#4 Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of Franklin Roosevelt 32nd President of the United States, spoke out against the killing of an African American soldier in Ripley, TN.

“Early in 1944, a disgruntled Tennessean, WT Straub of Memphis, charged that Eleanor Roosevelt was indirectly responsible for a shoot-out between black soldiers and two white law enforcement officers in Ripley, Tennessee, in which one soldier was killed and an officer wounded.” – page 161, Days of Hope by Patricia Sullivan

Why Eleanor Roosevelt? WT Straub had mailed her newspaper clippings of the story involving the incident with the African American soliders and the White police officers that had taken place in Ripley, TN. Because Mrs. Roosevelt had taken a firm stand against segregation she had become an easy target for White supremacists.

Mrs. Roosvelt’s response:

“These articles are sad reading for you – not me.”

This stunned the City of Memphis and the Memphis Commercial Appeal newspaper demanded an explanation. Mrs. Roosevelt’s secretary responded with:

“Mrs. Roosevelt meant that not she, but the South is responsible for things like that because of the condition there caused by discrimination against the Negro. Certainly she was not responsible for them. If she’d died in her cradle, conditions there would still be the same as they are.”

So just who was the African American soldier that died in Ripley whose story made it to the White House?

I haven’t been able to find him. My guess is that he might have been a soldier visiting home or he was a soldier at the base in Dyersburg, TN who happened to be in Ripley at the wrong time. I have found records of soldiers based in Dyersburg, TN dying in Ripley mainly through things such as plane crashes or other Army related incidents. At this time there was a lot of hostility towards African American soldiers because these soldiers were asserting their natural rights to freedom. These soldiers even had their right to vote protected when civilian African Americans did not! My next step here is to search through the Commercial Appeal archives at the University of Memphis library.

I did find an entry for a W.T. Straub in the 1940 Memphis City Directory. The directory indicates that he was employed as a conductor.

So just who was this soldier? I hope to have more information for you soon. So far my searches have turned up empty.

– Tiffany

Sources: page 161, Days of Hope by Patricia Sullivan, Memphis Commercial Appeal, 27 January, 29 January 1944.