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tv   The Presidency Blanche Wiesen Cook on Eleanor Roosevelt  CSPAN  December 8, 2018 12:00pm-1:11pm EST

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next, on "the presidency," eleanor roosevelt biographer, blanche wiesen cook, talked with paul sparrow, director of the franklin d. roosevelt presidential library and museum in hyde park, new york. ms. cook has written a three-volume biography of the former first lady. the last volume, published in 2016, is titled, "eleanor roosevelt: the war years and after, 1939-1962." the history book festival in lewes, delaware hosted this hour-long conversation. ronald: each year my colleague's honor board and all of us go to great lengths to find the ideal keynote speaker. it is not an easy job. first of all, it is finding the right person at the right time.
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we do not extend any honoraria to our keynote speaker or other offers. they come here on their own with modest accommodations. so we greatly appreciate when we can get somebody of the caliber of the two people we have this evening. we feel greatly privileged and honored to have them. if merit is the measure, if you are looking for the right person at the right time at the right place, i think we can find no better person than blanche wiesen cook, who is here with us this evening. welcome. [applause] if you are not already familiar with her extraordinary credentials, you have her formal qualifications in front of you. reputation speaks for itself. distinguished historian, revered
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scholar of women's studies, acclaimed biographer of eleanor roosevelt, leader in the calls for transparency in government, and a citizen at heart. professor cook, we are so delighted to have you here tonight. we do appreciate you coming here and spending your time with us and extending your insight. we are also fortunate to have paul sparrow here to conduct the interview. he is one of the most distinguished people in his field, and he is director of the franklin d. roosevelt presidential library and museum in new york. i have had the honor of working with paul at the museum some years back when he was the senior executive there. ladies and gentlemen if you will please join me in thanking paul sparrow for joining us this evening. [applause]
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just before i ask blanche and paul to step up here, we will have a question and answer with them and then we will turn to you for some questions. then we will close with some music from david and his band. with that paul, blanche, the stage is yours. welcome. [applause] paul: are our microphones working? sounds like they are. blanche: i think they are. [laughter] paul: let me just say thank you, ron. i am honored to be here with the preeminent eleanor roosevelt historian of our era. it is particularly important in this day and this time to be thinking and talking about one of the great american women. can we have our first slide up?
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we can also see them down here. you have written three books, we are supposed to focus on the third volume. but obviously, you have dedicated much of your life to studying her. let's start with putting her in context. how would you describe eleanor roosevelt's impact on american society and history? blanche: i really have to say how profoundly moved i am to be here in lewis, the first city of -- in lewes, the first city of the first state. [applause] filled with the most wonderful, wonderful people. everybody we have met has been so generous. the food is terrific. thank you. and i really want to thank my partner, and my goddaughters for coming here.
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and a want to thank you, and jan and ron for this brilliant reception. we need each other right now, shoulder to shoulder, hearts open, fists high. [applause] paul: absolutely. blanche: so, her impact was really very profound. joe lash, her great friend and biographer, who encouraged me to write my books because i once said to joe, what is up with you not having her in anything you have ever written? and he said, well i hated her! let's have dinner. [laughter]
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we were friends because joe had read one of my book on crystal, who founded the aclu. and he had blurbed the book and said, it should be in print forever. you get to be friends with people who blurb your books that way. the bottom line was i had gotten this book to review while i was working in abilene, kansas. a dry town, you couldn't even get wine with dinner. i made friends with the local sheriff who had single malt in his office. [laughter] and guns, which i like to shoot. i teach at john jay college. there was a pistol team with the police officers, and i was on it. anyway, people sent me books to
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review and there was this really hideous book about eleanor roosevelt by a woman who hated her. talked about buck toothed, ugly eleanor. which just didn't make sense to me because eleanor was -- eleanor was a saint. i wrote a review saying a cigar may not always be a cigar but the northeast corner of your mouth is always the northeast corner. so folks started to say, why dont you write this? i said don't be ridiculous, i am a military historian. i do hard history. goddess, forgive me. [laughter] joe took me up to hyde park, to the fdr library. i realized i had a story there.
