JUNE 7, 1945
HYDE PARK, Wednesday—For a long time I have been concerned about our migratory farm workers, who move from place to place following the crops wherever there is need for their labor. I read in the paper the other day a report on conditions in some of the camps for these workers in New York State, and I must say, when I have seen some of the places in which families are expected to live, or even just the barracks where we expect the workers themselves to be housed, I am filled with shame.
Now and then you see something really good, and then you find contented workers. Their comments are appreciative, but at the same time show surprise at the good conditions. These workers are essential. Without them our big growers of vegetables and small fruits and other seasonal crops could not possibly operate, and yet we have given very little thought to their problems.
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If these workers have children, how do those children get an education? It would really make sense if schools were organized to move with them. As it is now, many of these children, if they go to school at all, go sporadically for a few months here and a few there, and there is no continuity in what they learn. It is from their ranks that we recruit a goodly number of our illiterates.
You have but to read our draft records to know that we are not a people who are universally able to read and write, and in a democracy those are two requisites to good citizenship. It is entirely true that intelligence cannot be judged by whether you are able to read and write; in many cases, this is only a question of whether you have had the opportunity to learn. But in our country, when we find illiterate people, it is an indication that as citizens we have not faced our responsibilities and tackled the difficult problem of seeing that everyone has an opportunity for an education.
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Since the war, in order to get the emergency seasonal work done on our farms, we have imported labor through arrangements entered into with nearby countries. I was ashamed to read some of the things which Mexico felt it had to write into our labor contracts in order to protect those of its citizens who came to work on our farms and ranches. But I was glad, nevertheless, that the workers were protected.
The other day I happened to see affidavits signed by workers who had come into Florida from the Bahama Islands, and the complaints which were made were not simply of poor living conditions. They were of treatment in which, apparently, the local governmental authorities connived with the employers in flagrant violation of civil liberties. Such practices as those sworn to in these affidavits can, of course, be fought by union action, but I also think they should be fought by our Federal government, which has a responsibility to the governments from which these workers came.