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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Louise Young, February 14, 1972. Interview G-0066. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Perception of and admiration for leadership role of Eleanor Roosevelt

Young recalls her perception of Eleanor Roosevelt. Here, she describes how Roosevelt refused to stay at the top hotels during visits to Nashville because they were segregated. Young discusses Roosevelt's unique position as first lady and remembers with admiration how Roosevelt wielded her political power to advocate for improved conditions for African Americans and working people.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Louise Young, February 14, 1972. Interview G-0066. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

ROBERT HALL:
Did you know Eleanor Roosevelt.
LOUISE YOUNG:
I saw her twice, close up. And they were very memorable. I'm glad to testify to what I think of Eleanor Roosevelt. She came here to Nashville one time, this is how hard times we were in those days, we . . . together though. She couldn't stay at the major hotels I remember because she was . . . Negroes . . . I don't know whether anybody was travelling with her but they would have free access to her. So they put her down to the third hotel instead of our first or second. I remember that.
ROBERT HALL:
She insisted on that or who . . . ?
LOUISE YOUNG:
She insisted on being accessible to Negroes. And they wouldn't . . . of course, and she went to Memphis. I'd love to talk about Eleanor Roosevelt. I'm amazed that the President's wife was working for money. See I show my southern lady breeding, was working for money all through those years when she was the wife of the president. But she was working for money which she gave largely to the American Friends Association for work for the causes in which she believed. But she worked and made money through her column, through her books, through her various articles in women's journals, etc., and through her public lectures. And when she would be around the country, of course people would think of her as the President's wife, naturally. That's what she was, but here she was Eleanor Roosevelt making money on lectures and wanting to make money, seeking to make money, because she had such good uses to which to put it. And she was in a delicate position. In Memphis she was introduced to the woman's club, I just heard this. I wasn't there but I heard this. Of course the woman who introduced her just said, everybody loves here . . . Mrs. Roosevelt. And she got up to acknowledge it. She said, you're mistaken. There are a great many people think very poorly of Eleanor Roosevelt. But then the other story they told was that the police had been alerted to give her an escort, and according to the story this policeman that was to be the official special protector, security guard or something had had his suit cleaned and times were hard and all that sort of thing, and she declined to be, to have this sort of escort. And it hurt his, it was a disappointment to him of course, and so it was held against her by some Memphis people and I tried to understand it. But I think she was in the position of feeling that she shouldn't be treated as the President's wife.
ROBERT HALL:
Well you certainly, from that book, get a sense of what a separate life she did lead. She was very . . .
LOUISE YOUNG:
Well then the other time I saw her, and you can remember this, she spoke on a mountain in East Tennessee, or maybe it was in Virginia, I kinda think it was Rome Mt. but it was a beautiful mountain there that was rarely scaled. And to have her speak they had to build a road to go to the top of the mountain for cars you see. And it was just the one way up there and very tricky at that. So for certain hours of the day it was up and certain hours of the day it was down. I drove up there with friends. I was the driver. And we just went at a snails pace, bumper to bumper, everybody getting up there you know. And we had to stop at Miss Williams to spend the night in a schoolhouse, just lying flat on the floor there, and then get up the next morning and drive on up to the mountain. And there was a tent up there for Mrs. Roosevelt and she was perfectly wonderful in the way she talked. And she was full of reminiscences of the fact that right in that area her father, who was an alcoholic you know, had worked in the mines there. She adored her father. And he had written all about it and she had sent a doll there to the little girl that he knew. And the woman had received the doll was an old lady then, of course, she was coming in to see Mrs. Roosevelt. But the way she spoke of her father and of her own childhood, and her ability to handle the situation with all these country folks and us from around the cities who had climbed up that mountain to hear her, and the personal questions that were asked her and her ability to answer them, especially the way she talked about her father I thought of when I read this book.
ROBERT HALL:
Why was she speaking on top of a mountain?
LOUISE YOUNG:
Well, I don't even remember under what auspices and I'd hoped that she would mention that in this book, but she doesn't. Now lets see, who might it have been that was having her up there. I really can't . . . as close to the Negroes as she was to the white people. It seems to me that the Fisk students sang Ballad of America at that meeting, I'm not sure of that, but she was a wonderful person.