No Refuge


In April 1933, at the beginning of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first term, Undersecretary of State William Phillips called Labor Secretary Frances Perkins on the phone, expecting to tell her how immigration policy would work in the new administration. Philips “was almost blown off his end of the telephone.” Perkins told him “in no uncertain terms” that accepting immigrants whose lives were in danger was an American tradition and that “it was up to her department, not the State Department, to decide whether such admission would adversely affect the economic conditions or entail a fight with the AFL [American Federation of Labor].”1

a black and white photo of a middle-aged white womanAs the first woman cabinet secretary and longest-serving Labor Secretary in American history, Perkins is best remembered as a key architect of the New Deal and Social Security. A lesser-known component of her tenure is her role in U.S. immigration policy, which was largely under her department’s control in the 1930s. From her volunteer work in a Chicago settlement house to her work on industrial safety in the wake of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, immigration issues had always been a part of Perkins’ labor activism. In many ways, if you were looking to flee Europe in the 1930s, she may have seemed like the ideal cabinet secretary to oversee immigration to the United States. Yet when she joined the cabinet, the United States did not even have an official definition of refugee, let alone a coherent policy for managing their petitions for entrance to the country.2

Understanding the story of Perkins’ attempt to carve a welcoming refugee policy out of scraps of existing law, from her phone call with Phillips to the complete transfer of INS out of her control in 1940, requires us to follow a series of bureaucratic maneuvers between and among cabinet departments.3 But these maneuvers—and the smaller battles over bureaucratic turf that both precipitated and followed them—were part of fighting a greater war for the spirit and implementation of the nation’s immigration policy. Would the United States cling to its legally-codified hostility towards immigrants—even refugees—or would it open its doors to those fleeing persecution and violence? Perkins’ struggle to open those doors in the 1930s shows us how a culture war can be fought through, and consciously disguised by, bureaucratic battles over policy and implementation.

Barely a month before FDR’s inauguration on March 4, 1933, Hitler became Chancellor of Germany. Americans had followed Hitler’s rise to power in the news, and now they followed the deteriorating status of Jewish Germans. In March 1933, Nazis smashed windows of Jewish stores, broke streetcars, and assaulted Jewish passersby. The following month, they boycotted Jewish businesses. In mid-April, FDR’s Cabinet convened to discuss a sudden surge in applications for immigration visas from Jewish Germans.4

At this time, immigration to the U.S. was guided by…

Read more at:

https://contingentmagazine.org/2019/08/23/no-refuge/


The Mystery of This Dusty Book, Signed by Amelia Earhart and Eleanor Roosevelt


By 

Aug. 23, 2019

The trunk had sat in the library of a Midtown Manhattan acting school for decades.

No one seems to have ever fully rifled through its contents, save for a researcher here and there, said Whit Waterbury, an archivist and librarian at the Neighborhood Playhouse, the conservatory where Robert Duvall, Jeff Goldblum and Allison Janney trained.

So several years ago, Mr. Waterbury rolled up his sleeves and got busy.

Most of the materials he found had to do with the early days of the theater, between 1915 and 1927. Photographs and playbills of a Hindu drama attributed to King Shudraka in 1924. Productions featuring the music of Ernest Bloch, Claude Debussy and Alexander Borodin.

And then he found the book.

At first, he didn’t think much of the dusty thing, with its fragile binding and fading yellow ribbon on the outside. He set it aside to focus on documents more clearly related to the school and its founders, Alice and Irene Lewisohn, two sisters and community activists who built one of the first Off Broadway theaters in New York.

But then last spring, he actually flipped through its pages. There was…

Read more at:

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/23/nyregion/henry-street-settlement-lillian-wald.html

 

What FDR Understood About Socialism That Today’s Democrats Don’t


President Franklin D. Roosevelt arrived at Franklin Field on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania in characteristic style: beaming, from the back seat of an open car. He had earned this smile. It was June 27, 1936, and he had just been re-nominated by acclamation in the smoke-filled Philadelphia Convention Center a few blocks away. It was, arguably, the high-water-mark of his career. Thanks to the monumental initiatives of Roosevelt’s first term, it was also a moment of transcendent significance in the nation’s history, though none of the 100,000 people sweating in the yellow-brick football stadium realized it.

This was the pinnacle of American socialism, by that or any other name.

In the four years just past, Roosevelt had transformed the purpose of the United States government, making it a constant companion in the lives of Americans. The Social Security Act of the previous year was merely the crowning achievement. Roosevelt’s initiatives, meant to curb the misery brought on by the Great Depression ,directly funded millions of government jobs, employing everyone from photographers to brush-clearing conservation workers. To pay for this, he raised the income tax—which hadn’t even existed two decades earlier—to 75 percent on the highest incomes. The rich were subsidizing the poor, and that was A-OK with FDR.

The giant crowd bristled with excitement to hear their hero defend these policies. What followed was his so-called “Rendezvous with Destiny” speech, which historians rank among the greatest of his career, a tall order from the man whose oratorical roster included “nothing to fear but fear itself,” and “a day that will live in infamy.” But while those speeches perfectly captured individual moments, Roosevelt’s “Rendezvous with Destiny” speech came far closer to revealing his inner theories and motivations: Never before or after would he lay out his vision in greater clarity.

