Harry Truman and Civil Rights: Moral Courage and Political Risks

By Michael R. Gardner | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TEN
Civil Rights Progress Despite a
Recalcitrant Congress: 1949–1952

Riding on the coattails of Truman's spectacular come-from-behind victory on November 2, 1948, the Democratic Party regained control of both the Senate and the House of Representatives. 1 Truman's successful campaign had worked not only for the president but also for congressional Democratic candidates around the country, who now enjoyed solid control of the country's legislative apparatus in the newly elected Eighty-first Congress.

During the 1948 campaign, the tireless Truman had hammered the donothing GOP leadership of the Eightieth Congress for their legislative shortcomings, including their failure to take action on Truman's civil rights program, which he had sent to Congress earlier that year. Day after day during his nonstop campaign—a campaign so intense that Truman made at least 126 speeches during the first sixteen days of his famous whistle-stop train tour—candidate Truman relentlessly attacked congressional Republicans. 2 Wisely, when Truman raised the explosive civil rights issue, he artfully failed to mention the real reason that civil rights reform was stalled—the well-organized Southern Democrats who successfully filibustered any civil rights legislation that would have empowered the federal government to circumscribe their states' rights policies.

Ironically, Truman's spectacular success during the 1948 campaign in restoring the Democrats' majority position in both the House and the Senate did nothing to improve his chances of getting the new Congress to pass civil rights legislation. Whether it was the GOP-led Eightieth Congress or the Democraticled Eighty-first Congress, Truman was confronted with the same insurmountable coalition of Southern Democrats and states' rights Republicans, a coalition that simply would not tolerate any legislatively mandated change in the racism that permeated much of America in the late 1940s. This reality became apparent very

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