Ilene Cooper's Eleanor Roosevelt, Fighter for Justice is an inspiring account of how Roosevelt developed from a shy, wealthy girl bred with the racism of her time into a spokesperson and champion for many social causes.
As her husband advanced in politics, Eleanor became immersed in politics. In 1933, when Franklin Roosevelt became president, the issue of civil rights attracted her attention. She had not been fully aware of the social and economic conditions faced by most African Americans until she was taken to visit the slums of Washington, D.C., where she saw firsthand "a rotten world of crumbling wooden tenements, home to twelve thousand blacks and one thousand whites." From that point on, she grasped the importance of making changes to improve the lives of all people--a feeling not always fully shared by Franklin, a pragmatic politician--and met with black leaders like Mary McLeod Bethune and NAACP head Walter Francis White.
Cooper's (Faith and Fury: The Temple Mount and the Noble Sanctuary: The Story of Jerusalem's Most Sacred Space) solid biography, with archival photos, excellent notes and timeline, focuses on Eleanor's many civil rights activities, including efforts to stop lynching, ensure that New Deal government agencies treated blacks and whites equally, and integrating the armed forces. The absorbing text discusses personal concerns, including Eleanor's dismay at her husband's affair and her fraught relationships with her mother-in-law and her own children, and emphasizes her strengths in forging an independent identity as a speaker, a writer, a United Nations delegate and an active First Lady concerned with the rights of all U.S. residents. --Melinda Greenblatt, freelance book reviewer