Franklin D. Roosevelt in Georgia
Roosevelt, a native New Yorker, first visited Georgia in 1913 on business for the U.S. Navy in Brunswick. In August 1921 he contracted polio while on a family vacation at Campobello Island in New Brunswick, Canada. He then sought to heal the damage caused by the disease. In October 1924 he learned of Warm Springs and its beneficial waters. He quickly grew to love Georgia and its people, and they welcomed him as their adopted son.
The water at Warm Springs maintains an average temperature of about eighty-eight degrees and bubbles out of nearby Pine Mountain, one of several quartzite ridges running through west central Georgia. According to legend, sick and injured Creek Indians once came to the springs to recover from their ills, in much the same way that Roosevelt used the healing waters. He generally visited in late March and April and again in the fall, when he traditionally shared Thanksgiving dinner with other patients. He swam, sat in the sun, caught up on correspondence, and went for drives in the countryside, which had been devastated by the boll weevil and plummeting cotton prices.
Over the years Roosevelt used his time in Georgia to develop visual tricks, such as leaning against cars or walking with his arm on the elbow of one of his sons, to appear physically fit before the public. Photographs of him fishing, greeting golfers on the golf course, horseback riding, and joining other hunters at possum hunts appeared in national publications. The journalist William Winn described his impact on people of the area a half-century after his death: "He is remembered fondly, even reverently, by locals, to whom he was part friend, part father figure, and, because of the role he played in pulling the South out of the depression, part savior as well."
Roosevelt made a number of significant political appearances throughout the state. During his first presidential campaign in 1932, he gave the address at Oglethorpe University's commencement,
The president drew criticism from local and national sources after speeches he made in Barnesville and Gainesville in 1938, in which he criticized the low wages paid by the southern textile industry. He also used those occasions to urge Georgia voters to oust Senator Walter F. George, part of a broader strategy to "purge" the U.S. Senate of several conservative southern Democrats who had joined with Republicans to block New Deal legislation. While Georgians continued to give Roosevelt a clear majority in his 1940 and 1944 reelections, they did so by a smaller margin than they had in 1932 and 1936.
With the coming of World War II (1941-45), the commander-in-chief had little time to spend in Georgia. He visited soldiers at Fort Benning and the Women's Army Auxiliary Training Corps at Fort Oglethorpe but was unable to enjoy the healing effects of Warm Springs. In March 1945, his health worsening, he arrived at the Little White House for a scheduled two-week rest. There, on April 12, he died after suffering a stroke.
Being a friend to all—both famous political leaders and poor farmers—may have prevented Roosevelt from having an even greater impact on Georgia and the South. His wife, Eleanor, along with many black leaders of the day, wanted him to do more about segregation and civil rights in general, but the president was unwilling to upset the state's political leaders or the general white population. Federal court orders and the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s would be needed
Perhaps Roosevelt's most lasting legacy lay in inspiring millions of people, most especially the disabled. He accomplished much, despite struggling daily to overcome his paralysis. In 1927 he established the Georgia Warm Springs Foundation. Known today as the Roosevelt Warm Springs Rehabilitation Center, the facility serves patients suffering from the effects of polio. People suffering from strokes, spinal cord injuries, and other disabilities are also treated there. The Little White House is operated by the Parks, Recreation, and Historic Sites Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and welcomes thousands of visitors each year.
Frank Freidel, F.D.R. and the South (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1965).
Hugh Gregory Gallagher, FDR's Splendid Deception: The Moving Story of Roosevelt's Massive Disability and the Intense Efforts to Conceal It from the Public, rev. ed (Arlington, Va.: Vandamere Press, 1994).
Paul Stephen Hudson, "A Call for 'Bold Persistent Experimentation': FDR's Oglethorpe University Commencement Address, 1932" Georgia Historical Quarterly 78 (summer 1994): 361-75.
Kaye Lanning Minchew, "Shaping a Presidential Image: FDR in Georgia," Georgia Historical Quarterly 83 (winter 1999): 741-57.
Ruth Stevens, Hi-Ya Neighbor (New York: Tupper and Love, 1947).
Rexford G. Tugwell, "Episode below Dowdell's Knob: II," Center Magazine, September 1968, 72-80.
William W. Winn, "The View from Dowdell's Knob," in New Georgia Guide (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1996), 359-89.
Kaye Lanning Minchew, Troup County Archives
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