Harry S Truman on Civil Rights



1950: Vetoed McCarthy-era rights restrictions on Communists

By the end of 1949, reverses in the Cold War had made communism the nation's major domestic issue. In 1949 the Chinese Nationalist government retreated to Taiwan, abandoning the mainland to the Communists; and the USSR tested its first atomic bomb. Shortly thereafter came a stunning series of Communist espionage cases; these included those of Alger Hiss and Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, which involved US atomic secrets and possible penetration of sensitive government offices. Although Truman had authorized a stringent program of loyalty investigations of federal employees in 1947, he now came under wide attack for having been soft on Communist subversion. In early 1950, Republican senator Joseph McCarthy assumed leadership of the assault with repeated charges of Communist infiltration of the State Department and other key government agencies. With McCarthyism flourishing, Congress passed, over Truman's veto, the McCarran Act, which restricted the civil rights of Communists.
Source: Grolier Encyclopedia article on Truman presidency , Nov 8, 2016

Racial discrimination is contrary to American ideals

"Religious and racial persecution is moronic at all times, perhaps the most idiotic of human stupidities."

"Whether discrimination is based on race, or creed, or color, or land of origin, it is utterly contrary to American ideals of democracy."

"When I was president, many people advised me not to raise the whole question of civil rights. They said it would make things worse. But you can't cure a moral problem by ignoring it. It is no service to the country to turn away from the hard problems-- to ignore injustice and human suffering. It is simply not the American way of doing things."

"We can no longer afford the luxury of a leisurely attack upon prejudice and discrimination. There is much that state and local governments can do in providing positive safeguards for civil rights. But we cannot any longer await the growth of a will to action in the slowest state or the most backward community. Our national government must show the way."

Source: The Wit & Wisdom of Harry Truman, by Ralph Keyes, p. 26 , Oct 12, 1999

The treatment of Indians was a disgrace and always will be

"Many of the Indians were inclined to be friendly to the whites and were perfectly willing to make treaties with them. But the attitude of the white settlers from Europe was that the Indians were savages and an inferior race, and therefore the settlers had a perfect right to chase them off the land and take it away from them, which is what we did eventually."

"The treatment of the Indians by the white settlers of both South America and North America was a disgrace and always will be."

"They weren't an inferior race at all, of course. They were wonderfully wise people, and there were Indian setups in the western hemisphere that were almost ideal systems of government."

"I have always felt that the Indians should have been allowed to maintain themselves on the lands and improve their position, and eventually would have become friendly to us."

Source: The Wit & Wisdom of Harry Truman, by Ralph Keyes, p. 49 , Oct 12, 1999

Endorsed concept of Equal Rights Amendment

Although he was less than avant-garde on women's rights, during his 7 years as president Harry Truman appointed more women to positions requiring Senate approval than Franklin Roosevelt did in 12. Truman also endorsed the concept of an Equal Rights Amendment. His rationale had a quaint flavor. "I have no fear of its effect on the home life of the American people," Truman said of the proposed constitutional amendment. "Nearly every man has his woman on a pedestal anyway and this will only make the legal aspects of the situation more satisfactory from the standpoint of the legal rights of the women of the country."
Source: The Wit & Wisdom of Harry Truman, by Ralph Keyes, p.100-101 , Oct 12, 1999

South is living 80 years behind the times

"The main difficulty with the South is that they are living 80 years behind the times and the sooner they come out of it the better it will be for the country and themselves. I am not asking for social equality, because no such thing exists, but I am asking for equality of opportunity for all human beings and, as long as I stay here, I am going to continue that fight. When the mob gangs can take 4 people out and shoot them in the back, and everybody in the country is acquainted with who did the shooting and nothing is done about it, that country is in a pretty bad fix from a law enforcement standpoint."
Source: The Wit & Wisdom of Harry Truman, by Ralph Keyes, p.129-130 , Aug 18, 1948

Committee on Civil Rights: equal protection under law

The US has always had a deep concern for human rights. Religious freedom, free speech, and freedom of thought are cherished realities in our land. Any denial of human rights is a denial of the basic beliefs of democracy and of our regard for the worth of each individual.

Today, however, some of our citizens are still denied equal opportunity for education, for jobs and economic advancement, and for the expression of their views at the polls. Most serious of all, some are denied equal protection under laws. Whether discrimination is based on race, or creed, or color, or land of origin, it is utterly contrary to American ideals of democracy.

The recent report of the President's Committee on Civil Rights points the way to corrective action. We should also consider our obligation to assure the fullest possible measure of civil rights to the people of our territories and possessions. I believe that the time has come for Alaska and Hawaii to be admitted to the Union as States.

Source: Pres. Truman's 1948 State of the Union message to Congress , Jan 7, 1948

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Other past presidents on Civil Rights: Harry S Truman on other issues:
Former Presidents:
Barack Obama(D,2009-2017)
George W. Bush(R,2001-2009)
Bill Clinton(D,1993-2001)
George Bush Sr.(R,1989-1993)
Ronald Reagan(R,1981-1989)
Jimmy Carter(D,1977-1981)
Gerald Ford(R,1974-1977)
Richard Nixon(R,1969-1974)
Lyndon Johnson(D,1963-1969)
John F. Kennedy(D,1961-1963)
Dwight Eisenhower(R,1953-1961)
Harry S Truman(D,1945-1953)

Past Vice Presidents:
V.P.Joseph Biden
V.P.Dick Cheney
V.P.Al Gore
V.P.Dan Quayle
Sen.Bob Dole

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Page last updated: Feb 22, 2022