Harry Truman and Civil Rights: Moral Courage and Political Risks
Harry Truman and Civil Rights: Moral Courage and Political Risks
Brand: Southern Illinois University Press

Harry Truman and Civil Rights: Moral Courage and Political Risks

  • Publish Date: 2003-10-01
  • Binding: Paperback
  • Author: Adjunct Professor Michael Gardner

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Given his background, President Truman was an unlikely champion of civil rights. Where he grew upthe border state of Missourisegregation was accepted and largely unquestioned. Both his maternal and paternal grandparents had owned slaves, and his mother, victimized by Yankee forces, railed against Abraham Lincoln for the remainder of her ninety-four years. When Truman assumed the presidency on April 12, 1945, Michael R. Gardner points out, Washington, DC, in many ways resembled Cape Town, South Africa, under apartheid rule circa 1985.

Trumans background notwithstanding, Gardner shows that it was Harry Trumannot Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, or John F. Kennedywho energized the modern civil rights movement, a movement that basically had stalled since Abraham Lincoln had freed the slaves. Gardner recounts Trumans public and private actions regarding black Americans. He analyzes speeches, private conversations with colleagues, the executive orders that shattered federal segregation policies, and the appointments of like-minded civil rights activists to important positions. Among those appointments was the first black federal judge in the continental United States.

One of Gardners essential and provocative points is that the Frederick Moore Vinson Supreme Courta court significantly shaped by Trumanprovided the legal basis for the nationwide integration that Truman could not get through the Congress. Challenging the myth that the civil rights movement began with Brown v. Board of Education under Chief Justice Earl Warren, Gardner contends that the life-altering civil rights rulings by the Vinson Court provided the necessary legal framework for the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision.

Gardner characterizes Trumans evolution from a man who grew up in a racist household into a president willing to put his political career at mortal risk by actively supporting the interests of black Americans.

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