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Eleanor Roosevelt's Granddaughter Shares Stories from the New Deal Era

February 10, 2017

Category: Events

By Cyndi Allison

rooseveltgibson2017.jpgNina Roosevelt Gibson returned to Salisbury in early February to mark the 75th anniversary of her Grandmother Eleanor Roosevelt's visit to Salisbury/Kannapolis.  Gibson also returned to continue her grandmother's campaign for equality based on Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal policies which helped pull the United States out of the Great Depression.

Gibson addressed students and visitors at Catawba College during two different Community Forum events that also featured Dr. Shannon Sullivan, a professor at UNC Charlotte, and the Reverend Vincent Huntley, a resident of the N.C. Piedmont who is active in religious and community improvement programs.

Gibson began with stories from her girlhood when she was especially close to her grandmother Eleanor.  She explained that although Eleanor had been introverted with little self-confidence, she began to open up after marrying Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) who later became the 32nd president of the United States. In fact, the couple became partners in global change. Eleanor had become quite outspoken by the time her husband was in office, and her views were always popular. During one turbulent time period in the White House, Eleanor was sent on overseas "good will" visits, so she would not push issues of equality on the domestic front.

Eleanor had experienced a more traditional upbringing, so she could relate to the people of the United States and the lack of equality, Gibson shared. Eleanor took FDR to New York City, so he could see firsthand the poverty and crowding. She took him to visit young children who were working from an early age. Gibson said that her grandmother noted it was the first time FDR had realized how people with lower incomes were really living.

Obviously, the Roosevelts lived a comfortable life with luxuries, however this did not change the way Eleanor viewed herself or the world. Gibson shared that on one occasion when her grandmother had visiting dignitaries at her home, a hurricane took out the power. As everyone prepared for the next day's activities, Eleanor went out to the swimming pool followed by the female guests. Following her example, they all brushed their teeth and washed their faces in the swimming pool which was littered with fallen leaves.

One of most moving stories Gibson shared was about a prayer paper that her Grandmother Eleanor carried in her purse. Gibson said the note read: "Am I worth dying for?" As the U.S. was entering WWII under FDR, Eleanor was committed to earning the protection of the country's military, including young men and some young women as well.

The FDR years can certainly be compared with the current state of the United States and the global power shifts. Gibson's stories spotlighted some of the similarities and differences between then and now. Gibson said that her grandmother would have told an audience today that it is critical to give everyone a stake in the future because until we are equal, we are not free.

Drs. Seth Holtzman and Gary Freeze coordinated the forum presentations with Gibson at Catawba.