July 22, 1937 – U.S. Senate Rejects FDR’s Court-Packing Plan

On February 5, 1937, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt unveiled the Judicial Procedures Reform Bill of 1937, which proposed adding one new judge to the federal judicial system for every active judge over the age of seventy. The result would create fifty new judgeships, including up to six new Supreme Court justices.

Roosevelt had been frustrated with the US Supreme Court’s treatment of some of his economic reforms. During his first term, the Supreme Court had struck down several New Deal measures intended to bolster economic recovery during the Great Depression. The President’s plan would allow him to appoint new judges friendly to his administration, although FDR couched it in terms suggesting that he was trying to streamline the Court system and ease its caseload.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt

The plan caused an uproar from legislators, bar associations, and the public. The Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings on the bill, and subsequently failed to report it favorably out of committee.

On February 8, 1937, the Senate Judiciary Committee met to consider President Roosevelt's request to increase membership on the Supreme Court.  Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.

On February 8, 1937, the Senate Judiciary Committee met to consider President Roosevelt’s request to increase membership on the Supreme Court.  Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.

The full Senate began debating the measure in July, and on this day in history – July 22, 1937 – the U.S. Senate rejected the proposed plan by a vote of 70-20. 

Nevertheless, FDR managed to get what he wanted eventually by serving twelve years in office, which enabled him to appoint eight justices to the Court.

You can listen to FDR’s “fireside chat” on March 9, 1937 in which he discusses the court packing proposal, here.

December 30, 1942 – President Franklin Roosevelt Receives Detailed Dossier About the Holocaust from the Polish Underground

On this date, President Franklin Roosevelt and Undersecretary of State Sumner Welles received a dossier reinforcing and expanding on information about the Holocaust they had already learned from other sources.

The 130-page document titled “Reports on Poland and Lithuania” contained details about the Belzec concentration camp in southeastern Poland:

Inside and outside the fence Ukrainian sentries are posted. Executions are carried out in the following manner: a train carrying Jews arrives at the station and is moved up to the wire fence where the guards are changed. Now the train is brought to the unloading place by German personnel. The men are taken into barracks on the left, where they have to take their clothes off, ostensibly for a bath.”

It went on to describe how men and women were herded into a building and killed, their bodies buried in a ditch that had been dug by “Jews who, after they have finished the job, are executed.”

The dossier also revealed the existence of mobile extermination trucks in which poison gas was used to murder Jews, described the Auschwitz concentration camp, liquidation of the Warsaw ghetto, and atrocities in Lithuania. An appendix containing photographs of corpses stacked like firewood and other horrors made it difficult even for anti-Semites in the State Department to doubt the authenticity of the information. (Source, Steven Usdin, Bureau of Spies, pp. 185-186, citing documents available at the FDR Library)

Though the level of detail was new, the fact that the Holocaust was taking place was not news to FDR. Beginning with the Kristallnacht attacks in Germany on Jews in November 1938, Roosevelt had expressed his shock “that such things could occur in a 20th century civilization.” But letting in Jewish refugees was another thing entirely.

Both the Americans and the British maintained that the best way to stop the Nazis’ “systematic, mechanized killing” was to defeat Hitler’s Germany in war. (Henry L. Feingold, The Politics of Rescue: The Roosevelt Administration and the Holocaust, 1938-1945, New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1970, excerpt online at the FDR Library, here)

Meanwhile, after Germany annexed Austria (“The Anschluss”) in March 1938, tens of thousands of desperate Jews added their names to the waiting lists for entrance to the United States. Nevertheless, shortly after the Anschluss, Roosevelt merged the German and Austrian immigration quotas, so that a maximum of 27,370 quota immigrants born in “Greater Germany” could immigrate to the United States each year. By June 1939, more than 300,000 Germans were on the waiting list for American immigrant visas, and anticipated a wait of up to ten years. (Source: Holocaust Museum Encyclopedia)

As the Holocaust Museum Encyclopedia also reports:

FDR . . . called an international conference, which opened in Évian-les-Bains, France, in July 1938, to discuss the refugee problem. Roosevelt hoped that the thirty-two participating countries would pledge to admit significant numbers of refugees, but that did not occur at Évian.”

Despite a building refugee crisis in Europe, FDR did not ask Congress to consider expanding the immigration quotas, even though First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt spoke out in favor of it.

FDR’s public justification was bad enough. At a press conference on June 5, 1940, FDR stated:

Now, of course, the refugee has got to be checked because, unfortunately, among the refugees there are some spies, as has been found in other countries. And not all of them are voluntary spies—it is rather a horrible story but in some of the other countries that refugees out of Germany have gone to, especially Jewish refugees, they found a number of definitely proven spies.”

What he thought privately was even worse.

In July, 1942, FDR gave the green light to “the M Project,” which was “a secret study of options for post-war migration (hence ‘M’) of the millions of Europeans expected to be displaced by the war.” (Usdin, p. 196)

President Franklin D. Roosevelt, September 1942

As early as 1925, FDR, in an editorial for the Macon Telegraph, voiced his opinion that:

It goes without saying that no sensible American wants this country to be made a dumping ground for foreigners of any nation, but it is equally true that there are a great many foreigners who, if they came here, would make exceedingly desirable citizens. It becomes, therefore, in the first place, a question of selection.”

Ah, there’s the rub.

What he was in favor of, just as Trump is today, is “the right stock,” like this example FDR gave:

A few years later some other families came in from Northern Italy, the right type of emigrant — they, too, have borne and are bearing their share in the general improvement of conditions.”

Thus for his “M Project,” FDR commissioned an advisory committee to be led by Aleš Hrdlička, an Austro-Hungarian anthropologist who came to the United States with his family in 1881. At the outset of WWII, Hrdlička was curator of physical anthropology at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.

Aleš Hrdlička

As Usdin observes:

Roosevelt, the scion of two families that considered themselves American aristocrats, was especially attracted to Hrdlička’s notions of human racial ‘stock.’”

In fact, Hrdlička was convinced of the superiority of the white race and obsessed with racial identity. . . .

FDR used a go-between, John Franklin Carter, to convey his goals for the committee to Hrdlička. In particular, FDR wanted them to study South America and Central Africa as possibilities for post-war settlement. The committee should ascertain what percentage of “base stock of their own” should be mixed with immigrant stock for the best effect.

Roosevelt pointed out, Carter informed Hrdlička, “that while most South American countries would be glad to admit Jewish immigration, it was on the condition that the Jewish group were not localized in the cities, they want no ‘Jewish colonies,’ ‘Italian colonies,’ etc.” Keeping with this theme, the president also tasked the committee with determining how to ‘resettle the Jews on the land and keep them there.’” (Usdin, p. 199. You can also see the actual correspondence online via the FDR library, here.

Usdin notes that Hrdlička ultimately refused to participate in the M Project because Roosevelt wouldn’t give him absolute control. His replacement wasn’t much better: Isaiah Bowman, president of John Hopkins University, was a known anti-Semite. (Even after WWII, when most Americans were at least trying to feign sympathy for Jews, The Johns Hopkins University under Bowman’s leadership implemented a Jewish admissions quota while other American universities were terminating their discriminatory policies. It should also be noted that during the presidency of Isaiah Bowman (1935-48) not a single African-American student was admitted. (See “Dark Places Around the University: The Johns Hopkins University Admissions Quota and the Jewish Community, 1945-1951” by Jason Kalman, Hebrew Union College Annual, Vol. 81 (2010), pp. 233-279 online here.)

