Summer 2019 Newsletter

The words “freedom and justice for all,” are recited daily across America, even as we as a nation have historically fallen far short. The New Dealers faced the daunting task of overcoming long-established patterns of racial order. Eleanor Roosevelt, Harold Ickes, Frances Perkins, Harry Hopkins and many others were outspoken critics of such discrimination and made a systematic effort to include people of color in New Deal programs. FDR himself proclaimed, “We are trying to construct a more inclusive society. We are going to make a country in which no one is left out.” Their overall achievement was impressive, if far from perfect. As the struggle for racial and economic justice continues, the New Deal’s lessons—for better and sometimes worse—are for learning. You’ll find some of them here.
Thank you for your support.

In this Issue:


Was the New Deal Racist?

The CCC offered African American enrollees the opportunity to learn a trade.

CCC men at woodworking shop in Cabin John, Maryland
The CCC offered African American enrollees the opportunity to learn a trade.

Both friends and critics of the New Deal point to actions by President Franklin Roosevelt and the exclusion of African Americans from some programs as evidence that the New Deal was racist. But in order to evaluate the New Deal fairly we have to ask what the country was like at the time.

While the New Deal revolutionized many aspects of society and government, it was not able to overcome America’s entrenched racial order. The fact is, the United States had been a white supremacist country from the beginning—rife with genocide and suppression of native people; slavery followed by Jim Crow; and the exploitation and exclusion of Chinese, Mexicans, and Filipinos. That was the world the New Deal inherited. The Civil Rights Movement would not arrive for another generation.

Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes hands the first constitution issued under the Indian Reorganization Act to delegates of the Confederated Tribes of the Flathead Indian Reservation, Montana, 1935.

Indian New Deal
Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes hands the first constitution issued under the Indian Reorganization Act to delegates of the Confederated Tribes of the Flathead Indian Reservation, Montana, 1935.
Photo Credit: Courtesy Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

The New Dealers faced the daunting task of overcoming long-established patterns of discrimination and social hierarchy. They did not challenge the prevailing racial order head-on, but that’s not the same as saying it was racist. The leading New Dealers—Eleanor Roosevelt, Harold Ickes, Frances Perkins, and Harry Hopkins—were outspoken critics of racial discrimination and made a systematic effort to include people of color in New Deal programs. Their overall achievement was impressive, if far from perfect.

Most New Deal programs reached out to include Native Americans, African Americans, Latinos, and Asians to an unprecedented degree. People of color worked in large numbers in all the big relief programs and there were education, recreation, and health programs aimed specifically at helping them.

An educator, author and civil rights advocate,  and advisor to FDR and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, she headed the Negro Division of the National Youth Administration.

Mary McLeod Bethune, 1943
An educator, author and civil rights advocate, and advisor to FDR and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, she headed the Negro Division of the National Youth Administration.
Photo Credit: Picyrl

For example, the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, the so-called “Indian New Deal,” was a radical shift in federal policy. It was a genuine effort to honor native sovereignty, improve reservation lands, promote artisan crafts, and build schools for native children. On the other hand, the Bonneville and Grand Coulee dams built on the Columbia River flooded thousands of acres of Native American lands without even providing irrigation water to local reservations.

Other New Deal achievements baked in discriminatory policies. The Social Security and National Labor Relations Acts of 1935 made an exception for agricultural and domestic workers, effectively excluding African Americans and Chicanos as a result of compromises FDR made with Southern Democrats and Western Growers to get these programs through Congress.

Nevertheless, FDR put African Americans into positions of power not seen since Reconstruction. A group of prominent African Americans were popularly known as FDR’s Black Cabinet. They included Lawrence Oxley, a high-ranking official in the Department of Labor; Mary McLeod Bethune, the director of the National Youth Administration’s Office of Negro Affairs; and Robert Weaver, who served as an economic advisor to the president. FDR also appointed William Hastie as the first-ever African-American federal judge.

The Farm Security Administration established camps for migrant farm workers in California, and the CCC and WPA hired unemployed Mexican Americans on relief jobs.

Men at work
The Farm Security Administration established camps for migrant farm workers in California, and the CCC and WPA hired unemployed Mexican Americans on relief jobs.

