Harry Truman and the Struggle for Racial Justice
When Harry Truman was rescued from political obscurity to become Franklin Roosevelt's running mate, black Americans were deeply troubled. Many believed that Truman, born and raised in former slave-holding Missouri, was a step back on civil rights from Henry Wallace, the liberal incumbent vice president. But by the end of his own presidency, black newspaper publishers cited Truman for having "awakened the conscience of America and given new strength to our democracy by his courageous efforts on behalf of freedom and equality."
In this first full-scale account of Truman's evolving views on civil rights, Robert Shogan recounts how Truman outgrew the bigotry of his Jackson County upbringing to become the first president since Lincoln to attempt to redress the nation's long history of injustice toward its black citizens—and in the process transformed the course of race relations in America. Shogan vividly demonstrates the full significance of the 33rd president's contributions to that transformation. He ordered the integration of the armed forces and threw the weight of the Justice Department behind the long struggle against segregation in housing and education. And he used the platform of his presidency to relentlessly trumpet the cause of equal rights for those least favored Americans, even making an unprecedented address to the NAACP.
“As historians and scholars begin to re-assess the Truman years, Shogan’s book provides a wealth of information about this particular facet of his Presidency. . . . Shogan deftly recounts the political costs for a President who chose to embrace the cause of racial justice at a time when the nation might have preferred that he not do so. This book is a welcome addition to Truman scholarship and to our understanding of postwar America.”
—Journal of American Culture
“[M]akes a compelling case that Truman went way beyond Franklin Roosevelt and was the first president to put racial justice on the national agenda.”
—The HistorianSee all reviews...
“Wonderfully written and balanced.”
“Shogan has demonstrated once again why he is considered one of America’s finest journalists. With typical skill, he tells the story of how Harry Truman overcame the prejudice of his youth to become a powerful force in the struggle for civil rights. This is a smart, gracefully written, thoughtful book that is essential reading for every student of the Truman presidency.”
—Steven M. Gillon, Scholar-in-residence, The History Channel
“Well-researched and nicely paced, this is a splendid account of a president who chose to embrace a moral imperative at a turning point in American racial history.”
—Alonzo Hamby, author of Man of the People: A Life of Harry S. Truman
“Shogan has written a politically savvy history of the racial conflicts that threatened the New Deal Democratic majority that Truman inherited from FDR in 1945. The racial turmoil within the parties in the 1960s and 1970s overshadows its origins in the Truman presidency. Shogan’s book is a reminder of the long history of this conflict within the Democratic Party. His keen sense for the politics of the issue makes the book a must-read for those interested in the struggle for racial equality or the challenge of the issue for the party coalitions that were largely unable to promote it.”
—John R. Petrocik, coauthor of The Changing American VoterSee fewer reviews...
Going beyond other accounts of Truman, Shogan points out the political and personal factors that motivated the president and weighs the potential political costs and benefits of his civil rights actions. Shogan also explains Truman's shift away from his formative racial prejudices by shedding light on the forces that shaped his character and leadership qualities. These included his political tutelage under "Boss Tom" Pendergast, which taught him the value of black voters, and the influence of populism, which fostered his support for underdogs such as black Americans.
Illuminating how Truman became the first president to make racial injustice a political priority-and the first to denounce segregation as well as discrimination—Shogan's book opens a new and provocative window on the struggle for civil rights in America.