TIME Magazine Cover: Isaiah Bowman — Mar. 23, 1936

American Jews knew none of this, but they did know FDR was refusing to take action. According to “The Nation,” in early 1943, at the height of the Holocaust, Freda Kirchwey, a staunch New Dealer, Roosevelt supporter and editor in chief of “The Nation” denounced President Roosevelt’s response to the Nazi genocide in harsh terms:

‘You and I and the President and the Congress and the State Department are accessories to the crime and share Hitler’s guilt,’ she wrote. ‘If we had behaved like humane and generous people instead of complacent, cowardly ones, the two million Jews lying today in the earth of Poland and Hitler’s other crowded graveyards would be alive and safe…. We had it in our power to rescue this doomed people and we did not lift a hand to do it—or perhaps it would be fairer to say that we lifted just one cautious hand, encased in a tight-fitting glove of quotas and visas and affidavits, and a thick layer of prejudice.’”

Finally, on January 22, 1944, responding to both public pressure and pressure within his administration, FDR issued an executive order establishing a War Refugee Board (WRB), an independent agency tasked with carrying out a new American policy to rescue and provide relief for Jews and other groups being persecuted by Nazi Germany and Axis collaborators.

By that time, however, most European Jews had already been murdered. For example, a diary entry on January 25, 1944 by Hans Frank, Gauleiter of Poland, concerning the fate of 2.5 million Jews originally under his jurisdiction read “At the present time we still have in the General Government perhaps 100,000 Jews.”

As for the M Project, Usdin writes:

The M Project expanded far beyond Roosevelt’s original charge, producing thousands of pages of reports, maps, and charts analyzing the suitability of locations around the globe for settlement by Europeans who were expected to be displaced by the war, analyzing the characteristics of myriad racial and ethnic groups, and theorizing about optimal proportions in which to combine them in their new homelands.” (Usdin, p. 199)

Usdin also writes that few knew about the reports, and they had no discernable impact on policy decisions. He does opine:

In retrospect, the M Project’s principal accomplishment was to shed light on FDR’s thinking about race and immigration….”

After Roosevelt’s death on April 12, 1945, John Franklin Carter wrote to Truman explaining the project, offering to continue it, and urging that it still be funded (which it had been at the enormous rate at that time of $10,000 per month, translating in 2018 dollars to over $140,000 per month).

Truman decided it cost too much, and terminated the project.

April 13, 1943 – Dedication of Jefferson Memorial

The Tidal Basin, an area of about 107 acres in Washington, D.C. is a partially man-made reservoir between the Potomac River and the Washington Channel in Washington, D.C. (The two-mile long Washington Channel runs parallel to the Potomac River.) The Jefferson Memorial, the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, and the George Mason Memorial are all located around the Tidal Basin.

The concept for the Tidal Basin originated in the 1880s; it was intended to serve both as a visual centerpiece and as a means for flushing the Washington Channel. The basin was initially named Twining Lake, in honor of Washington D.C.’s first Engineer Commissioner.

For a brief time the Tidal Basin served as a beach for swimming. The Tidal Basin Beach, on the site of the future Memorial, opened in May 1918 and operated as a “Whites Only” facility until 1925, when the Senate voted to close it permanently, “partly due to concerns about pollution and partly because of pressures from African American leaders to build a black bathing beach on the other side of the Tidal Basin.”

White swimmers enjoy the Tidal Basin Bathing Beach in 1922. (Photo source: Library of Congress)

In 1934 President Franklin Roosevelt, an admirer of Jefferson, inquired to the Commission of Fine Arts about the possibility of erecting a memorial to Jefferson, although that (or any) site had not yet been selected. Later the same year, Congressman John J. Boylan urged Congress to create the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Commission. Boylan was appointed the Commission’s first chairman and Congress eventually appropriated $3 million for a memorial to Jefferson.

The Commission chose John Russell Pope as the architect in 1935. Pope was also the architect of the National Archives Building and original (west) building of the National Gallery of Art. He prepared four different plans for the project, each on a different site. The Commission preferred the site on the Tidal Basin mainly because it was the most prominent site and because it completed a proposed four-point design plan that encompassed the Lincoln Memorial to the Capitol and the White House to the Tidal Basin site.

