The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Wednesday, July 20, 2005

That Bush and the NAACP thing

The story so far:

It is widely put about the net that Bush is the first president since Herbert Hoover not to give a speech to the NAACP (piece earlier today). Yet both David McCullough and Julian Bond - neither members of the VRWC, so far as I'm aware - affirm that it was Harry Truman who first did so [1].

The claim would be falsified if one could show that FDR did not speak at any NAACP conference.

What's the online evidence?

We have a catalogue of microfilmed papers relating to the NAACP - the guide to Part I (PDF) lists, inter alia, speeches for each of the NAACP annual conferences held during Franklin Roosevelt's presidency. There is no record of an FDR speech - though Eleanor Roosevelt did speak at the 1939 conference, and her speech is on the list (p60a).

There is no guarantee that this collection of speeches is complete; but I can't help thinking that a presidential speech would make it into the archives!

To double check, I've looked at the FDR Public Papers for the relevant months. In 1938, Roosevelt sent a letter of two paragraphs described as Greeting to the NAACP to Walter White: presumably, in lieu of a personal appearance.

In 1939, he sent another letter - this time extending to three paragraphs.

From 1940 to 1944, nada: like Dick Cheney, he had other priorities. Though he did find time in May 1942 to send a note to the Daughters of the American Revolution's Mrs Pouch (!) for their fifty-first continental congress.

So, I'm properly double-sourced in maintaining that any suggestion that Bush is the first sitting US President since Herbert Hoover not to address the annual conference of the NAACP is an untruth.


  1. A thesis " Everything in my power": Harry S. Truman and the fight against racial discrimination by Joseph Pierro (online only in this form) also states (p31) that Truman was
    the first U.S. president to address a meeting of the NAACP
    Although the form is yukky, and only the first three quarters of the thesis is in the file, it's the only extensive online treatment of Truman's race policies.

    (It commits an unforgiveable howler (p22) that the cloture majority in the US Senate in 1946 was

    three-fifths of the Senate (ie, fifty-eight votes)
    when, of course, it was two-thirds of senators present and voting. Ouch!)

    There is, confusingly, a separate claim made that Bush is the only President since Warren Harding not to meet the NAACP . I'm not clear what meet means in the context: a president could meet the Secretary, say; or the executive committee; and still not have given a speech, at an NAACP conference, or otherwise.

    But let's stick with the claim about speaking at the NAACP annual conference - which should be more easily verifiable.

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