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“That Hell-hole Of Yours”
In 1943 Franklin D. Roosevelt visited Britain’s poorest, most dismal African colony, and what he saw there fired him with a fervor that helped found the United Nations
October 1995 | Volume 46, Issue 6
President Franklin D. Roosevelt did not look favorably on European colonialism. Like most Americans, he believed that the self-determination clause of the 1941 Atlantic Charter should apply to all peoples, not just Europeans. In the war’s early years he so disagreed with Britain’s prime minister, Winston Churchill, on the future of the British Empire that the two heads of state tacitly agreed to avoid discussing the topic. But Roosevelt ceased skirting the issue and became colonialism’s outspoken foe after he stopped over in Britain’s smallest African colony, Gambia, near the continent’s western tip, on his way to meet Churchill in Casablanca in January 1943. This brief visit put a human face on misery for the President. It was a first strong whiff of the “stench of empire” that helped crystallize Roosevelt’s thinking about the role of the organization he was envisioning to help guide the post-Empire world: the United Nations.
Roosevelt’s son Elliott, a lieutenant colonel in the Army Air Corps, met his father’s C-54 transport the evening the President landed outside Casablanca. Along with Roosevelt’s aide Harry Hopkins, father and son rode the fifteen miles to the President’s villa in a French limousine, its windows plastered over with mud. Roosevelt showed no ill effects from his five days of traveling. “He was in high spirits; not a bit tired,” remembered Elliott. Oddly, though, the President spoke not so much of the momentous issues he and Churchill would be discussing as of where he had been and what he had seen.
At the front of Roosevelt’s mind was his eye-opening ride that morning through Bathurst, Gambia’s capital. Elliott had been there a year earlier on an Army mapping project. “I’ll bet I found out more in one afternoon in Bathurst than you were able to find out in two months,” father told son. Later that night, following a formal dinner with the British prime minister and his staff, Roosevelt got into his wide bed in the fancy presidential villa, loaded his cigarette holder, and again brought up his experiences of the previous morning.
“I must tell Churchill what I found out about his British Gambia today,” he told Elliott. “This morning, at about eight-thirty, we drove through Bathurst to the airfield.” (Elliott notes it was here that his father began speaking with “real feeling in his voice.”) “The natives were just getting to work. In rags…glum-looking.…They told us the natives would look happier around noontime, when the sun should have burned off the dew and the chill. I was told the prevailing wages for these men was one and nine. One shilling ninepence. Less than fifty cents.”
“An hour?” Elliott asked.
“A day! Fifty cents a day! Besides which, they’re given a half-cup of rice. Dirt. Disease. Very high mortality rate. I asked. Life expectancy—you’d never guess what it is. Twenty-six years. Those people are treated worse than the livestock. Their cattle live longer!”
During the flight overseas Roosevelt acted as if he were on “a first class holiday,” Hopkins wrote.
The President grew silent for a moment. Then he vowed, “Churchill may have thought I wasn’t serious, last time. He’ll find out, this time.”
In the bedroom of the presidential villa in Casablanca, Elliott heard his father speak for the first time of the role that an “organization of the United Nations” should play in “bringing education, raising the standards of living, improving the health conditions of all the backward, depressed colonial areas of the world.…
“And when they’ve had a chance to reach maturity,” the reclining President continued, after a third cigarette, three hours past midnight and several thousand miles from home, “they must have the opportunity extended them of independence.” It would be sour music for the ears of Churchill, who, only two months earlier, had made his own public vow: “I have not become the King’s First Minister in order to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire.”
What brought Roosevelt to the midwinter conference with Churchill in Casablanca was the apparent turn in the Allied fortunes of war. By the fall of 1942 Americans had blunted Japanese advances in the Pacific. Then, between the last week of October and the end of November, Allied forces had taken the upper hand in North Africa, and the Soviet Red Army had surrounded twenty-two German Army divisions west of Stalingrad. Suddenly a light was glowing at the tunnel’s far end, and there had been little planning for the rest of the drive. The circumstance prompted Roosevelt to sound out Churchill on “a military strategical conference between Great Britain, Russia, and the United States.” Churchill agreed, but Stalin declined, citing the pressing military situation on the Russian front.
Roosevelt took unabashed delight in the opportunity to escape the humdrum of Washington and venture off to some distant part of the world. He did not want to go just anywhere, though. “I don’t like mosquitoes,” he confided to Churchill, adding, “I prefer a comfortable oasis to the raft at Tilsit”—a reference to Napoleon’s 1807 meeting with his enemies Czar Alexander I and King Frederick William III of Prussia on a barge in an East Prussian river. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s staff found Roosevelt a comfortable oasis on a secluded (and mosquito-free) hill five miles south of Casablanca and a mile from the Atlantic. It was the Hotel Anfa, surrounded by villas that the two men and their staffs could occupy. On the last day of 1942, the two Allied leaders agreed on details for the conference two weeks later.
Roosevelt liked the secrecy and intrigue required for him to absent himself from Washington and make the rendezvous with Churchill so close to the North African front. Rumors whipped around Washington of the President’s departure, and some “pompous officials,” according to Hopkins, took time off from work and instructed their secretaries to tell callers they were “out of the city,” to allow for the presumption that they were with the President on secret business. But security was so tight that not many knew when Roosevelt was leaving, or for where.
On Saturday, January 9, 1943, at about 10:30 P.M., the President, Hopkins, and the presidential physician Ross T. McIntire boarded a five-car train on a secret siding behind the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Already aboard were Roosevelt’s chief of staff, Adm. William D. Leahy, other aides and orderlies, and a small staff of Filipino mess attendants. Only the presence of an Army radio car packed with generators and transmitters could have tipped off the principal passenger’s identity, and only the inclusion of nine hundred pounds of bottled water in the ton of luggage might have hinted at his foreign destination.
The train left the District of Columbia on a northward feint, as if heading for Hyde Park, but it pulled onto a siding just south of Fort Meade, Maryland, and sat for an hour as officials of the Atlantic Coast line cleared tracks southward. Then, through a lazy Sunday, as the day brightened and the weather warmed, the train proceeded undisturbed across Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia, and most of Florida. The party arrived at an isolated siding along the Dixie Highway in Miami at 1:00 A.M. on Monday, January 11. At about 4:30 the travelers awoke and rode through the balmy darkness, in a short line of cars, to Miami’s harbor, where two Boeing Clippers—twin-tailed, four-engine, Pan American Airways seaplanes under charter to the Navy—were moored. They seemed like “private hotels” on pontoons to Air Corps captain George E. Durno, official chronicler of the trip. The party took boats to the planes, and several crewmen hoisted the President aboard the Dixie Clipper. Before dawn both planes taxied out of the harbor and took off.
Roosevelt loved to travel, and he was especially excited about the Casablanca venture. Hopkins allowed candidly that the President’s main reason for meeting Churchill in Africa was just to make the trip. “He wanted no more of Churchill in Washington,” wrote the man who knew Roosevelt best. “For political reasons he could not go to England, he wanted to see our troops, he was sick of people telling him that it was dangerous to ride in airplanes. He liked the drama of it. But above all he wanted to make a trip!”
Several noteworthy “firsts” involved with the venture added to the relish FDR felt. Once his plane was airborne, he became the first American President to fly while in office. Cousin Teddy had popped up and down once with the Wright brothers a third of a century earlier, but no one counted flights of a few hundred feet. Roosevelt had flown once before, from Albany to Chicago to make his dramatic entrance to the 1932 Democratic National Convention, but Secret Service policy kept Presidents from flying. FDR liked breaking the rules. With the Casablanca venture, he also became the first President to leave the country during wartime and the first since Lincoln to visit troops in an active theater of war. It made Roosevelt lighthearted. As he sat talking with Hopkins in Miami, before leaving the Pullman car, the President laughed about its being an “unbelievable trip.”
For reasons of security and safety, the itinerary between the United States and North Africa was roundabout. The twin clippers were to fly within sight of each other, first to Trinidad, fourteen hundred miles south of Miami; then to Belém, Brazil, another twelve hundred miles; and then across the Atlantic twenty-one hundred miles to Bathurst, at the mouth of Africa’s Gambia River, where Great Britain maintained one of its oldest African colonies. There, the party would motor eighteen miles to Yundum Field, Gambia’s airstrip, and board two C-54 military transports that would carry them the final sixteen hundred miles to Casablanca. It would require forty-six hours of flying, after twenty-six hours by rail in the United States.
The traveling came off without serious incident. Roosevelt slowed things now and then because of his penchant for sightseeing or his love of conversation. “He acted like a sixteen-year-old” when strapped into the plane, Hopkins wrote, occasionally instructing the pilot to deviate from the direct route and fly over such landmarks as the Citadel in Haiti so he could have a good look. At breakfast with military officers at the Magueripe Hotel in Trinidad, he acted as if he were on a “first class holiday” rather than on a mission to chart the course of a world war, lingering to tell what Hopkins remembered as “some of his old favorite stories” and appearing to be “in no hurry to get off tho the Secret Service were having fits.”
Weather probably slowed their travel more. Crossing the Atlantic, headwinds held steady at thirty knots, driving the clippers’ speed down to 105 knots. Cocktails before dinner, gin-rummy games, and detective novels helped pass the time, but the tedium (and the fact, as Hopkins put it, that “everyone was dog-tired”) caused people to turn in early. In the late afternoon of January 14, nineteen hours after taking off from Brazil, the pilots caught sight of the Gambia River and set their craft down near Bathurst. They taxied near two United States Navy ships; one of them, the light cruiser Memphis, would serve as Roosevelt’s overnight residence, because the party’s advance man, Michael Reilly, had judged Gambia’s capital “a disease-infected post with no suitable living accommodations.”
This was Roosevelt’s first—and for all he knew his only—visit to Africa, and he intended to make the most of it. Once lifted out of the plane and into a motorized whaleboat, he chose to take a reconnaissance of the port of Bathurst instead of going directly to the Memphis. Bathurst was not a pretty sight. It was an old city—never a healthy place—and was one of the first spots in the Empire the British would neglect when times were tight. According to Durno, the whaleboat tour of the harbor gave the President “his first good look at the incredibly squalid, disease-ridden town.” Durno went on: “In between the grimy docks were innumerable abandoned and rust-scaled barges and scows literally teeming with Negro children and their parents—the beached and docked boats apparently serving as homes for a portion of the waterfront population.” In the cool evening breeze, the river along downtown Bathurst smelled of rotten fish and sewage.
Following a quiet night on the Memphis, Roosevelt and his advisers awoke before sunrise, took the whaleboat to the Royal Air Force slipway in Bathurst, and then, in what Durno describes as a “heterogeneous collection of motor vehicles,” made their way through the town toward the airfield. Reilly called Roosevelt a “tireless landscape watcher”; he was forever focused on his surroundings. What he saw on this half-hour ride planted in his mind an image of the results of the worst colonial exploitation. Hopkins described Bathurst’s residents as “an ill-clothed, glum-looking lot” and wrote down the startling information on wages and life expectancy that Roosevelt conveyed to Elliott upon landing in Casablanca. In more detail Durno related the shock of intruding into an alien culture that the entire American party experienced on the way to the airstrip: “The route to Yundum, over a washboard road, wound through the smelly, primitive town of Bathurst. Native merchants were vending fish heads, apparently a local delicacy, along the roadside. Negro women in an odd assortment of clothing filed past balancing five-gallon jugs of palm wine on their heads. Huts and hovels of thatch, mat and adobe bulged with gangly, undernourished children.”
Even friendly visitors called the city an “open sore” and a “disgrace to the Colonial Empire.”
The party passed a notorious, swampy area that collected runoff from the town, fouled the air, and harbored malarial mosquitoes. They saw scores of people who had slept the night in the street. They drove by the nineteenth-century trading quarters on the town’s main road, named Wellington Street, and passed the whitewashed governor’s mansion. They bounced across Denton Bridge, which tied Bathurst to the mainland, and passed the turnoff for Cape St. Mary, the breezy and healthful location on the Atlantic where British officials kept their private residences. Everywhere they passed malnourished, sick people. Eventually they came to Yundum Field, a two thousand-by-fifty-yard strip of metal over graded red earth carved out of the trees and brush.
The members of the party were not made more comfortable by seeing inquisitive baboons standing about or by learning that the day before a leopard had emerged from the surrounding bush to lope up and down the runway. The party eagerly boarded one of the two C-54 transport planes that would fly them on the final leg to Casablanca; twelve days later they would return.
The Casablanca Conference fulfilled the President’s hopes. The military staffs agreed generally on war priorities, and Roosevelt and Churchill persuaded the French resistance leader Charles de Gaulle to sign a declaration of unity with Gen. Henri Giraud, the head of French forces in North Africa. At the final press conference the President got away with calling for the unconditional surrender of Germany, Italy, and Japan without Churchill’s having known for sure that he would spring their agreement on the public.