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anything eleanor roosevelt wanted to deal with joe dealt with. anything she didn't want to deal anything she didn't want to deal with he didn't with. there was clearly a story here. this was 1982, my eisenhower book just came out. and i thought ok, my goal -- i would finish it by her centennial in 1984. those my goal. paul: how did that work out? blanche: i finished it in 2016. [laughter] but it was fun, because, as joe said, her vision was profound. it turns out not only was her vision profound, her writing is profound. she wrote 27 books. endless articles in many different venues.
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a daily column from 1936 until the end of her life. she was very blunt in her letters. and now we have more and more of her letters, which is the most incredible story. everywhere she went, literally, around the country and around the world, she loved meeting people and she only had one introductory presentation. tell me, what do you want? what do you need? her vision was dedicated to changing the world. because people needed and wanted food, jobs, economic security, justice, freedom, security, peace, education.
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and some of her most powerful articles are about the failure of education. not just education in the three arts. she was insistent in sports and music. eleanor roosevelt loved music. i love it that we started with music. thank you. in her later years she waited for her grandchildren to come home, listening to jazz. she loved jazz, she loved folk music. pip seeger and ronnie gilbert or -- were her friends. she took her grandchildren to hear florence price, the first woman who had a symphony -- african american woman who had a symphony. i did not know this until
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recently, she studied the piano herself, as a girl. so music was just a very big part of her life. to me, a very big part of her life for me was an epiphany when i read it, something she wrote that the happiest day that she wrote this when she was 76 -- she wrote that the happiest day of her life was the day she made the first team at field hockey. [laughter] paul: do we have any pictures of her as a child? blanche: ok. that gave me a real insight.
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eleanor roosevelt liked sports and she was competitive. once i got that, a whole lot of things fell into place. so she has this partnership with her husband, franklin delano roosevelt. but she is competitive. and it starts very early. we know about lucy mercer in 1918. eleanor roosevelt as a serial romantic, and we can get into that. but one of the interesting articles that really designates it is in 1923 she wrote an article called, "the women of tibet." in which she said, "the women of tibet had many husbands, which seems to me, very good thing." [laughter] so many husbands had so many wives.
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[laughter] paul: could we go to the next slide? one of the interesting relationships with eleanor's early political career with the two women she started the business with. you can see them here by the cars they loved to drive around. can you talk a little bit about how formative this relationship was and how it influenced her political impact? blanche: marian dickerman and nancy cook were new york state political activists. we go from the suffrage movement to essentially trooping for democracy. the idea that women will change the world if women have power. what we have to do is go door to door, block by block, community by community, and build movements. and there they are.
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two of the women in her circle who were going to build movements. they were involved in self-help groups, in the industry's to give local people who need it work, and they were involved in the local politics. into that group, one has to put caroline o'dea. nobody has really written yet about caroline o'dea. one can question, we know marion dickerman and nancy cook were a couple, and marion dickerman in oral history says eleanor was closer to nancy cook. then there is caroline o'dea. we don't know. what we do know is ultimately, eleanor roosevelt, who is a serial romantic i have decided,
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she dismisses them. because, it turns out, they are bigoted and they cannot stand eleanor roosevelt's new friends. they are rude to her new friends. they are rude to earl miller, who becomes eleanor roosevelt's bodyguard in 1929. and again, here is one of those mysteries of her life. eleanor roosevelt and earl miller are really close, they have fun together, they do wonderful things together. they play and travel and he teaches her how to shoot and he gets her a horse, which he loves to ride, and she rides it daily. they have fun. to the end, he is always there. to the end of her life. did they have a relationship, we don't know, because all of their
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papers have disappeared. joe lash writes in about 1972, that there were many, many letters between them, they were almost daily, very long and specific. and by 1982, all of the letters have simply disappeared. joe saw the letters. somebody i think bought them and destroyed them. in 1947, one of the letters is found, there is a divorce between earl miller and his third wife. she is going to name who the correspondent for this divorce is. ed sullivan has a column saying, oooh, the world will be shocked
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to know who is going to be named in this divorce suit. she is not quite named but everybody knows. it becomes gossip. in the daily news, and the daily papers. it's eleanor roosevelt and earl miller. but we don't know. one interesting thing, earl miller was quiet until the end of his life. he lived anonymously. he did not want people to know about his friendship with eleanor roosevelt. so eleanor roosevelt separates from them. there are two other people who are much more important to her politically. that is esther lape. i spell her name wherever i go, because there are writers in the audience and there is no biography, this is the most amazing thing, of esther lape. there is only one or two really
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good articles by a pal of mine who introduced me to esther lape, we were graduate students at hopkins together. esther lape was a pioneering activist who introduced eleanor roosevelt to international politics and to a kind of activism that becomes really very important to her. in fact, eleanor roosevelt has one of the biggest fbi files ever collected by john edgar hoover. paul: we have all 4000 pages at the library, if you want to come up and see it. blanche: you do? because i do. i got them. paul: ours are heavily redacted. blanche: i might have more. i got them through the freedom of information act.
