JULY 31, 1956
NEW YORK—My niece, Mrs. Edward Elliott, and I came down to the city on Friday and that evening my son and his wife, and my cousin, Mrs. Marie Morgan, all joined with me in welcoming Mr. and Mrs. Victor Hammer home.
The Hammers are back from Russia and were most interesting in telling of their impressions of the changes that are coming about there. Having lived there for a number of years in the early days of the Revolution, they are able to make comparisons which most visitors are not able to do.
Mr. and Mrs. Hammer told us that for tourists life is pretty comfortable. Food is plentiful in the hotels and, if you buy your tourist tickets in this country, $30 a day will allow you to live well in one of a number of hotels in Moscow, where you will have a comfortable room, an assigned guide and an automobile with a driver.
The Intourist Bureau, we were told, will consider any of your difficulties and help you to get theatre seats and to see things that you want to see. We learned, too, that travelers may take pictures anywhere.
From the foreigners' point of view, Mr. and Mrs. Hammer said, there is very little to buy. Which probably is just as well because the minute you inquire about something that your coupons do not cover, the cost usually is prohibitive.
Mrs. Hammer said she felt rather conspicuous because there are not many well-dressed women in the places they visited, and a well-dressed woman attracts a great deal of attention.
The ballet, she said, was as marvelous as ever. And because there is so little to buy and because some people make very good salaries in Moscow, the restaurants were filled—even at prices that might seem prohibitive to Americans.
The poorer people, the Hammers said, are still on a very restricted diet and, of course, everyone—even people who are fairly well off—lives under what we would consider impossible conditions. One room will often house six or seven people and one kitchen will be used by seven or eight such family rooms. One room is an apartment for many people in Moscow.
The Hammers still found that the Russian people are afraid to meet with foreigners. None of the people they had known would come to their hotel or allow them to visit in their homes. Our friends do feel, though, that there is a genuine change in the attitude of the government. At the same time they think it may take a long while for people to feel secure enough not to look over their shoulders for someone who may be listening, or to think carefully about appearances which might get them into trouble. The Hammers found many signs of improvement, however, and would like to see a greater cultural exchange between our countries.
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On Saturday I went to Washington for a few hours and then caught the train in the afternoon back to Hyde Park and our usual busy routine there.
As one of the directors of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, I was consulted on a very difficult situation created by the injunction against the NAACP in Alabama and the court order demanding that the membership lists for Alabama be produced in court Monday morning of this week. The judge imposed a $10,000 fine for contempt of court if these lists are not produced as specified, and the threat of a $100,000 fine also hangs over the organization.
It is a very difficult question between a legal duty, which in this country requires you to obey a court order, and a moral duty, which I think binds an organization not to put its membership in jeopardy.
In the present temper of "white citizens councils" in certain Southern states and with the knowledge of what has been done by them, one realizes that those lists produced in court may put many people in a position where their economic situation and even their physical safety may be far from secure.
Under these circumstances what should an honorable group of people do? The majority, of course, will decide, but I find it a very difficult decision to make.