Roosevelt’s Southern Connection

Was the US president ‘dealing with the devil’ in his relationships with segregationist politicians or was his ‘the art of the possible’?

President Roosevelt signs the Social Security Act in the White House, 1935. Harrison is in the white suit © Getty Images.

After a 1937 trip to Mississippi, President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent the state’s senator Pat Harrison a letter of praise along with the debts he had incurred after losing to him in a game of poker: ‘I bow to your prowess and apologize for the delay, and trust that you have not been pecuniarly inconvenienced.’ Traditional histories portray Roosevelt’s personal relationships with southern segregationists as a utilitarian necessity that Roosevelt made with some regret. Sources like the 1937 letter, however, suggest that Roosevelt’s concessions were also part of a shared leisure culture which many politicians took part in across sectional lines. 

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