Nobody, said Marcus Aurelius, is either the better or the worse for
being praised. We are engaged in an idle ceremony, which would have
brought no comfort to Eleanor Roosevelt, if we come here merely to
praise her great qualities and achievements. She does not need our
All of us are familiar with people who are the partisans of departed
virtue, but are afraid to defend an unpopular truth today. Mrs.
Roosevelt never stood with this timid company. Her conscience was
her counselor, and she followed its commands with unfaltering
courage. Nor did she really understand what people meant when they
praised her for taking so many risks. She would have taken the
greatest risk of all if she had remained silent in the presence of
wrong. She would have risked the integrity of her soul.
A rabbi of the Jewish community in Berlin under the Hitler regime
once said: "The most important thing I learned is that bigotry and
hatred are not the most urgent problems. The most urgent, the most
disgraceful, the most shameful, and the most tragic problem--is
Eleanor Roosevelt taught us that sometimes silence is the greatest
Do you remember what Dr. Samuel Johnson said about courage? "Unless
a man has that virtue, he has no security for preserving any other."
Mrs. Roosevelt knew what those words meant. She lived their meaning
every day of her life. Courage sustained by compassion--that was the
watchword of her entire career.
Always she thought not of abstract rights, but of living wrongs.
I watched her at close range one day when she spent two hours
helping the 75th Congressional Club give a benefit luncheon to buy a
wheelchair for a crippled boy.
Only one person was involved. Where else do you start, but with one
She thought of the suffering individual, not of a theoretical
principle. She saw an unemployed father, and so she helped him. She
saw a neglected Negro child, and so she educated him. She saw
dictators hurling the world into war, and so she worked
unflinchingly for peace. She saw the United Nations divided by the
conflict of ideology and power, and so she became the prophet of the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Are we ready to fight similar
battles against new foes in our own day? If not, our grief is an
empty thing, and the spirit of Eleanor Roosevelt is not among us.
President Wilson used to say that some people in Washington grow in
office, while others merely swell. Mrs. Roosevelt steadily grew
under the compulsions and inspirations of her great office. But, it
is perhaps the ultimate tribute to Mrs. Roosevelt that she reached
true greatness after the shock of her bereavement when she went
bravely forward in a new career as a spokesman for America and a
servant of world peace. In the White House she was the First Lady in
the land, but after the White House she became, as Ambassador
Stevenson has reminded us, the First Lady in the world. Great was
her goodness, and it was her goodness that made her so great.
Let us today earnestly resolve to build the true foundation for
Eleanor Roosevelt's memory--to pluck out prejudice from our lives,
to remove fear and hate where it exists, and to create a world
unafraid to work out its destiny in peace. Eleanor Roosevelt has
already made her own splendid and incomparable contribution to that
foundation. Let us go and do likewise, within the measure of our
faith and the limits of our ability. Let Eleanor Roosevelt teach us
all how to turn the arts of compassion into the victories of
Ladybird Johnson Speech
Tribute to Eleanor Roosevelt