Read more at: 

https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2019/08/16/democrats-socialism-fdr-roosevelt-227622


Nearly turned back, a ship of Holocaust refugees got help from Eleanor Roosevelt


 

European refugees, denied entry to the United States in New York and Mexico at Veracruz, line the rail of the Portuguese steamer Quanza and talk to relatives on the pier when the ship stopped to refuel at Norfolk, Virginia, September 11, 1940. One passenger, a German, was captured by an army guard after diving overboard in Hampton Roads. (AP Photo)

 

NEW YORK — Not even the crackle of a cough drop being unwrapped could be heard Sunday as a petite Holocaust survivor shared her story after the New York City premiere of “Nobody Wants Us.”

Her voice steady, Annette Schamroth Lachmann told the rapt audience how she was just four years old when a photographer captured the moment she, her sister and mother peered through a porthole of the SS Quanza. Annette’s father was standing on the pier below, having arrived in New York City from Antwerp, Belgium the year before to find housing.

“I remember him reaching a hand up to ours. My sister wondered why we weren’t allowed off,” Lachmann said as part of a panel discussion “Eleanor Roosevelt and the Jewish Refugees She Saved: The Story of the SS Quanza,” at the Center for Jewish History.

NEW YORK — Not even the crackle of a cough drop being unwrapped could be heard Sunday as a petite Holocaust survivor shared her story after the New York City premiere of “Nobody Wants Us.”

Her voice steady, Annette Schamroth Lachmann told the rapt audience how she was just four years old when a photographer captured the moment she, her sister and mother peered through a porthole of the SS Quanza. Annette’s father was standing on the pier below, having arrived in New York City from Antwerp, Belgium the year before to find housing.

“I remember him reaching a hand up to ours. My sister wondered why we weren’t allowed off,” Lachmann said as part of a panel discussion “Eleanor Roosevelt and the Jewish Refugees She Saved: The Story of the SS Quanza,” at the Center for Jewish History.

As Lachmann looked out into the crowd…

 

Read more at: 

https://www.timesofisrael.com/nearly-turned-back-a-ship-of-holocaust-refugees-got-help-from-eleanor-roosevelt/

 


A Blundering Churchill, a Farsighted Roosevelt


By Peter Baker

May 8, 2019

Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill at the Casablanca Conference, 1943.CreditCreditKeystone/Getty Images

WAR AND PEACE 
FDR’s Final Odyssey, D-Day to Yalta, 1943-1945 
By Nigel Hamilton

Admittedly, it is a pretty geeky parlor game, maybe one that has faded with time. But for years in many households, it provoked endless dinnertime debate. In the annals of the 20th century, who was the greater, more significant historical figure: Franklin D. Roosevelt or Winston Churchill?

The case for Churchill is powerful. He rallied Britain against Hitler’s hordes when the rest of Europe had fallen. While the United States remained on the sidelines and the Soviet Union embraced its devil’s-bargain alliance with Nazi Germany, Churchill virtually single-handedly defied the Third Reich in the face of existential threat: He was personally at risk, along with his countrymen, amid the cascade of bombs raining down on London during the Blitz.

But count Nigel Hamilton in Roosevelt’s camp — not just in his camp but perhaps his most passionate and eloquent champion. In “War and Peace,” his latest book on the American wartime leader, Hamilton presents a farsighted Roosevelt riding to the rescue of freedom, then setting the stage for a new world order to come. Churchill is depicted as a military dunderhead who let ego and imperial ambition get in the way of sensible strategy. Courageous? Yes. A stirring orator? Absolutely. But if not restrained by Roosevelt, Churchill, in Hamilton’s view, might easily have lost World War II for the Allies.

“War and Peace” is the third and final volume in Hamilton’s “F.D.R. at War” trilogy and certainly as gripping and powerfully argued as the first two, “The Mantle of Command” and “Commander in Chief.” Hamilton, as the historian Evan Thomas once observed, ended up producing the extended memoir that Roosevelt himself…

Read more at:

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/08/books/review/nigel-hamilton-war-and-peace.html


When conservatives went to war over SF post office murals


Anton Refrigier murals of “The History of San Francisco” that were funded by the federal Public Works of Art Program and painted on Rincon Annex walls.Photo: Chronicle file photo

In recent years, most of the attacks on public art in San Francisco have come from the left — the fight to remove from Civic Center the “Early Days” statue with a supine Indian and the uproar over “Life of Washington” murals at George Washington High School depicting a black slave and dead American Indian being the latest examples.

This is a remarkable reversal. Throughout the city’s history, conservatives almost invariably were the ones leading the charge to remove “objectionable” art.

One case in point: The Anton Refregier murals in the Rincon Annex post office, which inspired the longest-running controversy over public art in the city’s history.

The murals were commissioned during the Depression by one of the federal arts programs initiated by Franklin Roosevelt’s administration to provide work for artists. The best-known of those New Deal programs, the Public Works of Art Project, funded a number of projects in San Francisco, including the Coit Tower murals. As recounted in an earlier Portals, these murals were the subject of sharp attacks from conservatives when they were unveiled in 1934.

Read More at:

https://www.sfchronicle.com/chronicle_vault/article/When-conservatives-went-to-war-over-SF-post-13912445.php