African-Americans in the New Deal

Mary McLeod Bethune in front of the Capitol.

Mary McLeod Bethune in front of the Capitol.Credit…Hulton Archive/Getty Images



The Untold Story of African Americans and Politics During the Age of Roosevelt
By Jill Watts

There’s long been a standard story of the civil rights movement. It starts on a December evening in 1955, when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Ala., bus. With that single act of defiance, the story says, Parks set off a movement that sped across the South of the 1950s and 1960s, through Little Rock and Greensboro, Anniston and Ole Miss, Birmingham and Selma, and brought Jim Crow tumbling down. Then, in the bitter spring of 1968, the movement went to Memphis. There it died, on a motel balcony awash in its martyr’s blood.

It’s a profoundly powerful story, in large part because it’s a sacred one, built on a fundamental faith in sacrifice and suffering as the route to redemption. And for years historians have been pushing against it. They’ve stretched the movement’s chronology, extended its geography, recovered all-but-forgotten events and given its overlooked activists their due, all in an effort to make its history deeper, richer and more troubling than the standard story lets it be.

“The Black Cabinet,” by Jill Watts, the author of books on Hattie McDaniel and Father Divine, seems to take that revisionist project in a less than promising direction. In the early days of the New Deal, Franklin Roosevelt named…

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Youth Crises Past and Present: Learning from the New Deal and Eleanor Roosevelt


The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to mind the Great Depression because of its economic impact—more than 30 people million filed jobless claims between mid-March and this week. 


Less appreciated are the parallels on how America’s youth were and are being affected. 


The Great Depression wrought a youth crisis of unprecedented proportions—a crisis that threatens to resurface 90 years later.


Fortunately, our 20th-century responses offer guidance, from both President Franklin Roosevelt and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, on how to diminish the damage of the coronavirus.


In the 1930s, children and teens were among the most economically, educationally, and psychologically vulnerable to the ravages of the Depression. The Relief Census of 1933 revealed that…

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Foundation Welcomes 2020 Cohort of Roosevelt Scholars

We are delighted to announce today the 2020 cohort of Roosevelt Scholars. Although the COVID crisis will force us to spend the summer remotely, the scholastic format will be the same: each student will be working 4 days a week on a paid research project with a mentor/educator, and then spending one day a week in our academic practicum, Framing the American Experience, an interactive history program which will explore the creation of the modern United States through the immigrant lens, beginning with the first European settlers and ending with the challenges facing America in 2020.

Congratulations to the new cohort! The six were chosen from a field of almost 50 applicants who participated in Harvard’s FYRE program, aimed at first-generation college students.


Eric Olvera ’23  from Idaho Falls, Idaho, and Adams House will be working with Jed Willard in collaboration with the Venezuelan Embassy in the United States, which represents the Guido government recognized by the US. Eric will complete literature reviews, monitor initiatives to fight misinformation as well as aid the Embassy in strengthening freedom of speech and help improve digital literacy. Jed Willard is the FDR Foundation Director of Global Outreach and the Founding Director Emeritus of the Public Diplomacy Collaborative at Harvard Kennedy School.


Oksanna Samey ’23 from Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Mather House will be working with Dr. Rati Thanawala to build programs that will accelerate career advancement in tech, especially for women of color. Oksanna will illustrate career challenges and solutions learned from various leaders to help improve diversity and inclusion in the workforce. Dr. Rati Thanawala was a 2018 Advanced Leadership Initiative Fellow who has started a Leadership Academy for Women of Color in Tech in 2020.


Simon Levien ’23 from Sparta, New Jersey, and Dunster House will be working with Professor David Jones to deepen his understanding of health effects associated with air pollution in the United States. Through an extensive analysis of relevant sources, Simon will further his evolving knowledge of the negative impacts caused by air pollution. Professor David Jones is an inaugural A. Bernard Ackerman Professor of the Culture of Medicine, a joint position between the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and the Faculty of Medicine.




Erick Torres-Gonzalez ’23 from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Quincy House will be working with Akshay Dixit in collaboration with Professor Brule to study how exposure to climate shocks affects women’s political preferences and behaviors in Bangladesh. Through an analysis of climate data, particularly precipitation datasets, Erick will collaborate with Akshay to assist Professor Brule on her paper for publication. Akshay Dixit is a current Ph.D. candidate in Government and Political Economy, and Professor Rachel Brule is an Assistant Professor of Global Development Policy at the Frederik S. Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University.


