Hyde Park on Hudson is a new film about Franklin Roosevelt. Peter Dreier of Truthout has written a lament for the way the Eleanor Roosevelt has been domesticated in this and other biographical films.  Dreier contends that American films routinely hide the extent of her radicalism. He sighs, “In the film, the biggest controversy Eleanor dealt with was whether to serve hot dogs to the British royals.”

“Throughout her life, Eleanor fought on behalf of America’s, and the world’s, most vulnerable people. Over time, she became friends with a widening circle of union activists, feminists, civil rights crusaders and radicals whose ideas she embraced and advocated for – both as FDR’s wife and adviser and as a political figure in her own right.”

…Eleanor was much bolder than FDR in opposing racism, segregation and lynching. …She urged FDR to support federal legislation to end lynching, but he refused to support the bill, worried that southern white voters – almost all of them loyal Democrats – would abandon the party. –Peter Dreier, Truthout

Unlike her husband, Eleanor Roosevelt risked arrest to oppose Bull Connor’s attempts to force segregation. She (unsuccessfully) tried to convince FDR to support an international court, to oppose lynching, and to receive Jews suffering persecution in Germany under Hitler.

After FDR died Eleanor Roosevelt became the conscience of other presidential administrations. Under Truman she worked for universal human rights standards. Unlike her male counterparts, she was not frightened away from radical voices. She would rub elbows with feminists, whistleblowers, socialists, civil rights radicals and peace activists.

Whenever it seems American history is lacking in human rights heroes, it is because we are putting our focus on the wrong players. The people in the spotlight are almost always puppets in the hierarchy. It is there on the margins that we find the true architects of justice. Eleanor Roosevelt never forgot that it is those anonymous people at poorly attended meetings on unpopular topics who represent the truest friends of humankind.