Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 32nd Visit to Georgia
March 23 - April 2, 1938
Roosevelt’s next visit to Georgia was scheduled for Dec. 8, 1937, when he was supposed to appear in Gainesville for the unveiling of a memorial in his honor. In anticipation of the ceremonies, the General Assembly approved a joint resolution [see text] on Dec. 3, 1937 declaring Dec. 8 a state holiday. However, on Dec. 7, the day before the planned visit, state legislators were told that the president could not attend because of illness, so a second joint resolution was adopted canceling the state holiday.
In January 1938, famous comedian Eddie Cantor was visiting President Roosevelt in the White House. Cantor was active in fund raising for the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis. One of his ideas was for him and other celebrities to appear on radio programs urging all those who could to send ten cents to Roosevelt for help in fighting the dreaded polio disease. For this fund raising effort Cantor vividly portrayed a parade of dimes from all over the country marching on the White House. He thus coined the term “March of Dimes” – which would become one of the world’s most successful organizations in raising money for research in preventing and treating childhood diseases.
In 1938, Roosevelt was able to return to his previous habit of visiting Warm Springs – coming once in the spring and again in the fall for Thanksgiving, with a brief, but eventful, campaign trip in August. This does not mean that the world crisis had lessened; indeed signs of impending war were undeniable. In early March, just before Roosevelt’s spring trip, Hitler had completed the Anschluss – the quasi-political, quasi-military annexation of Austria. Japanese troops were rampaging the coastal cities of China. The American mood was still one of isolationism, though not of neutrality – public opinion clearly favored China and the democracies of Europe. Roosevelt was quietly urging a significant re-armament and modernizing of the U.S. military, while pushing for a world peace conference abroad.
Yet when Roosevelt came south to Georgia in March 1938, the dire world situation was not his primary topic. Still stung from the defeat of his Supreme Court proposal, he had decided to target some of his chief opponents on this and other issues in the upcoming election primaries. One of those targeted was Senator Walter F. George of Georgia.
Before arriving in Warm Springs Roosevelt stopped to make a speech in Gainesville, Georgia. He had visited the city after a devastating tornado had struck in 1936, personally seeing to the recovery efforts. Also, he had supposed to visit Gainesville again on Dec. 8, 1937, in conjunction with dedication of a Roosevelt memorial – but he had had to cancel because of illness. Now, three months later, the president spoke in newly named Roosevelt Square [see Thirtieth Visit], where roughly 20,000 people (double Gainesville’s population) had gathered. But this was not one of Roosevelt’s traditional speeches heaping praise on Georgians. Instead he talked of the low wages and subsequent low purchasing power in the lower South – saying that because of this the South “cannot and will not establish successful new industries.” He claimed his administration was trying to help the poor of the South, but was being prevented by “selfishness on the part of a few.” He warned to such people “in and out of public office, who still believe in the feudal system … the people of the United States … are going to say, ‘We are sorry but we want people to represent us whose minds are cast in the 1938 mold.’…” Source: Theo Lippman, Jr., The Squire of Warm Springs: F.D.R. in Georgia 1924-1945, (Playboy Press, Chicago, 1977), p. 163. These statements were a barely veiled attack on Senator George, who had introduced Roosevelt to the gathering. George sat in stony silence during the speech, and there was only a smattering of applause from the crowd – whereas Roosevelt was usually greeted very warmly in Georgia.
March 30, 1938 - Roosevelt visited nearby Columbus, Ga. and Fort Benning, the U.S. Army training base. Some 50,000 people lined the streets of Columbus to greet Roosevelt, who was being conducted on the tour by Georgia Gov. Eurith D. Rivers. Roosevelt spoke briefly to the crowd, showing he knew the local history of his “second home”:
“Mr. Mayor, My Friends of Columbus: I am grateful to you for this fine greeting… . This is not my first visit by any means and it is not going to be my last. As you know, there has been an association dating back about 110 years between Warm Springs and Columbus. I won’t suggest that Warm Springs is as big and important as Columbus, but the old army engineers who came here about 110 years ago to lay out these wonderful streets of Columbus spent the night in Warm Springs on the way and from that time on people from Columbus have made Warm Springs a large part of what it is today and we feel very grateful to you for all that you have done to help us and so I am glad to come back after a few years, glad to see the fine progress that has been made in this city, in this county and in this part of Georgia because as I think back 15 or 20 years it looks to me as after all on every hand we can see the improvement in the process of living in the state of Georgia. That process and that progress are going to keep on in the days to come if you and I have anything to do with it. And so my friends, I have to go on to see how the army is getting on and I will be back with you again, I hope, real soon.” Source: Columbus Ledger, March 30, 1938, p. 1.
“Seeing how the army is getting on” referred to his visit to Fort Benning, which he toured after he left Columbus. Roosevelt was very aware of the dire situation in both Europe and China, and while he hoped conflict could be avoided, he did want the United States to be better prepared if it could not be avoided.