Heba Mohamed ’23 from Vernon, Connecticut, and Leverett House will be working with Shireen Hamza on deepening the understanding of the history of medicine in the medieval Islamic world, especially in the region surrounding the Indian Ocean. Through interdisciplinary research, Heba will assist in preparing “plant biographies” as well as data sets with hundreds of common recipes using various data-visualization programs. Shireen Hamza is a current Ph.D. candidate in History of Science studying the lives of medicinal plants in the medieval Islamic world, from cultivation to therapeutic use.



Jaden Deal ’23 from Norwalk, Iowa, and Pforzheimer House will be working with Zid Mancenido to investigate how high-achieving college students learn about and decide whether to become K-12 classroom teachers. Through extensive qualitative and quantitative research, Jaden will further his understanding of “the path to becoming teachers” in the United States. Zid Mancenido is an Instructor and Ph.D. candidate in Education Policy.




Brian Hyun Seo ’22 from Los Angeles, California, and Winthrop House is a graduate of the 2019 Roosevelt Scholars Program and the Program’s 2020 Proctor. This summer, Brian will be working with Hansong Li and Yifei Wu to research the pricing and bidding strategies of medical supplies, from the perspective of crisis management and international trade. Through this research, Brian will further his understanding of firm behaviors as well as economic strategies used to mitigate the crisis. Hansong Li is a current Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Government, and Yifei Wu is a current Ph.D. candidate at Harvard Business School

The President vs. The Epidemic: FDR’s Polio Crusade

Dave Welky is Professor of History at the University of Central Arkansas.



No president can end an epidemic single handedly, but they can inspire a popular movement that eradicates a disease. Such was the case with Franklin Roosevelt and polio.


Seventy-five years ago, on April 12, 1945, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and died at the “Little White House” in Warm Springs, Georgia. His administration’s achievements, such as Social Security and unemployment relief, are woven into the fabric of American government. Pundits still measure new presidents against FDR’s First Hundred Days, and present-day politicians slap the “New Deal” label on ambitious agendas. Donald Trump, like FDR a wealthy New Yorker presiding over turbulent economic times, has recently cast himself as a “wartime president” in his predecessor’s mold.


Although FDR’s continuing relevance is undeniable, one of his greatest achievements has faded into relative obscurity even though Americans are reminded of it whenever they sift through their pocket change. The faces gracing common American coins are a parade of Great White Men – Lincoln, Washington, Jefferson – with no obvious rationale for appearing on one denomination or another. It would be as apropos for Lincoln to grace the quarter as the penny.


But examine the smallest and thinnest coin, the dime. More specifically, the Roosevelt dime, first minted in 1946. FDR’s stolid look, with a hint of Cheshire-cat grin, conceals a hidden logic. While president, FDR was a driving force behind the March of Dimes, the charity that financed Dr. Jonas Salk’s creation of a polio vaccine. Because of this medical wonder, along with its successors, the United States has not spawned a polio case for more than forty years. This remarkable chain of events makes FDR responsible for saving thousands of lives and saving even more people from paralysis.


FDR contracted polio in 1921, the year following…


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Coronavirus: Amid crisis, challenges faced by FDR resonate on 75th anniversary of death

By: Paul M. Sparrow, For the Poughkeepsie JournalPublished 6:00 a.m. ET April 9, 2020 | Updated 11:24 a.m. ET April 9, 2020

Editor’s note: Paul M. Sparrow is the director of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum. He wrote this article for the Journal in recognition of the anniversary of Roosevelt’s death on April 12.

As America and the world confront the deadly COVID 19 pandemic, we should all take a moment to remember the inspirational legacy of Franklin Delano Roosevelt on the 75th anniversary of his death.

The society we live in today is based on his vision of global cooperation and economic equality — Social Security, minimum wage, a 40-hour work week, child labor laws, the World Bank, NATO and the United Nations are all just a small part of the Roosevelt legacy. But it is his inspiring leadership in the face of global catastrophe, and his ability to speak hard truth and instill confidence in the future that are most relevant today.

Paul Sparrow, Director of the FDR Library and Museum in Hyde Park on May 31.

Paul Sparrow, Director of the FDR Library and Museum in Hyde Park on May 31. (Photo: Patrick Oehler/Poughkeepsie Journal)

During his 12 years as president FDR confronted first the Great Depression and then the rise of fascism and totalitarianism. Yet he never wavered in his belief that the American people could overcome any challenge.


It was April 12, 1945. President Roosevelt was recovering at the polio rehabilitation center he created in Warm Springs, Georgia, on that early spring day. His exhausting travel to the military conference in Yalta with Joseph Stalin and Winston Churchill had taken a toll on his already poor health.

World War II was nearing its end in Europe and FDR was focusing on…


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