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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Ralph Waldo Strickland, April 18, 1980. Interview H-0180. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

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

What did you all think of Eleanor?
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.
What did people around there think about Mrs. Roosevelt being so close to colored people? Was that okay, or did people…
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.