In the spring of 1937, Eleanor Roosevelt produced a startlingly candid autobiography. Serialized monthly from May to October—and published as a book on November 15—This Is My Story took Ladies’ Home Journal readers by surprise. The First Lady not only confessed to still-raw family disagreements and failings but analyzed herself ruthlessly, confronting her feelings of shame and grief over publicized tragedies that had beset her uncle and her husband, respectively, the 26th and 32nd presidents of the United States.

In the second of my 10 years writing Eleanor’s life, I discovered a strange thing about the publication of This Is My Story. While newspaper reviewers in white America greeted the book with universal acclaim for the First Lady’s “stark honesty” and “remarkable frankness,” the nation’s Black press protested Eleanor Roosevelt’s use of a degrading stereotype.