BLACK AMERICANS, CIVIL RIGHTS, AND THE ROOSEVELTS, 1932-1962
A Special Exhibition at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum
June 3, 2023—December 31, 2024
The Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum presents a new special exhibition on Black Americans, civil rights, and the Roosevelts. Developed in collaboration with a distinguished committee of scholars, the exhibit centers the historical voices of many Black community leaders, wartime service members, and ordinary citizens who engaged the Roosevelt administration directly and who pushed for progress. Within this context, the exhibit examines the political evolution of both Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt regarding racial justice.
From the Great Depression and New Deal, through World War II and the postwar Civil Rights movement, BLACK AMERICANS, CIVIL RIGHTS, AND THE ROOSEVELTS offers critical perspectives on, and candid assessments of, the administration’s policies and practices, and of the Roosevelts themselves. A compelling story emerges, one of Black Americans organizing and expanding national networks of political allies to create new opportunities for social justice, and to combat Jim Crow segregation, widespread discrimination, and the harsh and often violent realities of racism in America.
The exhibit features documents and artifacts – many on display for the first time – from the Roosevelt Library’s rich holdings and from private collections nationwide. These materials evidence the unrelenting efforts of many key figures of the early civil rights movement, as well as Eleanor Roosevelt’s interactions with Black leaders of the midcentury freedom struggle. They also document the racism and discrimination in American politics and culture of the era and highlight the contradictions inherent with fighting for democracy abroad while injustice persists at home. Showcasing some of the most riveting yet unheralded voices from its vast archives of personal letters, political pamphlets, petitions, artworks, photographs, and sound recordings, the Roosevelt Library hopes to inspire further research into key aspects of this important history.
This exhibit contains content that may be painful or difficult for some visitors. The FDR Library's holdings and exhibits document a broad spectrum of American government and culture, and it is our charge to preserve and make available these historical materials in a variety of ways. As a result, some of the materials and language presented here reflect outdated, biased, offensive, and sometimes violent views and opinions. In addition, some of the materials, including imagery, relate to violent or graphic events and are preserved for their historical significance and to provide context, but may be inappropriate for young audiences.
Exhibit Advisory Committee
This exhibition was created by staff at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in close collaboration with a distinguished committee of historical advisers.
David Levering Lewis, New York University (Chair)
Patricia Bell-Scott, University of Georgia
Kevin M. Burke, Hutchins Center for African and African American Research
Blanche Wiesen Cook, Graduate Center, City University of New York
Paula J. Giddings, Smith College
Ira I. Katznelson, Columbia University
Lionel Kimble, Jr., Chicago State University
Patricia A. Sullivan, University of South Carolina
Joe William Trotter, Jr., Carnegie-Mellon University
Geoffrey C. Ward, Historian-Writer
Jill Watts, California State University- San Marcos
Additional Input and Assistance:
Anita V. Sonawane, FDR Library Trustee
Freddimir Garcia, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Officer, Hudson Gateway Assoc. of Realtors
Paul M. Sparrow, Former Director, Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum