The Truman Years (1945-53)

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Truman Years - Positives

  • Truman became the first President to address the NAACP at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC in 1947. 
  • Tried to get Congress to continue funding the Fair Employment Practices Committee which had been set up in 1945 but the extra funding was refused. 
  • He supported the 1948 Shelley vs Kraemer Supreme Court decision which ruled that restrictive covenants that denied blacks purchasing homes in white areas illegal. 
  • Established the Fair Employment Board in 1948.
  • Desegregated the armed forces in 1948.
  • Commissioned the 'To Secure These Rights' report in 1947. This recommended the elimination of segregation in public life, the abolishment of discriminatory poll tax, new voting rights law, a permanent FEPC, an end to discrimination in interstate travel and in the armed forces.
  • Made symbolic black appointees in federal positions: a black man was appointed Governor of the Virgin Isles.
  • Opposed the 'Dixiecrats' - Breakaway Southern Democrats led by Strom Thurgood who campaigned on an anti-civil rights agenda. Was booked in Southern states for shaking black people's hands. Campaigned in Harlem and was the first president to do so and he ended up achieving two thirds of the black vote in the 1948 election.
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Truman Years - Negatives

  • Was a racist
  • Fell out with Adam Clayton Powell (a prominent black politician) when Powell's wife criticised Bess Truman of being 'the last lady of the land' for attending a dinner that denied Powell's black musician wife the chance to perform. He called Powell a 'damned ****** preacher'
  • Believed in a better, more equal and fairer America but didn't necessarily support it for it's own legitimate reasons.
  • He focussed keenly on the perception of America abroad, especially since America was fighting communism. Indeed, the Truman Doctrine outlined that international communism should be contained. Perhaps his support of the civil rights movement was more to improve the image of America in the eyes of her ideological enemies.
  • Opposing the Dixiecrats was a vote winner amongst Southern blacks and Northern and Western white liberals.
  • Truman's civil rights agenda split the Democrats. When the Republican Eisenhower came to power in 1953 he wanted to avoid the same mistake as Truman in splitting his party and therefore was less keen to support the civil rights movement.
  • 'To Secure These Rights' was not acted upon. The recommendations were not implemented.
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Factors that influenced Truman's decisions

  • He was from Missouri - His family was racist so he had to be cautious when making speeches.
  • Cold War with the Soviet Union - Wanted to lead the free will and believed that it was important to set an example of freedom in the cold war.
  • Came to power during WW2 - Was horrified by post war attacks on black servicemen and realised that regardless of race, respect for the law was at stake. 
  • He came to power suddenly after the death of Roosevelt in 1945 - Must have done well as reelected in 1948. Slightly cautious with policies at first.
  • His party, the Democrats were very popular in the South - Felt the need to be cautious over controversial decisions as to not anger either race.
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Was Truman true to his word? - Yes

  • He campaigned in a frequently racist Texas.
  • Issued exucutive orders to end discrimination in the armed forces and guarantee fair employment in the civil service. 
  • Supported legislation to stop lynching.
  • Told his white audience that blacks should have equality before the law, civil rights and better housing.
  • In 1951 he established a Committee on Government Contract Compliance.
  • Truman supported the NAACP's efforts in the Shelley vs Kraemer court decision.
  • He felt equality was vital to maintain America's moral standing in the Cold War.
  • Established a liberal civil rights committee.
  • Said legal equality for blacks was the black mans basic rights.
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Was Truman true to his word? - No

  • Still not used to the word ****** and made racist jokes. 
  • The Committee on Government Contract Compliance could only recommend not enforce so was less effective than the Fair Employment Practices Committee.
  • Truman was a racist at heart.
  • Gave no real help to the FEPC when they tried to end discriminatory hiring policies.
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