APRIL 10, 1951
NEW YORK, Monday—I have waited some time before saying anything about a speech made some time ago by Governor James F. Byrnes of South Carolina. I was hoping there would be forthcoming from him some explanation of what he said. It seemed to me that if this speech was reported correctly it had serious implications for every citizen in the United States.
When my husband was President I remember how deeply the people of the country resented the fact that he criticized not just the physical age, but what might be called the mental climate and age of some of the members of the Supreme Court. And he suggested that some reforms be made in consequence.
To most Americans, even though they recognize that the Supreme Court must keep in step with the thinking of the people of the nation, it is still with a sense of great safety that they look upon the decisions of our top justices as being representative of the highest type of disinterested statesmanship, backed by great legal knowledge and experience.
For that reason when a governor—and one who has served in the Supreme Court and as Secretary of State of the United States—makes the announcement that the school system of his state will remain as it has been in the past or the public school system will be abandoned rather than bow to any decisions of the Federal Court in opposition to the custom of segregation that exists in his state, it is a statement that cannot be ignored anywhere.
There are governors and Senators and Congressmen from whom such a statement might not have been quite so surprising. But from Governor Byrnes such a statement is almost unbelieveable.
He must well be aware that discriminatory practices in this country, segregation in particular, have repercussions on our leadership in the world. He must have kept in touch sufficiently with representatives in the United Nations so that he knows how much use the Communists will make of a statement such as this from a responsible official who has held many public offices. He must realize that the world does not stand still. He must realize that today thousands of people who formerly had no representation in any council of nations now must be heard. They are sensitive to the thinking of other nations, particularly of the white nations of the world, so nothing passes unnoticed.
We, as a nation, are engaged in a serious struggle for the minds and hearts of many of the colored peoples of the world who are being appealed to strongly by the Communists with promises of complete equality. What does Governor Byrnes think of a statement such as he is reported to have made will do the minds and hearts of these people.
We are too apt to think only of ourselves and the effect of what we say on our immediate constituency. Yet, a man of Governor Byrnes' background has a grave responsibility to educate the people of his part of this country to a realization that what they do and say affects the standing of the United States before the world.