Harry Truman and Civil Rights: Moral Courage and Political Risks

By Michael R. Gardner | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER ONE
The Historical Background for Truman's
Civil Rights Crusade

In August 1863, a [Union] General [Thomas] Ewing issued Order Number 11 by which everybody in these parts [of Missouri] moved into what they called posts. There was one in Kansas City where all my family had to go. They called them posts, but what they were, they were concentration camps. —HST, reflecting on his family's Southern heritage in Miller, Plain Speaking

When Harry Truman was born in Lamar, Missouri, on May 8, 1884, the Civil War had concluded less than two decades earlier. His parents personally experienced the hard lessons of that brutal war—a war in which Union soldiers “evacuated” Truman's mother, Martha Young, at age eleven, and her five siblings from their rural Missouri farm in August 1863. Truman's grandparents, as did so many working-class farm families in the border state of Missouri, depended on slave labor prior to the Civil War and utilized this form of economic servitude to make ends meet on the rugged frontier of America in the mid 1800s. 1

Because of the harsh treatment of “occupying” Union soldiers toward Martha Young and countless citizens of Missouri, and because of the pervasive attitude of a master-slave way of life in Missouri even after the Civil War, Harry Truman was conditioned to be a racist. His mother's deep hatred of President Abraham Lincoln stayed with her even to the days almost a century later when this aged vestige of Civil War America visited her son in the White House. Martha Young Truman's disdain for Lincoln, fueled by bitter memories of her forced internment as a youngster in a Kansas City Union army “post, prompted the president to label his mother an “unreconstructed rebel. 2 Knowing his mother's still virulent Southerner's hatred for Lincoln even after her ninetieth birthday, President Truman took delight in teasing his mother by suggesting that she sleep in the Lincoln

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