As the National Park Service observed:

Once the site for the Jefferson Memorial was chosen, there was never any question about its visual relationship with the White House – a direct line. In fact, President Roosevelt ordered trees to be cut so that the view of the memorial from the White House would be enhanced.”

The National Park Service also recounted how Pope used Jefferson’s own architectural tastes in the design of the Memorial. The Commission of Fine Arts objected to the pantheon design because it would compete with the Lincoln Memorial. The Thomas Jefferson Commission took the design controversy to President Franklin D. Roosevelt who preferred the pantheon design and gave his permission to proceed. Architects Daniel P. Higgins and Otto R. Eggers took over construction upon the untimely death of Pope in August 1937. On November 15, 1939, a ceremony was held in which President Roosevelt laid the cornerstone of the Memorial.

Roosevelt returned on April 13, 1943, to dedicate the memorial, which coincided with the 200th anniversary of Jefferson’s birth.

Only the bronze statue of Jefferson had not been completed, owing to wartime metal shortages. (In 1938, two artists had won a competition to make the memorial. Rudulph Evans was chosen to make the statue of Jefferson and Adolph A. Weinman to sculpt the pediment relief located above the entrance.) A painted plaster version was in place for the dedication and would remain until the restrictions on metal use were lifted in 1947.

During the dedication celebration, the original Declaration of Independence was on display in the new memorial. The document had been brought out of its war-time hiding place at Fort Knox.

President Franklin Roosevelt at podium for dedication of Jefferson Memorial. National Park Service photo.

Roosevelt, speaking at the dedication, called the memorial a “shrine to freedom” and added that it was a payment on “a debt long overdue.” FDR took the opportunity to remind those in attendance (and listening via radio across the country), of the parallels between Thomas Jefferson’s challenges in the founding of the republic, and those being experienced at the time by a nation embroiled in a world war:

He faced the fact that men who will not fight for liberty can lose it. We, too, have faced that fact.

He lived in a world in which freedom of conscience and freedom of mind were battles still to be fought through — not principles already accepted of all men. We, too, have lived in such a world.

He loved peace and loved liberty — yet on more than one occasion he was forced to choose between them. We, too, have been compelled to make that choice.”

The memorial features white marble from Vermont and Georgia, and pink marble from Tennessee. Indiana limestone and Minnesota granite also are part of the structure. The statue of Jefferson, sculpted in 1941, is 19 feet tall. Four quotations from Jefferson’s writings are carved into the walls of the memorial chamber.

A fifth quote engraved on the frieze encircling the memorial’s interior is from an 1800 letter of Jefferson’s and reads, “I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” [He meant white men of course, but it was a noble sentiment in theory.]

March 31, 1933 – President Franklin D. Roosevelt Signs Emergency Conservation Work Act, Creating the Civilian Conservation Corps

The Great Depression was a severe worldwide economic depression that started in the United States after a major fall in stock prices. It was the longest, deepest, and most widespread depression of the 20th century. It began after a major fall in stock prices on September 4, 1929 and spread worldwidewith the stock market crash of October 29, 1929, known as Black Tuesday. Some economies started to recover by the mid-1930s. However, in many countries, the negative effects of the Great Depression lasted until the beginning of World War II.

Men stand in line outside a depression soup kitchen, 1931, NARA

To help alleviate the devastating effects of joblessness, President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed the creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) as part of FDR’s “New Deal.” The CCC would provide manual labor jobs related to the conservation and development of natural resources in rural lands owned by federal, state, and local governments.

Roosevelt made his request to Congress on March 21, 1933. Congress passed the enabling legislation on March 31, and Roosevelt signed it the same day. He then issued an executive order on April 5 creating the agency, appointing its director, and assigning War Department corps area commanders to begin enrollment. The first CCC enrollee was selected April 8, and subsequent lists of unemployed men were supplied by state and local welfare and relief agencies for immediate enrollment.

