Why FDR Opposed the 1937 Anti-Lynching Bill

The Great Depression – Part 7 To Be Somebody

PBS (1993)

Film Review

This episode covers Depression-era lynching, racial segregation and antisemitism.

The 1930s saw a big increase in southern lynchings of African Americans. In 1935, this would lead to a major campaign by the National Association of Colored People to win FDR’s support for a federal anti-lynching bill. Still fearful of southern Democrats, Roosevelt declined to support the bill when it passed the house in 1937 and was blocked by a Senate filibuster.

In 1937 the Daughters of the American Republic (DAR) blocked African American opera singer Marion Anderson from performing at Constitution Hall. Instead Eleanor Roosevelt arranged for her to sing at the Lincoln Memorial before an audience of 25,000.

This episode also explores the 100+ Nazi groups that emerged during the thirties in the US. They would hold marches in full Nazi regalia in 19 cities. Without a following of over 10 million listeners, antisemitic radio host Father Coughlan delivered weekly rants about “America for Americans.”

After the November 1938 Kristalnacht* resulted in the mass destruction of Jewish businesses, the arrest of 20,000 Jews and the death of 38, human rights advocates pressed FDR to accept Jewish refugees from Germany. He refused.


*Kristallnacht was a pogrom against Jews throughout Nazi Germany on 9–10 November 1938, carried out by SA paramilitary forces and German civilians.

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