Through it all FDR had good fun. Most commentators described him as having been gay and light-hearted, in a “holiday mood.” He enjoyed his cigar-smoking British counterpart—to the point of accompanying the prime minister on a final impromptu 150-mile drive for a night in Marrakesh, one of Churchill’s favorite exotic spots. The two heads of state got on so well that when Roosevelt’s party left for the airport at Marrakesh on Monday morning, January 25, Churchill tagged along. He had lingered in bed, so he wore only his red robe and slippers as he bade the President farewell on the runway. At approximately eight o’clock the C-54s roared into the air and headed south for a return visit to Bathurst.
Roosevelt came down hard from the excitement of Casablanca. He was tired when the plane landed Monday afternoon and complained to McIntire of a head cold. He spent Monday night and most of Tuesday resting on board the Memphis. On Tuesday evening he and four members of his party joined Great Britain’s resident colonial minister for Gambia, Lord Swinton, for a tug trip on the Gambia River. The boat passed some of the colony’s wharf towns as it churned upriver toward the old British slaving post on James Island, in ruins since the late eighteenth century. At 7:15 P.M. Roosevelt addressed the crew of the Memphis and then turned in.
The President rode through Bathurst twice more before recrossing the Atlantic, and each time his negative impressions were reinforced. On Wednesday the twenty-seventh, he made the early drive to Yundum for a flight seven hundred miles south to Liberia. This republic, colonized by emancipated slaves from the United States before the Civil War, was important to the Allied war effort. Roosevelt visited a sixty-nine thousand-acre Firestone rubber plantation worked by twenty thousand Liberians and reviewed a United States Army detachment of five hundred black troops that secured the port of Monrovia, through which passed millions of pounds of raw latex. Then he was back on the plane and soon, before dark on the twenty-seventh, riding a last time down Bathurst’s bumpy streets. At about 10:30 that night he was once more strapped into his seat aboard the Dixie Clipper for the long flight across the Atlantic. The hard-traveling party reached the quiet siding in Washington on Sunday evening, January 31, just over three weeks after its departure.
Roosevelt spent four days in bed in the White House, resting and taking sulfa to recover from what he wrote Churchill was “sleeping sickness or Gambia fever or some kindred bug” that “I picked up…in that hell-hole of yours called Bathurst. It laid me low…and left me feeling like a wet rag,” he complained. To recuperate further, he retreated for five days to Hyde Park, where “glorious zero weather” returned him to “feeling like a fighting cock.” But the fighting cock was unable to get the sights and smells of Bathurst off his mind.
The American President had witnessed the worst situation British colonialism could present. Everyone familiar with British Africa in the war years agreed with Roosevelt that Gambia was a miserable little place full of sick, unhappy people. Even friendly visitors called it “deplorable,” an “open sore,” or “one of the worst tropical slums in Africa and a disgrace to the Colonial Empire.”
Bathurst had been a difficult place to live in since its beginning. The British Colonial Office in 1816 selected the site, on Banjul Island, a flat sandspit jutting into the Gambia River on the south side of its five-mile-wide estuary, for what then seemed good reasons: It was defensible, had a deep-water harbor, was nicely situated near the river’s mouth to help the Royal Navy halt the slave trade, and was convenient for private traders who might wish to set up business in the river. But it was a miserable site for human habitation.
Gambia’s latitude meant the river’s banks harbored vectors of some of the worst tropical diseases. Bathurst’s low, sandy base flooded easily and held puddles and swamps that were perfect breeding grounds for mosquitoes. In 1939 Gambia’s colonial secretary wrote of Bathurst’s regular floods: “I have seen their fowls and pets drowning, their houses and compounds flooded (in places to a depth of three and a half feet or more), their beds under water, no means of cooking food till the flood waters subside.…” The British learned early how unhealthy Bathurst could be for Europeans. They brought out 199 soldiers in May 1825 and by Christmas 160 of them were dead. That end of Bathurst where Roosevelt’s party would begin its motorcade over a century later was called—optimistically, it seems—“Half Die.”
As the British halted slaving on the river, their substitute economic endeavors brought changes to Gambians’ way of life. It was always fundamental in British thinking that colonial peoples should pay for their own administration. From the mid-1830s, when Gambian farmers began selling peanuts to British traders, peanut exporting became almost the sole source of funds for Gambia’s colonial government. With British encouragement Gambian farmers often grew and sold peanuts at the expense of their food crops, millet and rice. In years when world prices for peanuts were high and for rice low, Gambians had enough to eat and maybe even something left after paying colonial taxes to buy a few imported goods. But when peanut prices dropped and imported-grain prices rose, Gambians did not have enough to eat.
There was also the matter of development. Great Britain’s foremost colonial theorist, Lord Lugard, set out in 1922 the requirements for development in his classic text, The Dual Mandate in British Tropical Africa. Development funds were to come from the colonial revenues from taxes and import duties that remained after paying a colony’s administrative costs. But special circumstances led the Colonial Office to drag its feet on spending Gambia’s modest revenues for development: There was the fear that one day the British government would cede the colony to France, since French Senegal surrounded it, and all money spent on development would be lost to the Empire. And there was an official notion that the colonial treasury had to hold substantial reserves to serve as a cushion for bad economic years. In Gambia, between 1900 and 1940, revenues almost always exceeded expenses. The colonial government could have spent this money on social services but it chose not to. In 1925 it allocated only £3,500 for education and £24,712 for medical services. By 1940 not even one percent of the colony’s two hundred thousand population was receiving any education, and a British medical officer labeled Gambia’s lone hospital “indubitably the worst in the whole of the Colonial Empire.”
In a scathing critique of Gambia’s colonial administration in the Daily Express two months before World War II began, the journalist Morley Richards summed up the plight of Gambians: “I question whether they have escaped from their slavery. They are taxed, directly and indirectly, out of all proportion to their miserable cost of living.…They pay heavy duties on staple foods—rice and sugar.…They even pay an export duty of 10s [shillings] a ton on the ground nuts they send out of the country, almost their only earning source. They are in bondage, these black Britons—in debt from the cradle to the grave…in order to pay salaries to white Britons who administer where little administration is required but do not develop when development is most urgently needed.”
Afterward FDR badgered Churchill about Bathurst and pushed hard for a U.N. to oversee decolonization.
The onset of the second World War only made the situation worse. With the closing of the Mediterranean and the danger to shipping in the Atlantic, Bathurst became an important Allied air and sea base. Construction and maintenance of air facilities and roads to support the military activity meant more expatriates to feed and house around Bathurst and more unskilled jobs for Africans. Word of this opportunity passed rapidly upriver, and Bathurst’s population doubled, from ten to twenty thousand, between 1939 and 1944.
This surge of growth took place at a time when Allied merchant shipping was tied up and the usual sources of rice—Burma and Java—were in enemy hands. According to a formal 1942 British memorandum, all of this “placed a strain on the food resources of the Gambia that it was unable to bear.” A medical officer, G. M. Findlay, noted in August 1942 that “many of the civilian population had only one meal in three days.”
Africans living in wartime Bathurst faced a shortage of housing too. Even before the war there were not enough places to live; then the government got land for its military expansion by evicting people from their homes on fifty-one acres of Half Die, the most heavily populated section of town. Some of those evicted moved in with relatives; others curled up at night in the yards and outbuildings of strangers; those who had neither of these options lived and slept without shelter. Not two months before Roosevelt rode through town, Bathurst police rounded up eight hundred people sleeping on the streets.
Bathurst’s sanitation was another problem that perplexed colonial officials, all the more as the population grew. A professor of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine likened Bathurst in 1937 to “a water logged sponge floating in a sea of its own excreta,” and no one seemed able to wring out the sponge or cleanse the sea.
The diseases that resulted from this combination of problems made Bathurst in 1943 one of the unhealthiest cities on earth. Most Gambians had malaria, but, according to British medical reports, respiratory disease took “the heaviest toll.” Yaws was “moderately plentiful,” with one in four residents of most villages showing “obvious indications [open sores] of late yaws.” Intestinal worms and infections were “nearly universal”; twenty percent of Gambians had trachoma; blindness was merely “common.” And there was more: Every village of any size had two or three lepers, and syphilis and gonorrhea were almost epidemic in parts of Bathurst.
Young children had the worst of it. Dr. W. M. Howells reported that half of the children in three Gambian villages he visited in 1935 had enlarged spleens; conjunctivitis was “chronic” among them, “parasitic skin diseases” were “common,” nasal discharges were “extremely common,” and schistosomiasis was “commoner than generally supposed.” Howells wrote, “If [as little as] a third of the children born reach the age of 5 years it would not be surprising.”
As he was driven along the streets of Bathurst and as he boated past the wharf towns upriver, the American President—the Depression leader who had worried at home about freedom from want, who had lamented in fireside chats about the unemployed, who had brought Americans a New Deal to help provide for their basic welfare—cast his eyes on the human results of colonialism, and he was dismayed.
