Harry Truman and Civil Rights: Moral Courage and Political Risks

By Michael R. Gardner | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER ELEVEN
Truman and the Vinson Court

“Separate but equal” is a constitutional anachronism which no longer deserves a place in our law. It is neither reasonable nor right that colored citizens of the United States be subjected to the humiliation of being segregated by law.

—Brief for the United States as Amicus Curiae, Henderson v. United States, December 1947

When Harry Truman became president at the age of sixty, he had experienced the vagaries of life in and out of politics. Whether working with hired hands on his mother's farm at Grandview, leading the rowdy men of Battery D, or managing road contractors as Jackson County judge, Truman knew how to size up the men around him. This uncanny insight stayed with him when he went to Washington in 1934 as the junior senator from Missouri; and while his sense of confidence may have been tested in his early days in the U. S. Congress, he never lost his basic good judgment about the quality and integrity of the men with whom he worked.

One man who clearly impressed the green Senator Harry Truman was Congressman Fred M. Vinson, a Kentuckian, six years younger than Truman who nonetheless preceded Truman to the Congress by a full decade. While Vinson's congressional service was interrupted for one term by a GOP landslide in 1928, Fred Vinson was a seasoned and respected representative from the Eighth District of Kentucky by the time Truman was elected to the Senate in 1934.

Tom Clark recalled in an oral history that Vinson and Truman “were old friends. I think they knew one another when Fred was in the House. He was on the Ways and Means [Committee]. I'm sure they did. 1 And good friends they were—two men from border states where slavery had been a way of life for their

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