Harry Truman and Civil Rights: Moral Courage and Political Risks

By Michael R. Gardner | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER THREE
Truman's Speech to the NAACP at the
Lincoln Memorial: June 29, 1947

We must make the Federal Government a friendly, vigilant defender of the rights and equalities of all Americans. And again I mean all Americans. —HST, June 29, 1947

On Sunday, June 29, 1947, a humid summer day in Washington, D. C., Harry Truman jauntily marched up the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to address the closing session of the thirty-eighth annual conference of the NAACP. Though Truman was the thirty-third president of the United States, he was the first president to address the NAACP since its founding in 1909. 1 Truman also set another precedent in his NAACP speech when he became the first president unequivocally to commit himself and the federal government to “civil rights and human freedom of black Americans.

Appropriately, Truman's public declaration of support for the civil rights of African Americans was made on the steps of a federal monument dedicated to Abraham Lincoln, the Great Emancipator, who eighty-four years earlier had freed slaves throughout the South in a bitterly divided United States fighting a civil war over the enslavement of black Americans. It was the Civil War that had embittered many Missourians, including the president's ninety-four-year-old mother, who still disdained Abraham Lincoln even as her beloved Harry walked up the steps of Lincoln's memorial to deliver his landmark civil rights address.

Truman's audience on this Sunday afternoon consisted of ten thousand people gathered around the reflecting pool and the steps of the Lincoln Memorial for the closing session of the NAACP's annual conference. The weekly Baltimore Afro-American newspaper, in its July 5 front-page coverage of Truman's speech, claimed that “white and colored persons sat next to each other all through the

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