Harry Truman and Civil Rights: Moral Courage and Political Risks

By Michael R. Gardner | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWELVE
Truman's Howard University
Commencement Address: June 13, 1952

Our country is founded on the proposition that all men are created equal. This means that they should be equal before the law. They should enjoy equal political rights. And they should have equal opportunities for education, employment and decent living conditions. This is our belief and we know it is right. We know it is morally right.

—HST, June 13, 1952

After repeatedly trying throughout most of his seven-year presidency to have his civil rights proposals enacted by the Congress, President Harry Truman resigned himself in 1952 to the reality that his only legacy in the civil rights area would be those actions that required no congressional concurrence. Nonetheless, through his issuance of executive orders, his appointments of men like William Hastie and Fred Vinson to the courts, and his relentless advocacy of full civil rights for all Americans, white and black, Truman knew he had started something significant. But Truman, ever the realist, knew that much more had to be done in June 1952. And it was both his sense of accomplishment and his sense of frustration that the lame-duck president conveyed when he delivered the commencement address on June 13, 1952, to 712 graduates of Howard University's class of 1952 in Washington, D. C. 1

The sixty-eight-year-old president, who had decided not to seek his party's nomination for reelection at the upcoming Democratic convention, spoke in a reflective yet uncompromising tone to his audience of African American graduates, their relatives, and their friends who gathered in Howard's Quad, an outdoor courtyard in front of Frederick Douglass Hall. 2 Truman's speech was made in response to an eloquent invitation from Howard University's president,

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