Franklin Delano Roosevelt was an unusual man for his time. In an age where politicians shied away from providing more rights for its millions of black and immigrant citizens for fear of a political backlash, FDR bravely tried to bite the bullet at a number of times during his career.
First, let us focus on what he did during the war. World War II was a very strenuous time in American history. There was as much opposition as there was support to entering the war. Despite some of this, Roosevelt asked Congress for a declaration of war on December 7, 1941, and Congress did not ratify the declaration unanimously, even with the Pearl Harbor fiasco.
Naturally, there was considerable consternation about the war, and Roosevelt was the first president during wartime ever to allow public and national protestation of the war. In every war since the War of 1812 the respective presidents, imbued with certain wartime powers, put restrictions on free speech, ranging from the Alien and Sedition Acts from the War of 1812 to President Wilson's famous jailing of Socialist Eugene V. Debs in 1917 for speaking out against the war, justifying the act by claiming that the war was "making the world safe for democracy". How ironic.
There was no such limitation on free speech during Roosevelt's administration. Roosevelt allowed his critics and those of the war exceptional latitude in their criticism of him. No bans went into effect concerning any form of free speech, even during the latter part of the war where his Republican critics accused him of prolonging the war and of attempting to become dictator. His restraint unrefutably proved his dedication to democratic principles.
FDR's greatest civil rights contribution was undoubtedly the true equality which he helped to impart on the disadvantaged and discriminated underbelly of American life, those who most suffered from the depression. Without a doubt, he helped all of those who were in need of help, but his help of the nation's minorities was the most important.
I mentioned true equality before. The persistent problem for the nation's minorities, particularly African-Americans, was the fact that there was little de facto enforcement of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments after Reconstruction which were designed to provide political equality to them. However, a greater problem was the lack of economic stability and equality which the African-Americans needed in order not to have to go back to the plantations and other demeaning forms of labor in order to survive. Before they could go after political and social equality, they needed a strong base in economic equality.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt provided this in a way which was efficient, fair, and lasted long enough to ensure the steady continuance into the long term of its short-term effects. The WPA and CCC imbued them with new skills and abilities, bringing them from unskilled to skilled laborers, with higher wages and the ability to engage in entrepreneurial activity which is the culmination of an economic recovery for a challenged ethnic group.
In this way, Roosevelt ultimately provided aid which would eventually lead to greater heights of equality and freedom, economically, socially, and politically.
This is the way the Roosevelt made the world a better place.