This voluntary public work relief program for unemployed, unmarried men operated from 1933 to 1942. Originally for young men ages 18–25, it was eventually expanded to ages 17–28.

Poster by Albert M. Bender, Illinois WPA Art Project Chicago (1935)

Through the course of its nine years in operation, 3 million young men participated in the CCC, which provided them with shelter, clothing, and food, together with a wage of $30 (equivalent to $590 in 2019) per month ($25 of which had to be sent home to their families).

By 1942, with World War II and the draft in operation, the need for work relief declined, and Congress voted to close the program.

CCC workers constructing a road in what is now Cuyahoga Valley National Park, 1933 (via National Archives)

March 12, 1933 – President Franklin Roosevelt Addresses the Nation in His First “Fireside Chat”

The fireside chats were a series of thirty-one evening radio addresses given by U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt between 1933 and 1944. Roosevelt spoke about the banking crisis, the recession, New Deal initiatives, and the course of World War II. The word “chat” was designed to convey intimacy, and indeed, FDR spoke in a manner as if he were sitting in Americans’ living rooms with them.

The broadcasts, from 15 minutes to 45 minutes in length, were intended to quell rumors and explain FDR’s policies in plain language. A White House history site notes that seventy percent of words used in the Fireside Chats were among the five hundred most commonly-occurring terms in the English language. In addition, FDR relied on stories, anecdotes, and analogies to which most people could relate.

FDR delivering a “Fireside Chat” – Credit: AP Photo

The chats were aired on all national networks around 10 p.m. Eastern time, to reach a maximum audience. FDR communicated assurance and confidence throughout the anxious times of both the Depression and our entry into World War II.

Millions of letters poured into the White House after each chat, testifying to how much listeners appreciated his words.

You can listen to his first chat, as well as later chats, here.

December 26, 1941 – Winston Churchill Addresses Joint Session of the U.S. Congress

After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Winston Churchill decided to sail to America for a war confab with President Franklin D. Roosevelt. They had first met only four months earlier, off the coast of Newfoundland. They ended that meeting — their first of 11 during the conflict — by issuing a joint policy statement that came to be known as the “Atlantic Charter,” signed on August 14, 1941. The informal document formulated postwar goals, including no territorial aggrandizement, self-determination, global cooperation to secure better economic and social conditions for all, and the disarmament of aggressor nations.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill are shown in conference at sea, Aug. 15, 1941. | AP Photo

According to a history of the Newfoundland meeting in “Smithsonian Magazine”:

Both men had hoped it would convince the American people to join the war and ally with Britain, but public opinion in the U.S. did not change until Pearl Harbor.”

Churchill arrived at the White House on December 22. Smithsonian Magazine reports:

Churchill turned the second-floor Rose Suite into a mini-headquarters for the British government, with messengers carrying documents to and from the embassy in red leather cases. In the Monroe Room, where the First Lady held her press conferences, he hung up enormous maps that tracked the war effort.”

Smithsonian also writes that Churchill kept Roosevelt up until 2 or 3 a.m. every day, drinking brandy, smoking cigars and ignoring Eleanor’s exasperated hints about sleep. The two hit it off, with FDR both liking Churchill and admiring his courage.

On December 26, 1941, Churchill spoke to both houses of Congress, delivering a stirring, memorable address, including the following:

Members of the Senate, and members of the House of Representatives, I will turn for one moment more from the turmoil and convulsions of the present to the broader spaces of the future. Here we are together, facing a group of mighty foes who seek our ruin. Here we are together, defending all that to free men is dear. Twice in a single generation the catastrophe of world war has fallen upon us. Twice in our lifetime has the long arm of fate reached out across the oceans to bring the United States into the forefront of the battle.

. . . Do we not owe it to ourselves, to our children, to tormented mankind, to make sure that these catastrophes do not engulf us for the third time?

