OCTOBER 9, 1953
NEW YORK, Thursday—I received the following letter the other day. It says, "Mrs. Roosevelt, please note the enclosed newspaper clipping, September 22, 1953, indicating the plight of colored people in your state, New York. I hope that you will comment on this situation in your daily column as soon as convenient. Sincerely, W.R. Moore."
The gentleman lives in Mississippi, and the column is written for the Memphis Press-Scimitar, by a Scripps-Howard staff writer, Mr. Allan Keller. It tells the story of migrant farm workers and is headed "Migrant Farm Workers Fleeced in the North," and then as a subheading, "Southern Negro Families Live in Hovels and Toil Long Hours at Near-Peon Pay." The conditions described are said to exist in upper New York, Long Island, New Jersey, Delaware, and the eastern shore of Maryland.
Everyone who has been interested in the condition of migrant workers, whether Negro, Mexican or white has known of these conditions and deplored them, and done everything possible to eliminate them. The only comment I would like to make to my southern correspondent is that the conditions must indeed be deplorable in the southern areas from which these people come, or they would not start out year after year on their slow trip to the north and then again to the south.
It is bad for children to be uprooted and live this kind of Nomad existence, and even where conditions have been improved for migrant workers, this constant moving is deplorable. Conditions everywhere are not as bad as those described in this article. I know, for example, in Duchess County where I live, of two farms where workers are imported for short periods and where conditions are good. On both of these farms, I understand that there is a constant state inspection.
I am a little surprised that conditions can be as bad as those described in this article. If they are as bad as this on a large scale, all I can tell my correspondent is that I regret it, and I hope that since he asked me to answer him in my column, the fact that I have done so will alert the authorities in my state, at least, so that they will look for the conditions reported in this newspaper article, and correct them as far as is humanly possible.
There may be better ways to provide migratory labor, when it is essential, which have not yet been explored. It is certainly not a desirable way to live, and yet there seem to be people who prefer to live this way and under the conditions that are apparently available in whatever place they call home.
I am always glad to have bad conditions brought out and an effort is then made to correct them. But since there is a slight suspicion in my mind that my correspondent may have been rather pleased to point out to me the shortcomings of my own state because he was aware that I would not like these shortcomings, I would like to assure him that I am very glad that he has given me the opportunity to urge greater enforcement of state laws to make the life of the migratory worker somewhat better.