About the Author

Jenice L. View is Assistant Professor of Initiatives in Educational Transformation Program at George Mason University. Her research focuses on the critical teaching and learning of history, critical pedagogy in teacher professional development, how the learning of history impacts youth voice and civic engagement, white teacher consciousness, and the use of the arts and arts integration.

Modern Civil Rights Movement

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt's Secret Letter (1936)


First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt’s secret letter to Walter White, president of the NAACP regarding unsuccessful efforts to create a federal law against mob violence and lynchings in the early part of the 20th century: Despite President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s reputation as a liberal, his influential wife was unable to persuade him to intervene in the murders of thousands of African Americans and other people of color by racist mobs.

My dear Mr. White:

Before I received your letter today I had been in to the President, talking to him about your letter enclosing that of the Attorney General. I told him that it seemed rather terrible that one could get nothing done and that I did not blame you in the least for feeling there was no interest in this very serious question. I asked him if there were any possibility of getting even one step taken, and he said the difficulty is that it is unconstitutional apparently for the Federal Government to step in in the lynching situation. The Government has only been allowed to do anything about kidnapping because of its interstate aspect, and even that has not as yet been appealed so they are not sure that it will be declared constitutional.

The President feels that lynching is a question of education in the states, rallying good citizens, and creating public opinion so that the localities themselves will wipe it out. However, if it were done by a Northerner, it will have an antagonistic effect. I will talk to him again about the Van Nuys resolution and will try to talk also to Senator Byrnes and get his point of view. I am deeply troubled about the whole situation as it seems to be a terrible thing to stand by and let it continue and feel that one cannot speak out as to his feeling. I think your next step would be to talk to the more prominent members of the Senate.

Very sincerely yours,

Eleanor Roosevelt (sig)