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we founded this organization foia inc. we got many papers declassified. it started with eisenhower. everything i wanted to know about eisenhower was secret, so i was say, never go anywhere without your gang. we flew to new york and called a meeting of attorneys. aclu people and others, and we founded foia inc. and won a great case. and we got incredible documents, including, ultimately, er's secret papers. and let me say one thing about the secret papers. in the u.s. archives, her u.n. papers, 198 boxes of her papers were all secret and classified, until we declassified them in
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1988. paul: we have some home movies i want to show briefly. this is from campobello, home movies taken by missy lohan. this is their summer home, some fairly rare color footage here. there is no sound so we can sort of talk over it. campobello was a sort of an important place for eleanor. you see her here with some of her friends. that is nancy cook, that is marian dickerman. the escape to campobello was a way for them to get away from the pressures of albany or washington, d.c. you talk about this second volume, this is the arrival of fdr after the first 100 days when he sails up the coast. this is an interesting exchange. talk about their relationship
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and how they found parallel lives to be effective. blanche: they are is his court. so after lucy mercer, there is missy lehand. eleanor really welcomes missy as the junior wife. they are really close and they treat her with great respect. when missy lehand gets six, is it is eleanor roosevelt who goes to visit her. she is a welcome presence. so there is his court in the white house. and then there is her court, and missy lehand was on one floor, and hick. they were all there.
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and then, eleanor roosevelt had space for earl miller. we were talking about competition a bit. eleanor roosevelt really did not like boats. she preferred to fly and she preferred horses and trains. which is sort of interesting. she is not with him very often. this is an amazing -- who is that? paul: that is steve and his girlfriend. blanche: is that missy there? paul: oh, no. so, eleanor was -- it is hard for us to understand today -- eleanor was a global figure of extraordinary popularity and celebrity. you see her there with shirley temple, who came to visit her. go to the next slide please.
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she was also really a media mogul. blanche: she is the first lady of radio. paul: could you talk a little bit about her power there? blanche: well, i talked about how she had 27 books and endless daily columns. she also had a radio show, a weekly radio show for a little while, then she had a television show. she is on the air and she is called the first lady of radio. there is a wonderful group of people who have done some wonderful things with the radio. stephen smith of radio works really organized a lot of the radio. they disagree with each other, the first modern couple, they had their own careers, political
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activities, controversies, and constituencies. they each have radio space. he gets an hour, she gets an hour. [laughter] it was really very interesting. paul: it is interesting, on december 7, after the bombing of pearl harbor, eleanor roosevelt was the first person to make a statement. blanche: i want to hit on this competitive thing. so she wrote to esther lape at one point, after the first year in the white house, "i want you to know that this year i have earned more through my columns and public speaking than fdr earned as president." [laughter] paul: she loved earning money. she gave most of it away,
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though. blanche: she did. to the american friends service committee, good causes, and all during the war, that is where her money went. it went to aid refugees, and so on. she gave it all away. paul: next slide please? so, the two of them had a complicated relationship. on the right, that is their wedding photograph, on the left that is the second inauguration. talk a little bit about how their personal relationship and also, how their political relationship changed. blanche: well, their personal relationship changed in that they had a deal. after lucy mercer, they are not going to get divorced but they will live separately, emotionally. on the other hand, eleanor roosevelt was devoted to fdr. she believed he had a vision for the country that they shared.
