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Freedom: Promise or Fact: 1943

Freedom: Promise or Fact

By Eleanor Roosevelt

An article originally published in the Negro Digest 1 (October 1943): 8-9


First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt
First Lady
Eleanor Roosevelt

If I were a Negro today, I think I would have moments of great bitterness. It would be hard for me to sustain my faith in democracy and to build up a sense of goodwill toward men of other races.

I think, however, that I would realize that if my ancestors had never left Africa, we would be worse off as “natives” today under the rule of any other country than I am in this country where my people were brought as slaves.

In a comparatively short period of time the slaves have become free men—free men, that is, as far as a proclamation can make them so. There now remains much work to be done to see that freedom becomes a fact and not just a promise for my people.

I know, however, that I am not the only group that has to make a similar fight. Even women of the white race still suffer inequalities and injustices, and many groups of white people in my country are slaves of economic conditions. All the world is suffering under a great war brought about because of the lag in our social development against the progress in our economic development.

I would know that I had to work hard and to go on accomplishing the best that was possible under present conditions. Even though I was held back by generations of economic inequality, I would be proud of those of my race who are gradually fighting to the top in whatever occupation they are engaged in.

I would still feel that I ought to participate to the full in the war. When the United Nations win, certain things will be accepted as a result of principles which have been enunciated by the leaders of the United Nations, which never before have been part of the beliefs and practices of the greater part of the world.

I would certainly go on working for complete economic equality and my full rights under a democratic government. I would decide which were the steps that I felt represented my real rights as a citizen and I would work for those first, feeling that other things such as social relationships might well wait until certain people were given time to think them through and decide as individuals what they wished to do.

I would not do too much demanding. I would take every chance that came my way to prove my quality and my ability and if recognition was slow, I would continue to prove myself, knowing that in the end good performance has to be acknowledged.

I would accept every advance that was made in the Army and Navy, though I would not try to bring those advances about any more quickly than they were offered. I would certainly affiliate with the labor movement because there is the greatest opportunity for men to work side by side and find out that it is possible to have similar interests and to stand by each other, regardless of race or color.

I would try to remember that unfair and unkind treatment will not harm me if I do not let it touch my spirit. Evil emotions injure the man or woman who harbors them so I would try to fight down resentment, the desire for revenge and bitterness. I would try to sustain my own faith in myself by counting over my friends and among them there would undoubtedly be some white people.

Source: The New Deal Network:

How to Cite this Article (APA Format): Roosevelt, E. (1943, October). Freedom: Promise or fact? Negro Digest, 1, 8-9. Retrieved [date accessed] from The Social Welfare History Project

3 Replies to “Freedom: Promise or Fact: 1943”

  1. If Eleanor were a Negro she certainly would be part of the Black Misleadership class and part of those accommodating Black priests who shunned MLK JR. Shameful article, her main crust overshadows some of the arguments I agree with her on.

    • This article was controversial when it was written in 1943. It brought attention to John Harold Johnson’s publication, but angered both white segregationists and some black leaders. If Eleanor Roosevelt were alive today, she might have written this piece differently, though you’re right, there are arguments that still ring true. Hopefully, a white First Lady writing as a guest author in a black-owned publication wouldn’t seem shocking either.

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