By Executive Order, discrimination was barred in the relief agencies and workers were paid equal wages regardless of race nearly everywhere. The WPA employed hundreds of thousands of African-American, Asian, Mexican, and Native American citizens. These were not only men doing manual labor. Women of color were hired as teachers, social workers, librarians, and in other professional and service sectors, often working on integrated teams.

The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) is often cited as a segregated program, but at the outset it was integrated. Intense opposition in rural areas of the North and across the South ultimately forced the CCC to segregate its camps.

The New Deal ended President Hoover’s aggressive deportation of Mexicans and invested heavily in Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Hawai’i. Yet, President Roosevelt made a catastrophically bad decision to issue Executive Order 9066, which imprisoned some 120,000 innocent Japanese Americans as the country went to war at the end of 1942.

WPA artist Tyrus Wong

WPA artist Tyrus Wong
Many minority artists were employed or commissioned by New Deal art programs.

While the New Deal fell far short of ending racial discrimination, it set in motion the forces that would challenge Jim Crow in the postwar era. The number of people of color working for the federal government increased dramatically during the New Deal and many were elevated to important positions in government. Many of the black leaders Roosevelt relied upon would go on to help launch the Civil Rights Movement. Integration of the Armed Forces would begin by the end of World War II. Supreme Court justices appointed by FDR were crucial to postwar judgments against segregated education, anti-miscegenation laws, and housing discrimination.

The New Deal marked an important step forward in addressing the problems of U.S. society. Its outlook, policies, and programs, while far from perfect, contributed to the advancement of millions of citizens of color as part of its massive effort to improve the lives of all working people, seniors, children and other ordinary Americans.

FDR’s " Black Cabinet"

FDR’s "Black Cabinet"
An informal cabinet of African Americans served as public policy advisors to President Franklin D. Roosevelt and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt,. Front row, left to right: Dr. Ambrose Caliver, Dr. Roscoe C. Brown, Dr. Robert C. Weaver, Joseph H. Evans, Dr. Frank Horne, Mary McLeod Bethune, Lt. Lawrence A. Oxley, Dr. William J. Thompkins, Charles E. Hall, William I. Houston, Ralph E. Mizelle. Back row, left to right: Dewey R. Jones, Edgar Brown, J. Parker Prescott, Edward H. Lawson, Jr., Arthur Weiseger, Alfred Edgar Smith, Henry A. Hunt, John W. Whitten, Joseph R. Houchins. Source: Scurlock Studio, “President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Black Cabinet” taken in March 1938″
Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Richard Walker is the director of the Living New Deal.

Affectionately, F.D.R.

FDR and Daisy were distant cousins and close friends.

Margaret “Daisy” Suckley
FDR and Daisy were distant cousins and close friends.
Photo Credit: Courtesy, Roosevelt House, Hunter College

Extraordinary letters penned during FDR’s presidency document the warm friendship between Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Margaret “Daisy” Suckley, his distant cousin, friend, and confidant.

FDR and Daisy shared a family heritage rooted in the Hudson Valley. Wilderstein, Daisy’s home in Rhinebeck, New York, was less than a dozen miles from Springwood, FDR’s family estate in Hyde Park, but the cousins did not become acquainted until 1922 when FDR’s mother, Sara, invited Daisy for a visit while FDR was recovering from polio.

Their close friendship began after Daisy attended FDR’s inauguration on March 4, 1933, and ended following her visit to Warm Springs, Georgia, just before FDR died there on April 12, 1945. During his presidency, Daisy frequently visited the White House, went on trips with FDR, helped organize his papers at the new presidential library, and gave him his beloved Scottish terrier, Fala.

Daisy and FDR were correspondents throughout his presidency.

Envelope
Daisy and FDR were correspondents throughout his presidency.
Photo Credit: Courtesy, Roosevelt House, Hunter College

Daisy’s diaries, her letters to FDR, and more than three dozen handwritten letters FDR wrote to her were found after her death in 1991, just short of her 100th birthday. They were published in 1995 in Geoffrey C. Ward’s Closest Companion: The Unknown Story of the Intimate Friendship Between Franklin Roosevelt and Margaret Suckley.

