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Harry Truman and Civil Rights: Moral Courage and Political Risks [Hardcover]

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Item Specifications...

Pages   296
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.48" Width: 7.16" Height: 1.11"
Weight:   1.56 lbs.
Binding  Hardcover
Release Date   Feb 28, 2002
Publisher   Southern Illinois University Press
ISBN  0809324253  
EAN  9780809324255  

Availability  0 units.

Item Description...
Given his background, President Truman was an unlikely champion of civil rights. Where he grew up---the border state of Missouri---segregation 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.

Truman's background notwithstanding, Gardner shows that it was Harry Truman---not Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, or John F. Kennedy---who energized the modern civil rights movement, a movement that basically had stalled since Abraham Lincoln had freed the slaves. Gardner recounts Truman's 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 Gardner's essential and provocative points is that the Frederick Moore Vinson Supreme Court---a court significantly shaped by Truman---provided 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 Truman's 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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Reviews - What do our customers think?
Informative But In Dire Need of Editing  Sep 2, 2004
In reading Gardner's book, I learned a lot about Truman's impressive record as a civil rights advocate during his tenure as president. Gardner presents more than ample evidence to support his thesis that HST demonstrated an extraordinary commitment to Black civil rights, despite weak (white) public interest in this issue and the political risks of alienating a powerful block of Dixiecrats. He is successful in describing the many facets of racism -- rigid segregation, voter intimidation, lynching, all-white juries, etc. -- that African Americans encountered as they returned home after presumably fighting for 'freedom and democracy' in WWII. Truman, he aptly shows, refused to ignore the glaring contradiction between U.S. ideals and practices, and understood that racism on the home front undermined the country's foreign policy goals.

Gardner is, however, so preoccupied with establishing HST as a moral and courageous leader that he tends to neglect elements of Truman's social and political environment that made it possible for him to advance a civil rights agenda and indeed, get elected in 1948 against all the odds. For example, there WAS a legacy of Black resistance to oppression by this time... and not just the nascent stirrings of a civil rights movement to which Gardner alludes. Marvey Garvey had fired the imaginations and aspirations of tens of thousands of Blacks with the organziation of the UNIA. The NAACP was well-established and published The Crisis under the editorship of W.E.B. DuBois. Langston Hughes offered up brilliant poetry and fiction that touched on the sting of Black experience in a racist America. Billie Holiday recorded the haunting song about lynching, "Strange Fruit." And of course, there were liberal Euro-Americans who genuinely believed in racial equality and human rights, just as Truman did. There is no way he could have pulled off his victory in the 1948 election without deep connections to and alliances with moderate and liberal supporters.

Gardner points out that Truman's hands were tied by Republicans and conservative Democrats in Congress when it came to passing civil rights legislation. Instead, the president showed great political savvy by using his Executive Order powers (as he did when he desegregated the armed services) and appointing like-minded friends to the courts. One was Fred Vinson, who became Truman's chief justice and presided over a handful of Supreme Courts cases that laid the groundwork for the Brown vs. Board of Education decision in 1954. Gardner provides a compelling description of these cases in Chapter 11, "Truman and the Vinson Court."

This book does have one major flaw, and a couple reviewers have made reference to it. Gardner repeats himself ad naseum, making the same point over and over in the same chapter and sometimes across chapters. Too much of the time, I felt like I was reading an unedited dissertation. For example, Garder (appropriately) uses quotes from a variety of primary sources, but then, rather than clarifying or elaborating on the points made in the quote, he writes virtually the same thing in a follow-up paragraph. The repetition was VERY annoying, and I found myself barely skimming sections of the book in search of the next substantive point.

Overall, there is certainly enough substance in the book to make it worth reading. Gardner does shed valuable light on Truman's civil rights record. A good editor, however, would have made for a much better reading experience.

A Marvelous Story about a True Civil Rights Hero  Jul 11, 2003
I bought this book after seeing Mr. Gardner on CNN and I couldn't stop reading it until I was done. As a native Missourian, Gardner eloquently tells the story of a brilliant, humble President who is our Country's little known civil rights hero. Gardner does a masterful job detailing Truman's politically fearless efforts while marvelously weaving in Truman's personal letters, thoughts and life experiences. Gardner captures Truman's political triumphs and personal victories brilliantly. Truman and Gardner's book make me proud to be a Missourian. I highly recommend this book to everyone!
Doesn't Do The Subject Justice  May 23, 2003
Gardner has examined one facet of Harry Truman, probably the most important and significant facet of Truman's time in office, which was his willingness to risk power for a moral imperative - the equality of all Americans. Even though David McCullough talks about it in his book "Truman," HST still has received far too little credit for his role as a major catalyst of the modern civil rights movement, mainly because it didn't "take root" for about ten years after he left office. But this in no way detracts from the significance of Truman's courage, which was demonstrated by his willingness to split the Democratic party and thereby risk the 1948 election for what he felt was something that was not only politically necessary, but, quite simply, morally right (although unpopular). It was HST's Civil Rights Commission and his Executive Order integrating the armed forces that finally gave the US Civil Rights movement the inertia it needed to overcome the gravity of American tradition which was still flourishing in the form of "Jim Crow."

I was not especially impressed by the writing skills of Gardner. There is far too much repetition, and not enough anecdote...especially about the African American servicemen who were being lynched as they returned from WWII. It was this inconceivable injustice that provided the moral imperative that struck Harry Truman so hard and caused him to take the steps he took. As a result, WWII became THE seminal event in 20th Century US History.

A MUST READ  Dec 8, 2002
A crucial aspect of American history finally told. Truman is an American hero and Gardner captures the courageousness of Truman's civil rights crusade in a compelling fashion. This important story is a must read -- and a fantastic holiday gift!
Harry Truman and Civil Rights: Moral Courage and Political R  May 5, 2002
A marvelous book that captures the seldom recognized strength and courage of this civil rights pioneer President. Prof. Gardner eloquently tells of Truman's ground breaking and couragous actions that changed the landscape of civil rights within the United States. Every American should read this book and learn about how Truman's moral convictions guided him and gave him the unwavering strength to take on widespread racist in the US without fear. Truman's story is an inspiration -- from his endearing and solid relationships with his wife and mother, to his passionate speeches before the NAACP and on the Lincoln Memorial steps. Prof. Gardner has truly painted a fabulous portrait of this remarkable President. This book is a must read!

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