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The Hidden History of the New Deal's "Black Brain Trust"

This story is about how America defeated the Nazis. This is the origin story of critical race theory, the great migration and the civil rights movement. It’s also the tale of the first Black member of a presidential cabinet, peace in the Middle East and how a Black woman took the infamous Caucasian phrase “one of my best friends is Black” and used it to recruit, organize and form a coalition of brilliant Black minds that would change Black America forever.

It’s no secret that President Franklin Roosevelt was racist. To be fair, when he was elected in 1936, racism was almost a prerequisite for being CEO of America, Inc. Roosevelt’s predecessor was so racist that Black voters said: “To hell with this party,” making Herbert Hoover the last Republican presidential candidate to win the Black vote. Roosevelt was still a bigot, though. He put Hugo Black, an inexperienced Klansman, on the Supreme Court. He invited the white Olympic champions to the White House but snubbed Jesse Owens after what still stands as one of the Olympic performances of all time. He refused to support anti-lynching legislation, signed an executive order interning Japanese Americans and wasn’t very concerned with the Holocaust. Perhaps Mary McLeod Bethune was the only one who could speak to FDR in the African-American dialect known as “keeping it real,” for one reason: 

Eleanor Roosevelt loved her some Mary McLeod Bethune.

Eleanor and Bethune’s friendship predated Roosevelt’s presidency and Bethune even chilled at FDR’s mama’s house, so he had no choice but to respect the relationship between his cousin/wife and Bethune. Plus, he rarely came in contact with people of the negro persuasion, so when the president tapped Bethune as the director in the National Youth Administration’s Division of Negro Affairs, he believed her when she told him that the Black scholars she knew were actually more intelligent than the white boys in his administration. Bethune convinced Roosevelt that, if he tapped into this genius for an actual Black agenda, Black voters who traditionally voted for Republicans might be willing to switch their support to the Democratic Party. As racist as he was, Roosevelt was also a politician. 

He took up Bethune’s offer and had her organize a group of the most innovative Black thinkers in the country, who eventually became known as the Black Cabinet, the Black Brain Trust or the Federal Council of Negro Affairs. Although the group was not an official government entity (they took no notes and usually gathered in Bethune’s apartment or her office as a backchannel on policy for Black America), these brilliant men and women collaborated on legislation, economic development and, in many cases, penned the laws that would affect Black Americans throughout the country.

Read entire article at The Grio