(p. C1) In October 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had his administration send letters to thousands of clergy across the country, asking if the New Deal was helping their communities.
Even from admirers, the news wasn’t always good. Local administrators did not “carry out your will and purpose,” J.H. Ellis, a Black pastor in Hot Springs, Ark., wrote, “especially as it relates to the Negro group.” J.W. Hairston, an African American minister in Asheville, N.C., lamented that in the South “there are two states and two cities, one white — one black.”
The Northern Black press, meanwhile, was more blunt. The New Deal, more than one newspaper proclaimed, was also a “Raw Deal.”
Eight decades later, that charge still hangs in the air. Conservatives have long assailed the New Deal, which radically expanded the government’s involvement in the economy, as the epitome of big-government overreach. But in recent years, progressives have increasingly argued that this pillar of 20th-century liberalism rested on a Jim Crow foundation, and laid the groundwork for the yawning Black wealth gap that persists today.
Now, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, N.Y., is entering the fray. “Black Americans, Civil Rights and the Roosevelts, 1932-1962,” on view through December 2024, takes a frank, deeply researched view of what it calls Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt’s “mixed” record on race, from their personal attitudes to the policies they championed.
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(p. C3) . . . , the title of the opening wall text makes the central question plain: “A New Deal for All Americans?”
While a mainstay of scholarship for decades, that question has recently reached a broader public, thanks to books like Ira Katznelson’s “When Affirmative Action Was White” and Richard Rothstein’s “The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America.”
On a recent afternoon, a docent directed visitors toward what she called “the most amazing thing” — a 1937 Home Owners Loan Corporation map of the nearby city of Poughkeepsie, labeling predominantly Black areas as “hazardous” for lenders.
In 1935, the newly created Federal Housing Administration issued a manual for lenders, endorsing redlining (so named for the pink shading of “hazardous” areas) and warning that Black families should not be approved for mortgages in white areas. “Incompatible racial groups,” it noted, “should not be permitted to live in the same communities.”
Housing policy is widely seen by historians as one of the New Deal’s most consequential failures, one which over time dramatically deepened residential segregation. But while the exhibition deals bluntly with the issue, it also avoids any simplified counternarrative of the New Deal writ large as inherently, and intentionally, racist at its core.
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The exhibition deals directly with what the library calls the “greatest stain” on Roosevelt’s racial record: his refusal to publicly support federal anti-lynching legislation, out of fear it would alienate the Southern Democrats who dominated Congress and imperil the New Deal.
(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 1, 2023, and has the title “At the Roosevelt Library, an Unflinching Look at Race.”)