we will grow to a real equality. In the meantime, I think we all of us who are interested in the future good for the country must work for better conditions and better opportunities.
Tells of Ga. Experience
"As you know I go every year for a time to Georgia. Last year I had a most interesting experience. Mr. Benjamin Hubert, who is a very fine man, came to see me and tell me about a part of Georgia where he had established a colony, and a very successful colony.
"At the same time a young girl, who was superintendent of schools, came to tell me of her difficulties in the schools that came under her jurisdiction. The salaries were pitiable, impossible in fact, and the schools everywhere were suffering from lack of supplies, lack of books, and it was extremely difficult to give even a minimum of education which they ware expected to give.
Menace to Whites
"Now, that does not obtain – thank goodness – everywhere in the country. But I do think that the thing which I want to preach wherever I can is the fact that not giving an equal opportunity for education is not a menace to you so much as it is a menace to us because if you do not know how to live, and live well, why it is going to do the whole county harm.
"Therefore, while it is my job, I consider, to stress that wherever I can, I hope it is going to be your job to stress the obligation on your part to do the best work you can and to take advantage of every opportunity that does come your way, which is a good opportunity.
"I had a very interesting time with a man the other day who came to tell me he thought I was a visionary. He thought I was not practical.
"He said he had gone to live among the people who worked in his coal mine and when he had sent up a bath tub for his own cabin, the people who took it up said it must be to scald hogs. Later he tried to but in bath tubs in various places and one day he walked in and the people were using the bath tub – you probably have heard this story before- he found the bath tub used for coal and they told him they did not know what else it was used for.
Not for Everyone
"And he said ‘I understand you believe that everybody should have these decencies of life. Now it is quite useless to try to give them to everybody and I think you are making a great mistake in thinking everyone should be given certain advantages.’
"I pointed out to him that in order to know how to enjoy things perhaps you have to be taught how to use them if you had never been given a chance, and his mistake had been in not explaining – not having any community education in the place where he was living.
Jealous of One Another
"He said, he didn’t think that would work because everybody there was jealous and while they might be quite willing to have them do something for them they did not want you to do it for their neighbor.
"I pointed out again that perhaps a good many of us are like that and a great many of us would be like that if we had little opportunity to have any decencies and luxuries in live.
"So, he finally said, ‘What would you advise me to do?’
"And I said I would start with a nursery school and after you have had the nursery school for ten years under a really good teacher you would have no trouble in your community in having everybody know how to use the things which you choose to make popular for them to have, and you will find your community spirit through interest in the children had grown imperceptibly and instead of being jealous of each other they would all want to have everybody else around them have the same things.
All Must Profit
"They would have grasped the fact that for any group or any individual to want something just for himself and want to keep some other group or individual from having the same thing kept them down as well, that they never can rise as high alone as they can if everybody around them profited in the same way.
"That is the only way I feel we must progress in this country. There is no use in allowing to grow up a spirit of antagonisms between classes and races and religions. We are here. We have got to live together and we have got to live to our mutual advantage, and only as we live to our mutual advantage will we be better off.
"It is very necessary, for instance, right here in the District, that the health of the people as far as tuberculosis is concerned be carefully watched not only for the advantage of those who perhaps suffer the most from tuberculosis but for the advantage of the whole population of the District. And that goes right on through everything in our lives.
Work for Good Will
"I feel very strongly that those of us who have good-will towards each other can work together and gradually have that good-will grow. I want very much to see us begin by really giving equally educational opportunities.
"I feel that if we can do that the next step of getting equal opportunity for work, which is, of course – I know and you know- one of the difficulties you are up against, will come, I hope, in the same way that many other things come – gradually through not only your education but our education.
Problems Joint Ones
"I think that there is hope before us today ad there never was before because more people are beginning to realize that problems are community problems, are joint problems, that one group cannot prosper where another group is downtrodden.
"It seems to me that is perhaps the most hopeful spirit and the most hopeful idea that is spreading today in this country – the realization that we must depend upon each other and that there cannot exist anywhere any group of people who are really living in a sub-standard way without dragging down the health and morals and the entire general condition of the community as a whole.
"Now, you have great power in this country. You have learned to work politically and it is necessary to use your franchise intelligently to obtain the things that you wish to obtain. But make sure that you really study the problems of government. Make sure that you know the people that you vote for and what they really stand for. Make sure that you are not swayed by emotions but that you really use your reason when you vote.
Did Not Understand
"Too many of us in this country have not always understood the problems before us and have voted without taking the trouble – this not any one group, I am talking about all of us because we all do this – too many of us have not realized that in a democracy for successful government you have really got to take your own share of the responsibility as an individual. You can not leave it to somebody else to do for you.
"You cannot blindly follow any leader. Follow a leader, but make him explain to you so that you understand what it is you are doing. Do not just take anybody’s say so.
Believes in Leadership
"I believe in leadership, but I believe that the leaders have an obligation to make the people who follow them understand what it is they are asking them to do and why they are asking them to do it.
"What I ask of you is to really study the problems of government and to look at your candidates and the measures you work for from the point of view of the good of people as a whole. Think of your own interest because you must, but realize that gradually we must all progress together and that as you progress to equality you must at the same time see that everyone else in your community progresses to equality.
Advance All of Community
"It is not a good thing to work so hard for your own interest that you sometimes forget that there are others that are suffering too. So keep in mind that you want the good of the whole community and use every possible means to advance your own people in the right way and all the other people that live in your community.
"Now I know in the District to talk about voting is perhaps superfluous. But many of you probably live places where people do vote. Even if you live in the District and do not vote your point of view and your intelligence and your touch with the people who have contact with the government, who are working in the government, will make a tremendous difference.
Words Can Help
"It is quite extraordinary to me what the effect can be
of a criticism or a word of approval to a man who is
working in the Government in any way from the people
"So I hope that we together – those of us who are here today and the others who belong to your association and the others who have interest with me in the good of the country as a whole and all its people – will continue to work with the idea that the good of this country can be furthered by our efforts and that we can live together with interest and affection for each other and further the good of all of us.”