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when they did not agree and they didn't agree as i emphasized on race, where he did not take. he never went as far as she urged him to go. she could not believe when she came back from london and from the pacific and she saw how the british troops were integrated. she saw how britain was integrated. she saw how cruelly segregated the u.s. situation, the military situation was. she really fought against that. it turns out that he agreed with eleanor roosevelt that the military should be integrated, that women should fly, the
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tuskegee airmen who we saw, roscoe brown presente, i mean, she really fought for the tuskegee airmen, for women in the military, women in the air force, and for equal, you know. and the end to segregation. eisenhower did segregate some structures when eleanor roosevelt really protested. but it didn't happen the way she thought it should. we need to pause here, as we see the situation that we are currently living in. there was something called the dixiecrats. the southern control of the democratic party. the southern control of the democratic party moved to the dixiecrat control of the republican party when lyndon b.
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johnson insisted on the civil rights act. he knew that was going to change the party. and it did. look at them. the bigotry is in place, the failure to integrate. he had a motto, make me do it. have a movement. you want change? create a movement. eleanor roosevelt tried to do that. through her writing, she is called "lady great heart" by justice marshall, who lyndon b. johnson appoints to the supreme court circuit. thurgood marshall. and he said, in his "oral history" he said, eleanor roosevelt was lady great heart. she changed the tone for civil rights. fdr did not do a damn thing. [laughter]
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he actually said that. paul: here she is, we'll talk about her relationship with mary macleod bethune, and slide, here she is with marian anderson. she did not just talk about it, she made this a central tenet of her career. blanche: absolutely, she runs down when mary mcleod bethune comes to the white house for dinner. she runs down to embrace her and walk her into the white house. paul: that is marian anderson. blanche: marian anderson, not only does she support her fabulous concert on that easter sunday, but she has her as entertainment when the king and queen -- when the queen of england comes.
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she really makes it very clear, we have got to change the situation. paul: as soon as she leaves the white house she becomes a board member of the naacp. here she is with the queen. your book does a wonderful job of describing this and her relationship with the queen. it is a fascinating study in contrast. blanche: it really is. eleanor roosevelt is dazzled that the queen kept everything. she was so beautiful, impeccable, even in this heat exposed to american truths. and she has a picnic, and it's a hotdog picnic. there were fancy foods as well.
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how could she possibly serve the >> at one ofs? those times they worked together. >> they are isolates -- isolationists. the whole point of this visit is to encourage americans to say, look, they are just like us. we are the same people, you don't want them to be trampled by the nazis. >> eleanor goes back and meets the queen of england. >> she is they are during the blitz.
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she wrote that the happiest day of her life was the day she made the first team at field hockey. she is committed, she is very close to her memory of england and her friends in england, her school in england. there is no biography. she goes to england during the blitz and if she visits the troops, the british troops, the women doing incredible war work. this inspires her to think of the ways women can be activist and do more work. she comes back from her visit fueled with ideas that she communicates and creates things people can do.