. . . I will say that he must indeed have a blind soul who cannot see that some great purpose and design is being worked out here below of which we have the honor to be the faithful servants. It is not given to us to peer into the mysteries of the future. Still, I avow my hope and faith, sure and inviolate, that in the days to come the British and American peoples will, for their own safety and for the good of all, walk together in majesty, in justice and in peace.”

Churchill speaking to joint session of Congress, December 26, 1941

Congress gave him a thunderous reception. That night, Churchill had a minor heart attack. He did not let that setback stop him on his mission to garner support, and proceeded on to Ottawa to address the Canadian Parliament on December 30. Returning to Washington, he accompanied FDR to Mount Vernon on New Year’s Day to place a wreath on George Washington’s tomb.

Erick Trickey recounts what happened next:

That night, they gathered in the president’s study with diplomats from several Allied countries to sign a joint declaration that they would fight the Axis powers together, and that none would negotiate a separate peace. The pact included a historic new phrase: At Roosevelt’s suggestion, it was called ‘A Declaration by the United Nations.’ According to aide Harry Hopkins, Roosevelt hit upon the name that morning and wheeled himself to Churchill’s suite, unannounced, to run it by the prime minister. Ignoring a clerk’s warning that Churchill was in the bath, Roosevelt asked him to open the door. He did, revealing Churchill standing naked on the bath mat. ‘Don’t mind me,’ Roosevelt quipped.”

Churchill left for England on January 14, 1942, flying home via Bermuda. The visit proved fruitful for both leaders, and cemented not only their bond but the commitments they had made informally in Newfoundland.

Smithsonian Magazine reported:

Roosevelt, in the now-quiet White House, found he missed Churchill’s company. He sent a message to him in London that foresaw how their friendship would resonate in history. ‘It is fun to be in same decade with you,’ it read.”

Churchill and Roosevelt in the White House, December 1941

November 30, 1934 – Exposure of “The Business Plot” to Mount a Coup Against President Franklin D. Roosevelt

The story of this plot came to light thanks to Smedley Butler, an American patriot and whistleblower devoted to the truth.

Smedley Butler (July 30, 1881 – June 21, 1940) was a United States Marine Corps major general, the highest rank authorized at that time, and at the time of his death the most decorated Marine in U.S. history.

By the end of his 34-year career, Butler had received 16 medals, five for heroism. He is one of 19 men to receive the Medal of Honor twice, one of three to be awarded both the Marine Corps Brevet Medal and the Medal of Honor, and the only Marine to be awarded the Brevet Medal and two Medals of Honor, all for separate actions.

Smedley Butler

During his time in active service, Butler commanded Marines from China to the Philippines, to Central America. However, his experiences – especially in Central America, led him to become an outspoken critic of U.S. foreign policy. As Steven Usdin reports of Butler in his book Bureau of Spies:

He came to believe that America’s muscular foreign policy benefited big business, hurt the people who found themselves on the wrong side of Yankee bayonets, and did nothing for regular Americans. Summing up his career in an August 1933 speech speech to the nation’s largest veterans organization, the American Legion, Butler said he’d been a ‘high-class muscle man for Big Business.’ He recounted that he’d ‘helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of the Brown Brothers,’ had helped make Mexico ‘safe for American oil interests,’ and had flexed military muscle to help American business interest in the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Cuba: ‘I helped the rape of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street.’” (Usdin, p. 66)

Butler was drummed out of the Marines in October 1931 after causing a diplomatic incident by falsely accusing Benito Mussolini of running down and killing a child.

