On Atlantic Crossing, some scenes are clearly entirely fictional because the screenwriters had to fill in the gaps. Episode 5 had several of these scenes, but what caught the eyes of some viewers is that in both cases, these scenes featured Black characters which the camera focused on, but who did not speak enough to introduce themselves. The first instance was during the dinner before the Lend-Lease program vote. Although the camera focuses on one Black man who is in favor of the program, he is only identified as a Congressman much later in the scene. Later on in the episode, an unnamed Black woman is shocked by Eleanor Roosevelt and Crown Princess Märtha’s public speaking practice.

Until this point, non-white Americans are largely absent from the world of Atlantic Crossing as the focus is on European politics. Are these characters based on real people? And what did the show leave out about race relations in 1941?

Based on who was elected to Congress in 1940, the unknown Black politician is likely a stand in for Arthur Wergs Mitchell, a Democrat who represented Chicago’s South Side. He started his political career as a Republican, but he switched parties because he believed the New Deal would uplift African-Americans economically.While African-Americans did benefit, there were racial disparites in implementation, especially in the South where racist government officials were more sucessful with implementing systemic discrimination. Mitchell introduced several civil rights bills to Congress and also used his position to reduce racial discrimination in armed forces appointments. His position on Lend-Lease specifically isn’t clear, but his profile as an FDR loyalist makes it very likely the random congressman in Atlantic Crossing Episode 5 does indeed represent Mitchell.

Although the White House servant does not have a name, she represents Eleanor’s preference for African-American servants. Some of these employees served the Roosevelt family before they lived in the White House. There are a few candidates for who the unnamed servant could be, but the most likely is Elizabeth (Lizzie) MacDuffie. MacDuffie was the only person allowed to clean FDR’s bedroom. Entertaining Märtha and other dignitaries at the White House often meant long hours of additional preparation and personal attention. Eleanor developed close relationships with many of these Black staffers, and she even defied social segregation customs to attend a funeral for a servant’s child. It is important to keep in mind these Black servants are government employees, which confers a higher level of status and patriotism than many other domestic servitude positions in the era.

Part of the fun of watching period dramas such as Atlantic Crossing on MASTERPIECE is finding the little clues and references that lead to further research. Some productions would have chosen to leave these seemingly minor details to chance and blind casting. Finding out about Arthur Wergs Mitchell and Elizabeth MacDuffie enriches the experience, especially for fans who may not see themselves as part of the history the miniseries is depicting.