Impressions of Eleanor Roosevelt
Though the community considered her a little odd, they embraced Eleanor Roosevelt as well. Strickland tells a funny story about Roosevelt to show that while her methods may have been different from theirs, they still liked her.
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with Ralph Waldo Strickland, April 18, 1980. Interview H-0180. 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
- LU ANN JONES:
What did you all think of Eleanor?
- RALPH W. STRICKLAND:
Let me tell you a joke. Now this is fact. They had a little town hall up
there at Warm Springs—Warm Springs about five, or six, seven
stores there, and Southern Railroad—they had a little old
town hall. She told me a joke. That was after Roosevelt was President.
He used to come down there at Warm Springs every
Thanksgiving. He'd come down there before World War II.
He'd come down every Thanksgiving. My daddy, he belonged to
the Masonic Order, and the Masons detailed Papa and Will Reed, and Al
Person—they had some bird dogs—to go out and kill
… they going to give President Roosevelt a big bird supper
there at the town hall in Warm Springs. Sure enough they did. They went
out there and hunted about a week, and I think they killed around three
hundred birds, partridges. The Ladies Aid Society, they cleaned and
dressed those, and fixed them up so when they come down there
Thanksgiving Day—Roosevelt, and I believe James, his oldest
boy was with them, and Eleanor—they come up there at the town
hall. Mrs. Roosevelt had an old gingham dress on and an old run in her
stocking. That's the way they done! They'd make
you feel warm and comfortable. Whenever you approached and went up to
see him, he'd shake your hand, "I was thinking about
you this morning." Now the President of the United States
telling some old country boy, "I was thinking about
… you know. I had sense enough to know that that's
the way he had of going about making you feel warm and comfortable. You
just melt like a piece of butter every time you went up to talk to the
man. That's how he made you feel so welcome and comfortable.
He'd get right on your level.
What I was trying to tell you, Mrs. Roosevelt pulled a joke on herself.
Mrs. Roosevelt really did like the colored people. Out there in
Merriweather County, she had a lot of colored friends all around out
there in Merriweather County. During the time, she got up on the stage
and give a little talk, and she told a joke on herself. She telling
about there's a Nan Briggs that lived over at Chipley,
Georgia, a colored woman, her friend. She'd get
in—she had an old car. I believe it was some kind of old
Hudson car—she'd drive all around out in the
country, visit among those colored people. She went out there one Sunday
afternoon to see Nan. She drove up there and got
out. She begin to holler, "Nan," hollered
"Nan" to call her. Nobody answered at all. She says,
"Well, they ain't here. Their front door is standing
wide open." She called her two, three more times, and nobody
answered, so she decided maybe they gone on off over here in the field
somewhere. She'd just get up and go in there and sit down in
the front room and sit down in a chair in the front room. She did, she
went and sit down in the front room, and in a little bit, here come a
little girl. She was about a six, seven year old little colored girl.
She had her thumb inside of her mouth, just looking all around. Mrs.
Roosevelt could see that she didn't know who she was. She
says, "Where's Nan?" Say, "I
don't know. She's over in the field somewhere, I
don't know." Mrs. Roosevelt realized that she
didn't know who she was, and she looked up there over the
mantlepiece, they had a great big life size picture of Mrs. Roosevelt
hanging on the mantle. So she asked the little girl, says, "You
don't know who I am?" Says, "No, I
don't know who you are." Mrs. Roosevelt says,
"Do you know who that is on that picture?" She says,
"Yes, ma'am, that's Mrs. Roosevelt. Ma
says if I didn't quit sucking my thumb, I's going
to have a mouth just like her." She told that at that meeting
there at Warm Springs. She did, she had a mouth …
she'd laugh, you could hear her for a mile. She got down
there in that country, she's right around with those people,
those old country people, people farming, they got right down on their
level. But smart, he could talk to you and me, and then he could talk to
the King of England; it didn't make any difference. Extremely
smart man, wonderful man.
- LU ANN JONES:
What did people around there think about Mrs. Roosevelt being so close to
colored people? Was that okay, or did people…
- RALPH W. STRICKLAND:
They was raised in New York. Mr. and Mrs. Roosevelt was married in the
White House. He was Assistant Secretary of the Navy
in Wilson's administration. They were northern people. She
made it her business to go around out there in the country and visit all
among the colored people. She loves her colored people.
That's all right. That's what she was. She was a
northern woman. She told that joke. I'll never forget it.