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Harry Truman and Civil Rights

Harry Truman and Civil Rights

Moral Courage and Political Risks

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Michael R. Gardner. Forewords by George M. Elsey and Kweisi Mfume


E-book (Other formats: Paperback)
6 x 9, 28 illustrations


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About the Book

Given his background, President Truman was an unlikely champion of civil rights. Where he grew up—the border state of Missouri—segregation was accepted and largely unquestioned. Both his maternal and paternal grandparents had owned slaves, and his mother, victimized by Yankee forces, railed against Abraham Lincoln for the remainder of her ninety-four years. When Truman assumed the presidency on April 12, 1945, Michael R. Gardner points out, Washington, DC, in many ways resembled Cape Town, South Africa, under apartheid rule circa 1985.

Truman’s background notwithstanding, Gardner shows that it was Harry Truman—not Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, or John F. Kennedy—who energized the modern civil rights movement, a movement that basically had stalled since Abraham Lincoln had freed the slaves. Gardner recounts Truman’s public and private actions regarding black Americans. He analyzes speeches, private conversations with colleagues, the executive orders that shattered federal segregation policies, and the appointments of like-minded civil rights activists to important positions. Among those appointments was the first black federal judge in the continental United States.


One of Gardner’s essential and provocative points is that the Frederick Moore Vinson Supreme Court—a court significantly shaped by Truman—provided the legal basis for the nationwide integration that Truman could not get through the Congress. Challenging the myth that the civil rights movement began with Brown v. Board of Education under Chief Justice Earl Warren, Gardner contends that the life-altering civil rights rulings by the Vinson Court provided the necessary legal framework for the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision.

Gardner characterizes Truman’s evolution from a man who grew up in a racist household into a president willing to put his political career at mortal risk by actively supporting the interests of black Americans.


Michael R. Gardner is a communications policy attorney in Washington, D.C. He also serves as the pro bono chairman of the United States Telecommunications Training Institute, a nonprofit international training initiative he founded in 1982 while serving as the U.S. ambassador to the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference in Nairobi, Kenya. A graduate of the College at Georgetown University and of the Georgetown University Law School, Gardner has served as an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and has also served on four presidential commissions under Presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and Bush senior.


“Gardner, a practicing lawyer and [former] adjunct professor at Georgetown University, sets the record straight on the part that our thirty-third president played in the struggle for racial equality. His well-documented conclusions will astonish even many of those whose memories go back to the period of which he writes.”—New York Law Journal

“[A] persuasive brief to argue that Harry Truman was the 20th century’s best president in terms of civil rights—the true successor to the Great Emancipator. . . . Gardner’s first book is highly recommended.”—Library Journal (starred review)

“[A] compelling account of Truman as a civil rights advocate because it was the right—not politically expedient—position for America following World War II. . . Harry Truman—the lifelong civil rights activist—cared for and was admired by not only the common citizens but also the forgotten ones.”—ForeWord

Harry Truman and Civil Rights is an exceptional read. This book will reaffirm Truman’s position as an important figure in the African American quest for equality.”—The Baltimore Afro-American

“This is truly a remarkable book. I doubt that anybody in the instant history business like myself fully understood that the bedrock of Harry Truman was human rights. Nuclear weapons, Greek-Turkish aid, Marshall plan, Berlin airlift were all acquired tastes, imposed on him by a world running madly at warp speed. But beneath everything, as Gardner notes, was the feeling rooted in his soul that all humans regardless of color, race, or creed deserved equal treatment.”—Hugh Sidey, Chair and CEO of the White House Historical Association

Harry Truman and Civil Rights presents a riveting account of the little-known, yet pivotal role President Harry Truman played in the cause for civil rights. . . . President Truman’s bravery and dogged determination opened many doors and forever changed the course of history. This book is a tribute to the visionary courage displayed by this statesman who began laying the foundation to right the horrific injustices that prevailed against people of color during his time.”—Kweisi Mfume, NAACP President and CEO

“This book tells the story of a native son of Missouri who put everything at risk to achieve a moral good. Truman’s very personal crusade for civil rights divided his party, alienated the South, and nearly cost him his presidency. His moral courage is an example for all elected officials and a lesson for all Americans."—Missouri Senator Jean Carnahan

“Harry Truman’s convictions, commitment, and courage are admirably recounted by Michael Gardner. He describes the actions that flowed from them. He recalls long overlooked actions taken by the Department of Justice at Truman’s direction. He pointedly contrasts Truman’s courage with the timidity of his two immediate successors and reminds us of the belated conversion of Lyndon Johnson to the course Truman had advocated years earlier. . . .Truman had the courage. He took the risks. All of us are indebted to him.”—George M. Elsey, administrative assistant to President Truman