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“Gonna Miss President Roosevelt”: The Blues for FDR

The relationship between African Americans and Franklin D. Roosevelt presents something of a paradox. On the one hand, Roosevelt never endorsed anti-lynching legislation; he accepted segregation and disenfranchisement; and he condoned discrimination against blacks in federally funded relief programs. On the other hand, Roosevelt won the hearts and the votes of African Americans in unprecedented numbers. Many black Americans not only voted for Roosevelt; they made him into a hero. “Franklin,” “Eleanor,” “Delano,” and even “Roosevelt” became popular first names for black children in the 1930s. And many African Americans hung the president’s picture on their walls beside those of Christ and Lincoln. Another indication of the powerful impression that Roosevelt made in the black community was Big Joe Williams’ recording of a blues tribute on the occasion of Roosevelt’s death in 1945, “His Spirit Lives On.”

Well you know that President Roosevelt he was awful fine,

He helped the crippled boys and he almost healed the blind,

Oh yes, gonna miss President Roosevelt.

Well he’s gone, he’s gone, but his spirit always 'll on.

He traveled out East, he traveled to the West,

But of all the Presidents, President Roosevelt was the best,

Oh yes, gonna miss [etc.]

Well now he traveled by land and he traveled by sea,

He helped the United States boys, and he also helped Chinese,

Oh yes, gonna miss [etc.]

President Roosevelt went to Georgia boy, and he ride around and

round, (twice)

I guess he imagined he seen that Pale Horse when they was trailin' him


Oh yes, gonna miss [etc.]

Well now the rooster told the hen "I want to crow,

You know President Roosevelt has gone, can’t live in this shack no


Oh yes, we’re gonna miss President Roosevelt,

Well he’s gone, he’s gone, but his spirit always’ll live on.

Source: Paul Oliver, Blues Fell This Morning, Meaning in the Blues (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 261–262.

See Also:"Waitin' on Roosevelt": Langston Hughes's "Ballad of Roosevelt"