In their correspondence, Daisy comments on FDR’s work, current events, the doings of friends and family, and her visits with Franklin. And the president reciprocates. In fifteen handwritten letters to Daisy he wrote between 1934 and 1944, FDR describes life in the White House—private meetings, influential people, and important events—imbued with humor and detail.

Daisy and Fala at Top Cottage in Hyde Park, NY. Photographed by Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1941

Daisy and Fala at Top Cottage in Hyde Park, NY.
Photographed by Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1941

A gift to New York City’s Hunter College from Roger and Susan Hertog, the letters—never before seen by the public—are on display at Roosevelt House, where FDR and Eleanor lived as newlyweds. The exhibit, “Affectionately, F.D.R.,” is free to the public through May 31, Mondays through Saturdays, 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., and during evening events. For more information: please visit http://www.roosevelthouse.hunter.cuny.edu/visitor-information/

 
Curator and historian at Roosevelt House at Hunter College, Deborah Gardner is active in the New York Chapter of the Living New Deal.

Eat at Jo’s

Jo’s Café. A popular addition to Monterey County’s New Deal Courthouse building

Jo’s Café
A popular addition to Monterey County’s New Deal Courthouse building
Photo Credit: Susan Ives

In the 1930s, the WPA constructed civic buildings that still hold a significant place in history. More than 80 years later, many are still in use, but many have fallen into disrepair or are out of compliance with today’s building codes. So it is especially gratifying when a New Deal building is restored and retained as a public asset rather than destroyed or sold to private developers. The Monterey County Courthouse in Salinas, California, is one to celebrate.

Architect Robert Stanton (1900–1983) designed the unique, 3-story International Moderne-style building, which was dedicated upon its completion in 1937. He turned to artist Joseph Jacinto (Jo) Mora (1876–1947), to add decorative elements to the building’s exterior and interior courtyard. With funding from the Federal Art Project, Mora’s bas-relief panels, column caps, and figurative heads of archetypical and historical figures around the building remain a source of civic pride. The courthouse was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2009.

Monterey County Courthouse building, Salinas, California

Monterey County Courthouse building, Salinas, California
Funded by the WPA and a local bond, the courthouse opened 1937.
Photo Credit: Susan Ives

Visionary and artful, architect Stanton incorporated earthquake-resistant features in the courthouse. To keep the wheels of justice turning, Stanton’s plans called for the WPA courthouse to be built around its outgrown predecessor, which continued to operate while the new courthouse was under construction.

The need for additional courtrooms prompted the construction of an adjacent court building in 2010 and the WPA courthouse was vacated. That’s when the asbestos and lead paint were discovered there.

Fortunately, the County chose to update, rather than abandon its historic courthouse. The Board of Supervisors saw fit to allocate the funds needed for the complex renovation. The remediated building opened in 2018. It houses the offices of the District Attorney, Civil Grand Jury, and the County Law Library, with more new offices planned. A snack shop–Jo’s Café—named in honor Jo Mora, is a welcome addition.

More Mora
Dozens of sculptures and bas reliefs embellish the former courthouse
Photo Credit: Susan Ives

Opening Day Poster. Monterey County Courthouse dedication.

Opening Day
Monterey County Courthouse dedication
Photo Credit: Susan Ives

The café displays copies of some of Mora’s artworks. Two large murals, “Serving the Feast” and “Welcome to The Fable” are reproduced in the hallway. Lobby displays illuminate the building’s history and Mora’s contributions.

In June, the Living New Deal and Jo Mora Trust will co-sponsor an exhibit, “Jo Mora: From the Old West to the New Deal,” at San Francisco’s Canessa Gallery. Presentations about Mora’s life and work will take place on opening night, June 7, and closing night, June 27. Sales of the artworks will benefit the two nonprofits.

 
Peter Hiller is the collection curator for Jo Mora Trust.

A New Book Recognizes the Women of the New Deal

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and Ellen Woodward, 1938

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and Ellen Woodward, 1938
During the New Deal Woodward served as the director of the Women’s Division of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA); director of the Women’s and Professional Projects of the WPA; and as a member of the Social Security Board, She was considered “the second highest ranking woman appointee in the Roosevelt Administration, after Frances Perkins.
Photo Credit: Courtesy, National Archives

When millions of Americans lost their jobs, homes, and life savings in the 1930s, Franklin Roosevelt promised them a new deal. A new book, “Women and the Spirit of the New Deal,” reveals the extensive role women played in shaping government’s all-out response to the Great Depression.

