Harry Truman and Civil Rights: Moral Courage and Political Risks

By Michael R. Gardner | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SIX
Truman's Special Message to Congress on
Civil Rights: February 2, 1948

We cannot be satisfied until all our people have equal opportunities for jobs, for homes, for education, for health, and for political expression, and until all our people have equal protection under the law.

—HST, February 2, 1948

On Monday, February 2, 1948, less than a month after he delivered his state of the union address, Harry Truman kept his promise and sent the Republicancontrolled Congress a detailed message outlining his revolutionary vision for civil rights reform in a racist America. In uncompromising words, the president's special civil rights message told this postwar Congress that he was putting his tenpoint civil rights legislative proposals before them to achieve his top priority: “to secure fully the essential human rights [—the civil rights—] of our citizens. ” 1 The president referenced the five “great goals” that he had outlined to Congress just twenty-six days earlier and reiterated his belief that the comprehensive civil rights proposal that he placed before them was the most important challenge for the Eightieth Congress.

In preparing to send this first ever presidential civil rights message to the Congress of the United States, Harry Truman knew from his own years in the Senate that his message would be bitterly opposed by some of his closest friends in Congress. Truman's political acumen is reflected in his diary entry of February 2, 1948: “I send the Congress a Civil Rights message. They no doubt will receive it as coldly as they did my State of the Union message. But it needs to be said. ” 2 That Truman would insist on making his unpopular civil rights program a top priority in 1948 is particularly noteworthy since the president and Congress were simultaneously facing a panoply of troublesome unrelated issues that were far

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