Franklin D. Roosevelt and Race Relations

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This series contains a collection of essential materials for the study of the early development of the Civil Rights Movement - concerned with the issues of:

  • Lynching
  • Segregation
  • Race riots
  • Employment discrimination

Franklin D. Roosevelt assumed the presidency of a nation in which white supremacy was a significant cultural and political force. Many states denied or severely restricted voting rights to African Americans and used their political power to further diminish their status and to deny them the benefits and opportunities of society. One consequence of this was to make African Americans potential victims of lynching, a kind of "people’s justice," in which mobs of whites seized and murdered, often in gruesome fashion, African Americans suspected of crimes against whites. Bent on economic recovery and reform and having to work through powerful Southern congressmen, the president hesitated to place civil rights on his agenda.

Civil rights did emerge as an issue because of three related events:

  • The movement of African Americans to northern states created a constituency that in some key states could hold a balance of power between the major parties.
  • Eleanor Roosevelt, the nation’s first activist First Lady, championed equal rights and racial justice.
  • Many persons and organizations, the most prominent of which was the NAACP, made federal anti-lynching legislation a major priority.
In June 1941, Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802, which created the Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC). It was the most important federal move in support of the rights of African Americans between Reconstruction and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The President’s order stated that the federal government would not hire any person based on their race, color, creed, or national origin. Millions of African Americans and women achieved better jobs and better pay as a result.