In 1933 he toured the country giving speeches in which he denounced the Economy Act of 1933, called on veterans to organize politically to win their benefits, and condemned the FDR administration for its ties to big business. It is perhaps for this reason that he was approached by a group of plotters who wanted to mount a coup against President Franklin Roosevelt. They saw Butler as a man who could organize the soldiers necessary to effect the coup. The men behind the effort included wealthy scion Pierre du Pont; the former treasurer of General Motors, John J. Raskob; and other representatives of the wealthiest men in America. Most of them were opposed to greater taxation of their wealth, and feared that FDR’s “socialist” tendencies would cause them to have to part with some of their money. They formed an organization calling themselves the American Liberty League, which had the mission of “annihilating the imported, autocratic, Asiatic Socialist party of Karl Marx and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.” (Usdin, p. 65.) Usdin noted:

The men who ran US Steel, General Motors, the Chase Manhattan and JP Mortan banks, Standard Oil, and, until FDR’s presidential nomination, the Democratic Party joined the du Pont brothers and Raskob in a crusade against what they viewed as populist tyranny.” (p. 65)

Pierre Samuel du Pont company photo, c. 1910

Smedley Butler, a staunch patriot in spite of his criticisms, decided to play along with the plotters in order to gather evidence to thwart their schemes. He then went to a journalist friend, Paul Comly French, who broke the story on November 30, 1934 of what became known as “The Business Plot.”

Congress began an investigation. There were denials all around of course and the media ridiculed the allegations. A final report by a special House of Representatives Committee confirmed some of what Butler said, but to Butler’s astonishment, did not name any names, even though (or because) the individuals involved were some of the most powerful in the country. Moreover, no prosecutions or further investigations followed.

Some of those same individuals then tried to merge their group with the Ku Klux Klan, but the merger never took place. Nevertheless, as Usdin writes:

Although the Liberty League/KKK alliance was not consummated, the fact that some of the wealthiest men in America considered working with thugs who celebrated the lynching and terrorizing of innocent men, women, and children provides insight into their character and lends credence to the notion that the League backed the Business Plot.” (p. 70)

Butler became a popular activist, speaking at meetings organized by veterans, pacifists, and church groups in the 1930s. In 1935, he wrote a short book titled War Is a Racket, in which he described and criticized the workings of the United States in its foreign actions and wars, indicating that many were inspired by the imperial aspirations of American corporations (for example, wars in Central America that benefitted American sugar and fruit interests).

Upon his retirement, Butler bought a home in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania, where he lived with his wife until his death on June 21, 1940.

Japanese Internment for Children: Review of “Write to Me: Letters from Japanese American Children to the Librarian They Left Behind” by Cynthia Grady

Throughout American history, some citizens have had more rights and privileges than others.

When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, fear and prejudice towards the Japanese reached a fever pitch. These attitudes extended to both citizens and non-citizens of Japanese descent living in the United States.

In 1942 Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. Under the terms of the Order, approximately 120,000 people of Japanese descent living in the US (of whom 70,000 were American citizens) were removed from their homes and placed in internment camps. The US justified its action by claiming that there was a danger of those of Japanese descent spying for the Japanese. However more than two thirds of those interned were American citizens and half of them were children. None had ever shown evidence of disloyalty.

Screen Shot 2013-07-19 at 5.24.11 AM

The internees were transported to one of ten relocation centers in California, Utah, Arkansas, Arizona, Idaho, Colorado, and Wyoming for up to 4 years, without due process of law or any factual basis, in bleak, remote camps surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards. Families were crammed into 20- by 25-foot rooms and forced to use communal bathrooms. No razors, scissors, or radios were allowed. Children attended War Relocation Authority schools.

This book tells the story of Clara Estelle Breed, the children’s librarian at the East Branch of the San Diego County Library, which served many Japanese American families. Miss Breed got to know many of these children, and went to the train station to see them off when they were being relocated. She took a bagful of books to give them, as well as stamped, addressed postcards. “‘Write to us,’ Miss Breed said. ‘We’ll want to know where you are.’”

Over the next three years until the war ended, Miss Breed received many postcards from approximately thirty children. At first, they were postmarked from Arcadia, California. She wrote the kids back every week, and sent them boxes of books and more stamped postcards. She also wrote articles for magazines and letters to authorities about the mistreatment of Japanese Americans.

