After more than 50 years as a journalist, one of my fondest memories remains a news conference that former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt held at the university on April 2, 1962.
My story began with her advice that the most important function of colleges and universities is to train students to have self-discipline when they graduate.
She later spoke to a capacity audience of 1,900 in Mitten Hall auditorium about the U.S. role in world leadership, but I couldn’t get her comment about self-discipline out of my mind.
I began my Temple News story with that advice because I considered it the most important thing she said. But I didn’t fully understand what she meant until I was working for a 24/7 news service, The Associated Press, where journalists sometimes need to control themselves under tremendous deadline pressure and keep their personal views hidden to maintain their neutrality.
Pictures in the News on April 3, 1962 bring back wonderful memories of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s widow smiling, moving her hand to her cheek as she spoke and her blue hat. Her appearance at Temple was important enough in the university’s history at the time, but became even more so when she died on Nov 7, 1962. I don’t know how many appearances she made after that April, but I doubt there were that many.
During the news conference, Mrs. Roosevelt spoke of college demonstrations as the “only way young people can register their feelings.” She tempered her support, however, saying, “It may be impossible for someone who is constitutionally charged to meet the desires of the demonstrators, but that does not mean the demonstrations should not take place.”
At the time, demonstrations for civil rights had already started and were soon to capture the attention of the nation. While I had no doubt that Mrs. Roosevelt would have supported the demonstrators, I wondered much later how the widow of a wartime president would have viewed the massive demonstrations against the Vietnam War.
Mrs. Roosevelt said a great deal had been accomplished in civil rights by April 1962, but noted that President John F. Kennedy “has the problem of getting legislation through Congress on the one hand and fulfilling his promises on the other.”
In fact, the real progress in civil rights didn’t occur until after Kennedy’s assassination, with passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
At her Mitten Hall address, Mrs. Roosevelt – whose husband was president during World War II – said world leadership was thrust upon the United States after that conflict regardless of whether the country was ready for it.
“To some,” she said, this leadership came as an “unwelcome responsibility. These people would have been more comfortable without this task.”
Mrs. Roosevelt spoke at the height of the Cold War, when the nation was locked in a battle for world leadership with the Communist bloc. I wonder how she would view the nation’s role in countries like Syria.
In her speech, the former first lady spoke of the excitement of living in a fast-paced age.
“Many are not aware of the tremendous changes that have taken place in such a short period of time,” she said. “Failure to realize this makes it that much harder to face up to the challenges and problems we are confronted with.”
Mrs. Roosevelt spoke at a time when there were no personal computers, no cell phones, no tweets or Facebook. If still alive, she still might be telling us about the importance of fast-paced changes. But I doubt that she would say many are not aware of them.
Larry Margasak held several editorial positions with The Temple News and graduated in 1965. He retired in February, 2013 after more than 47 years as an Associated Press reporter, mostly in Washington covering Congress