Eleanor Roosevelt
Eleanor Roosevelt & My Grandmother

I was very nearly six when Eleanor Roosevelt came and stayed the night with us, at my grandmother’s where my mother and I lived. Our house was right next to a big army camp in Greensboro, NC. My grandmother was an education honcho, a hands-on trustee at two colleges at least, and director of the city U.S.O. One of the colleges was Bennett, a school across town for black girls. It still takes only black girls, and is virtually unique this way. Mrs. Roosevelt was giving a speech there, and it was only proper and right that she stay at my grandmother’s.

My memories of it all are fairly sketchy, because I was a shy little kid, and there was a terrible lot of bustle and fuss. I pretty much stayed away.

I remember silent men in suits standing along the edges of the front yard. I played outside a lot to avoid the goings-on in the house, but I really avoided those guys!

I only saw her once. She came along our driveway in a big car to go on a tour of the local black colleges, and I was out there in the yard. Before I could run and hide, the car slid alongside and Mrs. Roosevelt rolled her window down and gave me the nicest wave and smiled big with those wonderful teeth of hers. I really wish I had waved back, but I’m sure I just stood there.

That night she told the grownups she’d like to meet the little boy of the house. She was really nice, just like you hear. Gracious to me, even. Part of our family lore has my mother finding me and saying, “Mrs. Roosevelt wants to meet you!” That scared me good and proper and I shot back, “I done seen her.” Which was true. I can’t believe I snubbed Eleanor Roosevelt. But I’m sure she understood.

The Roosevelts were very wealthy, everybody knows that. Not to mention accomplished. But Eleanor was a Democrat to the bone, with no airs or affectations. After she left, my grandmother’s maid announced proudly to my grandmother, “You got better stockin’s than she does!”

She had three weeks remaining to be First Lady.

Note: That’s the two of them in the picture in front of some of my grandmother’s books. Miss Laura (my grandmother) was a natural speed-reader. She had over 3,000 great books, had read them all, and gave away at least 5,000 more when she was through with them. Some of them are in my personal library today, which I’m very grateful for.