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we have got to defend the world against the horror going on. also, everybody has to have a job. everybody has to be educated. she was horrified that so many of our young men at 18 could not pass the draft test because they could not read. eleanor roosevelt wants schools opened everywhere. paul: this is one of my favorite photographs of eleanor. this is her at the tuskegee institute. do you want to explain the back story? blanche: she rides with the tuskegee airmen and she is a smiling and happy. ultimately, there are 900 tuskegee airmen at the graduate
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center there was a fabulous guy named roscoe brown who was a one of the most decorated of the tuskegee airmen. now there is a book on the red tails. eleanor roosevelt made this possible after being trained and having a lot of time in the air, they were not being sent anywhere. within several weeks they were moved out. they really are involved in all kinds of heroic and dangerous, life-threatening, and highly decorated -- it is the most decorated unit. paul: that is chief anderson. she maintained a correspondence with him the rest of her life. like many things, they never
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publicized and remain friends. let's skip onto the next one, we are running out of time. 1943, the height of the war, eleanor roosevelt goes on a secret mission to the pacific to visit american troops. on the right is joe lash. one of the closest people to eleanor throughout her life. we talk about this journey? she was flying military planes throughout the specific, under attack, being bombed, and yet she persevered. blanche: she always said courage could be as contagious as fear. it is amazing because she is being bombed, things are exploding all around her. she goes to every hospital, speaks to every wounded veteran and takes notes, saying i will contact your parents, wife,
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whatever. she does. she goes home and corresponds with everybody. whatever she said to the wounded folks, she cheered them up. they were depressed, suicidal, eleanor roosevelt managed -- she really did just love the people. one of her great friends actually said eleanor roosevelt loves the people. that is a real truth to her
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life. eleanor roosevelt is very close to joe and one of the things i'm excited about is nobody has ever written about the member of the german anti-nazi underground. she married elliott pratt, one of the richest men in the u.s.. she runs an anti-nazi newspaper. they come to the u.s. and they have three children. at some point she meets joe and they fall in love. eleanor roosevelt has a very strange connection to this relationship. she really encourages her to get a divorce. clearly they had an open
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relationship. he said wife you want a divorce? you have all the freedom you need and evidently so did he. they had three children. she is very involved with the german underground. she is responsible ultimately for the rescue operation which is the most important -- one could argue, the significant rescue operation before the war. before she died i asked her, what is up with nobody ever giving her credit for the rescue operation? it was clear to me that she is the only connection to eleanor roosevelt in this situation. she banged her fist on the table and her glasses fell off, she said don't write that. i said i'm going to write that, why not? she said to protect her children but ultimately before she died she said ok i could write it and i did.
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she said to protect her family and i could not understand it until her children told me she had two brothers who fly here and two brothers who fought there. and a mother who was such a nazi she would never meet joe. that tension and reality, she was a great activist and committed to all of the programs for justice and education for children. for housing in new york city. it is really equal education that was her big passion. she did wonderful work and as i said there is no biography. there are many papers. i know that because her children gave me 10 boxes.
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paul: we will be happy to take them off your hands. blanche: you're going to get them. paul: this photo was the only photograph in eleanor's wallet on the day she died. blanche: i did not know that. paul: we have everything from her pistol permit to her press credentials, no photographs of her children, grandchildren, franklin roosevelt, just that one photo of joe lash. blanche: that is amazing. paul: april 12, 1945, franklin roosevelt dies. his body is brought up to hyde park where he is buried. this is a traumatic moment for the country, world, particularly for eleanor roosevelt. do you want to talk about what happened and how eleanor responded to both her personal tragedy and this global loss? blanche: fdr had just written an incredible speeches that he was you incredible speeches that he was going to deliver the next day. it really is a speech that sets off what eleanor roosevelt thinks of the united nations.
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we have to have a world in which there will not be -- world war ii eisenhower said should be the last war to tear humanity apart. that vision should be the last war. if we had justice, if we have economic security, if we have literacy for all, health care for all, housing for all, we would not have war. it is that vision that she is left with, it is her vision. she has written many articles. we don't have time to read her moral basis of democracy in which she says we should stop worshiping the god. she says we have to give up greed and very specifically give up greed and really have economic citizenry where you think of your work as connected to the needs and works of all the other people.
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her definition of citizen is neighbor. we are all global neighbors. everything that happens anywhere he says in his books affects everybody, everywhere. we are all connected in one world. he and eleanor roosevelt become close. a he dies in 1944. that is one piece of the legacy. the other piece is she learned he was with lucy mercer when he died.
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eleanor roosevelt never referred to that publicly. she never tells anybody, not even joe lash. she lives with it. she actually becomes friends with her cousin who told her. they become friendly overtime. she forgives her for being in on it and she forgives her daughter anna who had something to do with the many connections over time between lucy mercer and fdr. paul: we are running out of time so i am going to skip this photo but this is eleanor with winston churchill one year after fdr dies. will we will skip to the next picture because this is eleanor holding up the universal declaration of human rights in spanish.
