Welcome to Day 3. Today we’ll focus on reasons human rights was controversial in the post-war United States and why “civil” rights, instead, became the focus.
This session will also model a literacy strategy known as close read activity.
One of the challenges faced by the UN Human Rights Commission, and by Eleanor in particular, was the relationship between civil rights and human rights. This was particularly evident in the treatment of blacks in the United States. At the end of World War II, one million black veterans returned to the United States and faced discrimination and violence in many communities, especially in the South and in the Northern areas of wartime employment.
African-American leaders wanted the United Nations to recognize civil rights as part of the effort to establish human rights. They believed that appealing to human rights would elicit the sympathies of the world community to help with this domestic issue. African American scholar and activist W. E. B. Du Bois lead a team of scholars to compose a brief entitled
“An Appeal to the World: A Statement of Denial of Human Rights to Minorities in the Case of Citizens of Negro Descent in the United States of America and an Appeal to the United Nations to Redress.”
In 1947 they presented their brief to John Humphrey, credited as author of the first draft of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Eleanor saw that her domestic and foreign interests were not easily reconcilable, which sometimes put her in an awkward position. She sympathized with American blacks and was on the board of the NAACP.
However, she chose to not be present when the brief was submitted to the Human Rights Commission.
She was sensitive to the fact that the Soviets would criticize American hypocrisy and sensitive to Southern Democrats for supporting human rights while ignoring the rights of blacks in the United States. If Eleanor supported the petitioners, she would be seen as turning against her own government. This was “unthinkable” for her and refused to take a stand on the matter with the Human Rights Commission.
On the other hand, Eleanor was willing to take a stand on the question of Israel, since this topic was less sensitive from an American standpoint. She threatened to resign from the United Nations if the international body would not support the creation of Israel as an independent state, and Israel’s independence was made official on May 14, 1948.
Today’s discussion will focus on the level of influence of the world community over a sovereign state’s treatment of its minority populations.