FDR and the Little White House
Our hometown in 1940, shortly before World War II, was Offerman, a tiny south Georgia community with dirt streets and railroad tracks extending in four directions.
My brother and I would often stand and watch the huge steam locomotives, power plants on wheels, pulling their awesome chain of freight cars. During the night, we could hear trains come through at full speed; they were troop trains packed with hundreds of soldiers on their way to camps in Florida.
This was the prelude to war, and the first time I ever heard the name of Franklin D. Roosevelt. I was 8 years old.
A few months later, my father moved the family to Savannah, where ha had a job as a government carpenter.
On December 8, 1941, the day after the Japanese surprise air and naval attack on Pearl harbor, Hawaii, I sat in a crowded assembly room of 38th Street School and heard the radio broadcast as Franklin D,. Roosevelt, the 32nd president of the United States, declared war on Japan.
Then Germany and Italy declared war against the United States. America’s involvement in World War II had begun: a war in which America had a 1,068,370 casualties and 150,000 battle related deaths,
The war seemed to come as a surprise to the American people, but it shouldn’t have. Germany under Adolph Hitler developed dreams of world dominion, with Italy and Japan joining the movement.
Roosevelt recognized the impending crisis in 1940, shortly after he became the first third-term president of the United States. Americans were awakened to impending danger when France and other countries were overrun. After meeting with representatives of Canada and Great Britain to negotiate plans for “joint defense,” Roosevelt persuaded Congress to appropriate billions for defense, which included drafting 900,000 men for military service.
The Lend-Lease Act in January 1941 empowered the president to authorize the manufacture of defense articles for any country he deemed vital. After Germany invaded Russia, the lend-lease program was extended to Russia.
America became “an arsenal of democracy,” producing and distributing instruments of war. German submarines began sinking American ships in the Atlantic Ocean; Pearl Harbor was next, and a world war would now test Roosevelt’s leadership.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt was born in Hyde Park, N.Y., in 1882. The first cousin of Theodore Roosevelt, a graduate of Harvard and the Columbia Law School, Roosevelt began his political career by running for the New York State Senate. Winning the election set the stage for perhaps the most significant leadership of the twentieth century.
Stricken by an attack of infantile paralysis in 1921, and left with a partially paralyzed leg, he nevertheless continued his political involvement. In 1928 and 1930 he was elected governor of New York. In 1932, he was nominated for president of the United States by the Democratic Party. He campaigned in a wheelchair and defeated Herbert Hoover by an overwhelming majority. At the time of his election to the presidency, the country was suffering from the staggering effects of its worst economic depression. Seizing virtually dictatorial powers, Roosevelt moved swiftly to meet the crisis with what he called the “New Deal.”
As commander-in-chief of the nation’s armed forces during World War II, his leadership was decisive.
Roosevelt had many homes, including one at Hyde Park and the White House in Washington. He also built a modest home in Georgia in 1933: the Little White House, a sixroom house located in Warm Springs.
He visited his hideaway in Georgia 41 times after it was built; it was his therapeutic home. He had found Warm Springs in the early 1930s and came back to enjoy the healing waters of the warm mineral springs, and it became his second home.
Leaving Washington in April 1945 for a brief rest in Warm Springs, he died there on April 12, from a cerebral hemorrhage.
The Little White House and museum were opened to the public in 1947. The house is almost the same as it was when Roosevelt died; it contains the now-famous unfinished portrait of the President. The museum contains many of his personal effects.
This historical site, operated by the state’s FDR Warm Springs Memorial Commission, is Georgia’s link with America’s most important era in the Twentieth Century – an era which changed the course of history.