Inspired by a conference in 2018 at UC Berkeley, the book is a collaboration of the Living New Deal, the National New Deal Preservation Association, and the Frances Perkins Center to recognize the oft-overlooked female forces behind the New Deal. In brief biographies, it describes one hundred women who shaped the policies and programs that led to America’s economic recovery and protected its most vulnerable.

At a time when society held that “a woman’s place was in the home,” these women expanded the aspirations of the New Deal. They included politicians, administrators, lawyers, social workers, authors, journalists, painters, sculptors, musicians, and scientists. Some are well known like First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins, and educator and civil rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune. Some have been largely overlooked, like political activist Molly Dewson and Clara Beyer, an administrator in the Bureau of Labor Statistics who played an important role shaping legislation to provide worker safety, a minimum wage, and Social Security.

Frances Perkins and Clara Beyer

Frances Perkins and Clara Beyer
Secretary of Labor Perkins was the first woman ever appointed to a presidential cabinet. Beyer was an attorney and associate director in the Division of Labor Standards. She was part of a so-called “Ladies’ Brain Trust,” that advised Perkins during the 1930s and 40s.
Photo Credit: Courtesy Mt Holyoke College

The book is just a beginning. If you know of women who had a part in the New Deal, please share their stories with us so that we may pass on the spirit they brought to the New Deal to inspire a new generation.

 
Susan Ives is communications director for the Living New Deal and editor of the Living New Deal newsletter.

Raising the New Deal Flag in New York City

Raising the New Deal Flag in New York City

Raising the New Deal Flag in New York City
Fiorello La Guardia at the formal raising of the NRA flag outside the New York headquarters of the National Recovery Administration, April 1934.
Photo Credit: Encyclopedia Brittanica

Two hundred New Yorkers gathered at the Center for Architecture on May 7 to kick off a Living New Deal initiative to familiarize New Yorkers with the New Deal’s vast imprint on their city.

The reception and panel discussion, “A New Deal for New York City: Looking Back, Looking Forward,” were co-sponsored by the Museum of the City of New York, the American Institute of Architects New York Chapter, Planners Network, Historic Districts Council, National Jobs for All Network, City Lore, FDR Library, Gotham Center for New York City History, and Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College.

Welcoming the audience, Phoebe Roosevelt, great-granddaughter of Franklin and Eleanor, expressed gratitude for the remarkable men and women—including her grandparents—who championed the “great experiment we call the New Deal.” She also praised the citizens who “went to the voting booth to give FDR and Congress the mandate for action.”

Keynote speaker Kevin Baker, whose April cover story in Harper’s,“We Can Do It Again,” masterfully reviewed New Deal 1.0 in light of calls for a Green New Deal, commented, “What is most surprising about the city today is not how well it’s doing but how little of its old social dysfunction it has managed to shed,” but which the Roosevelt administration sought to address eighty years ago.

A panel of four, including writer Nick Taylor; Living New Deal’s founder Gray Brechin; Marta Gutman, professor of architectural and urban history at City College of New York; and New York City Deputy Mayor Phillip Thompson, elaborated on Baker’s remarks.

Speaking for the city, Thompson fully endorsed the idea of a policy agenda modeled on the New Deal that would, once again, tackle the city’s social problems while rectifying past injustices via a “Greener” New Deal.

All agreed that the first step toward that goal is making people aware of the enormous legacy the New Deal left to them by commemorating through signage, tours, and educational events, its ubiquitous presence throughout New York City.

The audience was also treated to a short film, “A Better New York City,” produced by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in 1937. See it here.

Margaret W. Crane ("Peg") is the Living New Deal program associate for New York City. A freelance writer, her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, The Scientist, and numerous health and education websites.

Victor Arnautoff and the Politics of Art, by Robert W. Cherny

Victor Arnautoff and the Politics of Art

In a 1935 interview, The San Francisco Chronicle quoted New Deal artist Victor Arnautoff, who said, “As I see it, the artist is a critic of society.” In a new biography of Arnautoff, (1896 –1979), Robert Cherny recounts the political… read more