Roosevelt wasted no time telling Churchill about his views on Gambia and his newly focused thinking on the future of European empires. He brought it up in private conversations with the prime minister in Casablanca, and, at a January 22 dinner he gave in honor of the Sultan of Morocco, he spoke boldly about colonial hopes of independence and a postwar effort to end imperialism. Churchill and Auguste Noguès, the French resident general in Morocco, could not help hearing. Harold Macmillan regarded the conversation as “equally embarrassing to the British and to the French,” while the American diplomat Robert Murphy found Roosevelt’s performance “deliberately provocative.” Some wondered if Churchill’s sour mood that evening might have been due more to the President’s discussion with the Muslim sultan than to the absence of alcohol at dinner.
Shortly after he returned from Casablanca, Roosevelt spoke at a press conference about the “problem on that West African Coast which I had never visualized before I went there.” Thereafter, he regularly badgered Churchill, directly and indirectly, to do something about conditions in Bathurst. The prime minister passed along the President’s complaints to the Colonial Office with haste. A Gambian development and welfare brief of April 1943 reads, “The deplorable conditions of Bathurst, I understand, strike all newcomers, and as many of them have been Americans, they no doubt have not been sparing in their criticism. I understand that some of their criticisms have been brought to the notice of the Prime Minister.”
Eventually Churchill exacted a promise from the Secretary of State for the Colonies “to do something about Bathurst,” and Gambia’s government pushed forward a plan to drain the swamps and move half the town’s population onto the healthier mainland. The cost of such an effort, however, turned out to be more than the British elected to spend. Not until the 1950s would the Colonial Office begin allocating substantially more for education and health in the tiny colony, and even then the budgeted sums were paltry. In 1965 the Republic of the Gambia became the last British colony in West Africa to gain its independence. It did so, writes Harry Gailey, “with only minimal facilities provided by the seventy year colonial administration of Great Britain,” and it remains one of the poorest and least developed of the world’s nations today.
As for American policy, Elliott Roosevelt was right about the Gambia visit being pivotal in his father’s thinking on postwar empires. Over the two years of the President’s life following his return from Casablanca, he voiced new, strong opinions on United Nations supervision of colonies—what would eventually become the U.N. trusteeship system—to lead rapidly to their independence. In June 1943 Roosevelt complained to his aide Charles W. Taussig that he was “getting nowhere with the British on Colonial postwar policy,” calling the British “impossible” on the issue. In February 1944, at a meeting with the Negro Newspaper Publishers Association, he spoke at length about Bathurst, describing it as “the most horrible thing I have ever seen in my life.” He went on to explain how he was at the moment telling Churchill his ideas about United Nations inspection of colonies: “And if we sent a committee from the United Nations, and I used the example of Gambia, to go down to Gambia [and say], ‘If you Britishers don’t come up to scratch—toe the mark—then we will let all the world know.’”
That summer, Roosevelt told Taussig, as the aide later recalled, that after he had visited Gambia “he had pointed out to Churchill that dependent areas, such as Gambia, must in the future be subject to international inspection. The President then, mimicking the voice of Churchill, repeated Churchill’s reply: ‘We are not going to let any other nation inspect or report on conditions in British territory.–”
But Roosevelt was relentless. He continued to press Churchill to accept the inevitability of colonial independence, and he worked effectively, on his own and through the State Department, to make sure American policy on the shape of the postwar world bore his imprint. Through the last two years of his life, the President refined his thinking on international supervision, and he clung to the goal of colonial independence when considering policies being developed for the new United Nations organization. At Yalta in February 1945 Roosevelt won agreement from Stalin and Churchill for including the trusteeship principle in the Charter of the United Nations, and afterward he mounted a stronger public attack on the British and French empires, believing that “pitiless publicity” would gain support for decolonization. It is easy to see the President’s hand in the chapters dealing with colonies and international trusteeship in the United Nations Charter, upon which delegates agreed at the San Francisco Conference just months after Roosevelt’s death and which took effect fifty years ago this month.
According to William Roger Louis, for his strongly held ideas about trusteeship and his championing of the ultimate goal of colonial independence, “Roosevelt should be regarded as one of the fathers of the postwar world of politically independent nations.” Three nights on a cruiser moored off Bathurst and several trips through Churchill’s hell-hole of a colonial capital in 1943 were all the exposure he needed to the fruits of colonialism. The events set the President’s mind firmly on the importance of working through the United Nations to end colonial rule and to do something to aid its victims.