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this really was her greatest accomplishment. blanche: it is, i have to say the universal declaration of human rights, this november will be its 70th anniversary. the secretary general of the u.s. at the opening of the u.n. this last week really gave an incredible speech in which he said we are further away from human rights worldwide now than we were 70 years ago. eleanor roosevelt's commitment to the universal declaration of human rights, which was a unity, economic and civic and social rights, civic and political rights, it got divided into two wl covenants. the u.n. did not ratify the covenant, does anybody know when? we did not ratify it, jimmy carter brought it up but he did not bring it up to the senate. him george herbert walker bush in 1991 brought it to the senate after the soviet union collapse.
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he said now we can stand for civil and political rights. the u.s. has still not had a conversation about the economic and social rights constant. a there was an organization that was supposed to push it forward but it is not really doing that. we need a movement. we need a movement for the human rights. we have a creature in the white house who is just moved the u.s. from the international criminal court and also from the human rights commission. let me just say, the human rights commission had a great conference we were invited for the day it opened just this saturday there were 600 people, incredible speeches by members of leading countries. the head of the human rights commission gave an incredibly wonderful speech.
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the secretary-general gave it. we stand for human rights. we are still fighting for these rights. we are committed to it. [applause] it was the same day the person in the white house made folks is laugh when he said he has done more than anybody ever. he was amazingly rude to canada, excuse me to all of our allies. it is a little scary what we are living through now. i'm sorry.
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the bottom line is universal declaration of human rights is still there, it is still a goal, and it is still a goal. there are something like 12 nations in which the death penalty is available for people in who love each other of the same sex and 48 nations where it is criminal. the goal is to stop that and the goal is to have freedom of speech, press, religion, and economic security. work for everybody, jobs for everybody, education for everybody. i have to say we are closing public schools all over the country and ending sports and music programs not only all over
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the country but even in places like new york and connecticut. all of us who are activists, we have work to do. paul: questions from the audience now, rate or hand and they will bring the microphone to you. >> is my mic on? thank you for that interview. [applause] paul: i can talk to you all day. >> when i greeted blanche this morning i said i think you are going to take something and us you have. we are big believers in free speech here. [applause] we respect all speech. we respect everyone who is here.
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as we are asking questions, i know we probably have way more than we have time to get to. you guys know he did the score for ken burns'documentary about the roosevelts as well as the one for vietnam? as -- we are going to do some questions. we want everybody is a part of free speech, but we want your speech to be civil and humane to our guests' work.
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raise your hands and we will come and bring you a microphone and you can ask a question. >> i have nothing but nice things to say. i might understand the comment at the end but my parents lived in waverly hall georgia at the time of roosevelt's death. my father was volunteered for service in the second world war because he only had one hand. he lost one in the frontier of west georgia as he was growing up. he was a patriot, my whole family are just roosevelt crazy. every story you told, the hotdogs and everything i heard as a kid growing up. i am the tour is for doing this, sorry about that. where did eleanor meet the train? my father talked about watching him put it on and it was a very moving experience. blanche: she went down and accompanied somebody. >> good evening, i work with
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young people at a high school. knowing what you said about eleanor, i wonder what your message would be. what you think eleanor would say to young people today, keeping in mind that many people have been under siege lately with violence that has begotten in schools. i just wonder what eleanor's message would be to young people? blanche: eleanor roosevelt happiest days were at allenwood
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as a student and as a teacher where she taught with marian dickerman, who was the principal. eleanor roosevelt was the most popular teacher. she really believed in the power of teachers and education. what she would say is unpack your heart when you write essays, listen, the critical, never mimic the teacher, always ask questions, and that was her message to young people. that was her message, ask questions and the political, question everything, never take and anything for granted, do not believe the politicians. [laughter] [applause] >> hi, thank you for being here i am so excited to read your book. i knew very little about eleanor roosevelt until recently when a friend asked her to help with a documentary. i am wondering if you knew about
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this story of the ss kwanzaa. blanche: that is wonderful, you did a documentary? >> she is working on it, it is great. blanche: eleanor roosevelt was horrified when the ss st. louis was a sent back to europe. one of the things i did not say about the trip, it happened when the king and queen were here. all of the headlines, while the king and queen of england are here is that the ship is not allowed to harbor anywhere. it is going back. eleanor roosevelt was
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horrified. she said i will personally welcome the people who come as refugees on the next ship. the neck ship was the kwanzaa. eleanor roosevelt said it let the ship stay in virginia beach. everyone will be here as my guest. they were allowed to stay. paul: it was a violation of immigration quota. blanche: actually it wasn't a violation because less than 10% of the immigration quotas were being filled. it was a violation of the power structure of the state department which was dominated by breckenridge. one of the great mysteries i bring up again and again is why a didn't fdr fire this absolute big it who says he is going to make it impossible for people to become refugees and be admitted?