The author used excerpts from the postcards received by Miss Breed, incorporating them into the book. For example, One said:

“Dear Miss Breed,
I was overwhelmed with joy to see the books when the postman opened the package for inspection. Thank you, Miss Breed, Thank you!
Very sincerely yours,
Louise Ogawa”

Miss Breed even took a train to Arcadia and visited the children. But then they were transferred to a prison camp in Poston, Arizona. Miss Breed did not stop trying to lift their spirits however. As the author reports:

“Miss Breed sent them seeds for planting, thread for sewing, and soap for washing. She sent pipe cleaners, crepe paper, pencils, and glue for making crafts.”

Two young evacuees in Poston, Arizona

The children wrote her back about the crafts they made, the books they were reading, and also about how they were doing and feeling.

In the Author’s Note, we learn that when Miss Breed packed to move to a retirement home, she found the box she had kept of more than 250 letters and postcards she had received during the war. She gave them to Elizabeth Kikuchi Yamada, one of the former children who had corresponded with her. The author reports:

“In 1991 Clara Breed was the honored guest at a reunion for Japanese Americans who had been imprisoned in Poston, Arizona. More than seven hundred people gave her a standing ovation for her kindness, friendship, love, and courage during the war.”

After the Author’s Note, there is a list of notable dates in Clara Breed’s life, a selected history of Japanese people in the United States, source notes, a selected bibliography, photo credits, and suggestions for further reading.

Evacuees in Poston,Arizona, photo by Francis Stewart, 1942

The muted colored-pencil illustrations by Amiko Hirao are lovely, and there are a number of actual photographs included on the end papers.

Evaluation: This book presents an important historical moment from a unique perspective, providing emotion and heart. The connection to a children’s librarian may resonate with young readers, and the reproduction of words from actual postcards add a touching realistic element to the story. There is also a wonderful message, about how one person can provide compassion and relief even when otherwise powerless against larger forces. And with any luck at all, it may help readers understand the injustice and cruelty of locking up children, a practice which is not restricted to the past.

Rating: 4/5

Published by Charlesbridge, 2018

Librarian Clara Breed

April 21, 1938 – FDR Speech in Favor of Immigration to the Daughters of the American Revolution

On this day in history, President Franklin Roosevelt spoke to the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) for the fifth time, this time speaking in favor of immigrants.

He told them:

I thought of preaching on a text, but I shall not. I shall only give you the text and I shall not preach on it. . . .

The text is this: Remember, remember always that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.”

You can read the full text of his remarks here.

Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1938

Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1938

October 29, 1940 – First Peacetime Draftees Selected From a Glass Bowl

On September 16, 1940, the Burke-Wadsworth Act was passed by Congress. More formally known as “The Selective Training and Service Act of 1940,” Pub.L. 76–783, 54 Stat. 885 authorized the first peacetime conscription in United States history. This Selective Service Act required that men between the ages of 21 and 35 register with local draft boards.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the Selective Service Training Act

President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the Selective Service Training Act

One month after the passage of the act, on this day in history, Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson began drawing draft numbers out of a glass bowl. The numbers were handed to President Franklin Roosevelt, who read them aloud in a public announcement.

Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson drawing draft numbers out of a glass bowl

Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson drawing draft numbers out of a glass bowl

Later, when the U.S. entered World War II, the draft ages expanded at both ends of the age range. The terminal point of service was extended to six months after the war. From 1940 until 1947 — when the wartime selective service act expired after extensions by Congress, approximately 34 million men had registered, and over 10,000,000 men were inducted.

At first, blacks were passed over for the draft because of racist assumptions about their abilities and the viability of a mixed-race military. But more men were invariably required, and in 1943, a “quota” was imposed for recruitment of blacks, to be approximately equivalent to their percentage of the population as a whole. Initially, blacks were restricted to “labor units,” but this too ended as the war progressed, when they were finally used in combat.