Harry S. Truman, 1945-1953 (Democrat)
Truman grew up in a racist Missouri and his ideas about civil rights were a combination of moral choice and limitations about what was possible in the face of strong opposition from his own party (the Dixiecrats); violence from the public (the Ku Klux Klan) and a general lack of sympathy for America‟s black population.
Before becoming President, Truman had been supportive of the GI Bill which gave black ex-servicemen funding for college places. He respected African-Americans who had served in the forces and certainly wished for black people to have equal legal rights.
However, how much did Truman actually improve the lives of African-Americans?
The cornerstone of Truman‟s civil rights programme was „To Secure These Rights‟, a wide-ranging liberal set of recommendations to improve the rights of black Americans. However well intentioned, few of the commission‟s recommendations were enacted. Some elements were introduced but proved harder to enforce - segregation in the army persisted, as did unfair employment practices. Housing provisions proved inept with more houses being demolished than were actually constructed and the Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC) was chronically underfunded.
Truman was the first American President to address the NAACP and in the 1948 Election, Truman won because of his success in securing the votes of African-Americans. This would show that he was regarded by blacks as the best candidate to push forward with a civil rights agenda. This assessment would also be supported by examining the amount of opposition Truman attracted from Southern racists.
The Dixiecrat faction in the Democrat Party consisted of Southern Congressmen and Senators who stood opposite the Civil Rights Movement. At its head stood Strom Thurmond, who was nominated - unsuccessfully - for the Presidency. The Dixiecrats represented a considerable anti-civil rights mindset presence in the South. They also used their seniority in Congress to prevent measures proposing improvement to the lives of Black Americans.
In assessing Truman, it is clear to see that his initiatives were not comprehensive enough to deal with the racism that existed at all levels in the USA. Some of Truman‟s actions did benefit some black people but it is questionable whether they benefitted the black population as a whole. For instance, Southern blacks still faced the oppression of the Jim Crow Laws.
However, Truman can be seen as the first President since Abraham Lincoln to take a positive stand on the issue of civil rights. Groundbreakingly, his re-election in 1948 was mostly due to his carrying the black vote and this may have been his reason for helping African Americans. He was also undeniably influenced by the Cold War and the necessity for America‟s public image to appear democratic, i.e. he was keen to keep the excesses of America‟s shame; her segregation out of the international view.
If not faced with such fierce opposition in Congress, he would almost certainly have enacted more legislation. However, this opposition showed the reality that was a heavily racist South. Truman ran the risk of…