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actively anti-semitic. eleanor roosevelt says franklin you know he is a fascist. and he is. fdr says to eleanor roosevelt, he may be but do not use that word. he goes on and on and the kwanzaa is the cutting edge. he says to fdr, i don't know what the nature of the commitment was allegedly fdr did not agree with him entirely. paul: he ignored his orders specifically to the number of visas they were issuing. blanche: he says over the kwanzaa, who is in charge here me or your wife? fdr says to eleanor roosevelt,
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he is in charge, you cannot do this. paul: there is a great new book that has just come out called the war refugee board. it looks actively at what the end of the war resulted were. >> [indiscernible] have you read any of the letters, what would she say to them? blanche: i must say i have not read very many. paul: we have about a million pages of them. blanche: she really does support them, tell me what they need if
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they need something specific. she is really horrified. in really cold, rainy places like england in the winter, she writes to ike, what is up with no socks? very specific things like that. she goes right to it. paul: all four of her sons served in active duty during the war. she would often talk about her own struggles of not knowing where her sons were. she could relate to the families who were back home. many of the letters to the families of servicemen were about her own personal experiences. >> as a former director of a presidential library, i would be remiss if i didn't ask you to
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say a word about the value of presidential libraries. him blanche: i couldn't do my research if it weren't for the great library that is better than ever under paul sparrow. [applause] really fabulous. some president's letters are at the library of congress, not much fun to work there, especially if you are a new yorker. the fdr library, anyway is a great library. you have done amazing and wonderful work and i want to see all of the films you have put together and slideshows which you have put online. it really is quite thrilling. paul: i think fdr created the
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first presidential library. not only did he want to bring his papers and make them available, he felt it was important for the transparency of the government. he wanted americans to understand how the government worked and how decisions were made. up to that point, presidents took everything with them, documents were considered personal property. he donated all of his papers, his home on the hudson river, his collection, his paintings, books, he was so committed to sharing that with the american people. since then, every president has created a presidential library where you can read these letters. one of our challenges is we have
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a million letters to and from eleanor roosevelt that are not digitized, it is something we have to figure out how to do. we have great letters in a box, if you want to come up we will show them to you, at some point. >> hello. aboutr you had mentioned this biography being a two-year endeavor. at what point did it become such a massive work that you realized it needed to be three volumes? can you talk about that process? [laughter] >> you know, it just got bigger and bigger and more and more. the political climate was such that one wanted to deal with all of the pertinent realities. i started this before the soviet union collapsed. it continued after. then the game changes. as a military historian, i
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became obsessed with the political realities of the international political realities, which are in the book, and with her personal commitments, and then the many commitments and many activities of all of her friends, including surprising people like bernard -- bernard farook who is really , a fascinating international player. he is very close to churchill. i didn't talk about churchill, but i got very involved with churchill, because eleanor roosevelt really despised churchill. why? because he's a bigot, because of his activities in india, the bengal famine, millions of people died because he would not let food in over the hump while
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the ships are right there in the harbor. eleanor roosevelt knows all of this. it became a vehicle to rewrite a lot of history that needed to be rewritten. paul: endlessly fascinating story and she does a truly extraordinary job of telling it. [applause] i think we are getting the science here. >> i think we are. i don't know about y'all, i got to stand up and walk around. are there any desperate questions we missed? ron has a desperate question. please. >> it's not really desperation. [laughter] but by coincidence in today's paper, the new york townhome where mrs. roosevelt lived until her death, there's a $20 million sale. but a couple things an article,
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she hosted khrushchev at one time and actually worked on john kennedy's campaign. any comments on her activities at the end of her life? >> her activities near the end of life. paul: why don't you talk about her and john kennedy? that's my favorite. blanche: eleanor roosevelt kept growing and changing. she did host khrushchev. she said, we may be enemies, but we have to talk to each other. talking is better than fighting and we can disagree. she had the russian delegation for dinner all the time. she took them to the concert because they loved music. and when they went to carnegie hall and heard concerts, they became friendlier. john kennedy, she was very hesitant because she didn't like
