The Firebrand and the First Lady
"Unwilling to sanction DAR [Daughters of the American
Revolution] policy by keeping quiet, on February 26, the First Lady
wrote to President General Mrs. Henry M. Robert Jr., 'I am in complete
disagreement with the attitude taken in refusing Constitution Hall to
a great artist [Marian Anderson]. You have set an example which seems
to me unfortunate, and I feel obliged to send in to you my
resignation. You had an opportunity to lead in an enlightened way and
it seems to me that your organization has failed.'...
Pauli Murray took note of ER's comments and actions. Still
roiled by the UNC decision and her inability to challenge it in court,
she aimed to see just how far the first lady was willing to go on the
question of social justice."
Most of my readers and I were not around for either Roosevelt
presidency. Probably what the majority of us know about Eleanor
Roosevelt is based on what little was said back in high school history
which is pathetically little. Any pictures textbooks contained showed
her as prim and sedate. Certainly they did not portray the woman who
resigned from Daughters of the American Revolution when they rejected
the talent of a world famous black contralto and, much to the the
consternation of the political and social elite, served the queen and
king of England hot dogs on a picnic. (The king liked them so much he
asked for seconds).
Probably most of us know even less (if anything) about Pauli
Murray. I was intrigued by a mention of her in a book I was reading
in May. Days later my library writing class teacher gave me an
article about her and said she thought we had s lot in common. (This
was, by the way, quite a compliment for this firebrand.). I decided
to learn more about her. Then in a true instance of library
serendipity I came eyeball to cover with Patricia Bell-Scott's The
Firebrand and the First Lady: Portrait of a Friendship: Pauli
Murray, Eleanor Roosevelt, and the Struggle for Social Justice.
Murray was born in the segregated South in 1910. She lost both
parents quite early on: her mother when she was three and her father,
killed by a racist white, when she was thirteen. By high school she
had developed a thirst for learning and a passion for social justice.
Rather than attend an all black college, she moved to New York where
she worked her way through Hunter College. In her graduating class of
247 there were only four blacks. A year later, in 1934, ill and
fatigued, she was a resident of Camp Tera, a government refuge for
unemployed women in upstate New York.
Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), established by Roosevelt's
husband to help the unemployed, was a stag operation. The people who
ran it had all kinds of excuses for excluding women: they could turn
to family for help; they were too catty for communal living; they
might be recruited to communism or homosexuality. Luckily Eleanor
persisted in getting a camp established for women who had, "been
neglected in comparison with others, and throughout this depression
have had the hardest time of all."
One day Roosevelt drove up to Camp Tera for one of her regular
visits. Murray and Roosevelt did not speak. In fact Murray was
accused of "disrespecting" Roosevelt. Four years later Murray,
angered by the racial inequality in America wrote to Roosevelt and her
husband. Roosevelt personally replied. This opening volley in their
correspondance would lead to an intimate, deeply personal long term
The Firebrand and The First Lady gives an in depth understanding
of this friendship in 360 well researched pages. It also provides a
fascinating look at two complex, passionate women and the world in
which the lived, breathed, and had their being. Avid herstory
enthusiasts will find this book to an illuminating addition to
knowledge and understanding of the not so long ago past.
On a personal note, this firebrand had a very productive day
yesterday. My big achievement was the writing of an op ed piece on
why a certain group claiming to push for "sensible" immigration is
really the latest incarnation of scapegoating organizations preying on
people's fears. Murray would have been on board with it. Then I did
most of my report on what I've worked on and achieved so far. Another
document Murray would have approved.
To keep this firebrand fit and fighting I have to maintain a healthy
lifestyle. Yesterday I embarked on a two week baseline assessment by
listing all I eat, drink, sleep, and do for exercise and stress
prevention with no intervention. I can't very well change until I
know what I need to change.
A great shout goes out to all my fellow firebrands! May we be out,
about, and rocking the boat!
Sent from my iPod