The Truman Civil Rights Legacy
On January 7, 1953, just thirteen days before he would become a former president of the United States, Harry Truman submitted his eighth and final state of the union address to the Congress. The president's words appropriately focused only on the record of the prior eight years and not on the legislative proposals for the new Congress that were now the prerogative of President-Elect General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Consistent with his previous state of the union addresses, Truman once again made the goal of full civil rights and equality of opportunity for all Americans a top priority for the United States in 1953.
In recalling the fundamental questions confronting the country when he suddenly became president on April 12, 1945, Truman asked,
Would we continue, in peace as well as war, to promote equality of opportunity for all our citizens, seeking ways and means to guarantee for all of them the full enjoyment of their civil rights?
During the war we achieved great economic and social gains for millions of our fellow citizens who had been held back by prejudice. Were we prepared, in peacetime, to keep on moving toward full realization of the democratic promise? Or would we let it be submerged, wiped out, in post-war riots and reaction, as after World War I?
We answered these questions in a series of forward steps at every level of government and in many spheres of private life. In our armed forces, our civil service, our universities, our railway trains, the residential districts of our cities—in stores and factories all across the Nation—in the polling booths as well—the barriers are coming down. This is happening, in part, at the mandate of the courts; in part, at the insistence of the Federal, State and local governments; in part, through the enlightened action of private groups and persons in every region and every walk of life.