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his father. we can understand why she didn't like joseph kennedy. joseph kennedy wanted to ally with hitler. she was worried that joseph kennedy would be pushing his children into power and may be they would be like him, but then she met with john kennedy, and it was instant friendship. i think it would be before dessert, she makes it very clear he would support him, and that was really a great change. paul: she had been an adlai stevenson supporter, up until the point where she decided, this man is not so bad after all. blanche: and then she was disappointed in stevenson. she is writing around with stevenson in new york and they are into an african-american community, and stevenson says,
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what do you think i should say to those people? eleanor roosevelt is more than revolted. she is profoundly disappointed. >> we have one more question. i want to say for anyone coming tomorrow, tomorrow we have authors for an hour and then there is a break in between. tonight we have the luxury of getting to hang out a little longer. tomorrow we will not keep you for extra time. >> quickly, can you address -- a new discussion, there was a picture of eleanor roosevelt standing by martin luther king. can you say a few words about her engagement with martin luther king and the fight for human dignity and human rights? blanche: she really encouraged the civil rights movement. she encouraged martin luther king. she encouraged a sit in.
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the student nonviolent coordinating committee. i invited eleanor roosevelt to roosevelt house when i was a student at hunter. i was president at student council. i invited her to speak to us in 1961. and she said wonderful things are happening, go south for freedom. so we took two buses and went to north carolina. eleanor roosevelt was supporting the sit in's the civil rights , movement, from the 1940's until the end of her life. she was delighted. polly murray -- and there is a wonderful new book. there are a few wonderful books about eleanor roosevelt and polly murray. she called eleanor roosevelt the mother of the women's movement and the conscience of us all.
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and that is really eleanor roosevelt with civil rights. >> what a perfect place to end. [applause] blanche: thank you. thank you. paul: thank you. [applause] are watching american history tv, 48 hours of programming on american history every weekend on c-span3. follow us on twitter at c-span history for information on our schedule and to keep up with the latest history news. >> tonight on lectures in history, the university of north florida professor, david corp. right, teaches us classes about changing immigration graphics and the rise of nativism in the early 20th century.
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the period of most intense nativism in american history was actually from world war i until the late 1930's. that leads us to ask another question, are we getting back into that mode of enhanced nativism? are we still in nativist country? the answer i'm going to give you was no, and yes. the primary reason i'm going to say no is one really big thing has changed since the early 20th century. intermarriage. i could put up a slide like this for virtually any group, i'm going to use american jews as an example. if you look at the history of intermarriage of american jews, you will notice from the 1900s 99%ling -- virtually 98 to were marrying other jews.
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same thing with italian catholics. the vast majority of italian catholics were marrying other italian catholics. .eople stuck to their own group that started to change over time . time is the magic ingredient. over time you get a situation when it goes up to 10%. then let the end of the 20th jewsry nearly half of all were marrying people who were not jewish. to the point where it was causing great anxiety within the american jewish community. there was concern in some quarters that there was too much assimilation, threatening the religious and ethnic identity. but at another way it's the evidence that the melting talk -- the melting pot is helping. oflearn more about changes
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immigration demographics and the rise of nativism in the early 20th century tonight on lectures in history. you are watching american history tv, where we bring the classroom to you. tv, an american history conservative scholar and a liberal escort -- historian explore the concept of populism in -- and its role in the history of american politics, in an event titled the promise and perils of populism, they discuss populism in today's political climate. the american enterprise institute and the -- institute cohosted. it is about 75 minutes. we are looking at the promise and perils of populism, we have billed it as a conversation rather than a debate. we have two preeminent scholars who will be talking together about populism and the current


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