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The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow A Century of Segregation
Jim Crow Stories
A National Struggle
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Jim Crow Stories

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Harry S. Truman Supports Civil Rights (1947-1948)
Truman Picture

By 1947, as the Cold War with the Soviet Union intensified and the nation was becoming increasingly anti-Communist and intolerant, Harry Truman astonished everyone by suddenly supporting civil rights. Truman had been outraged at the murder and assaults on dozens of black veterans of World War II. Although he once held strong racial biases -- he had used the word "nigger" freely in his speech -- in 1947 he decided to make civil rights a national issue. He authorized a fifteen-man committee on Civil Rights to recommend new legislation to protect people from discrimination. Speaking from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Truman became the first president of the United States to address the NAACP. He promised African Americans that the federal government would act now to end discrimination, violence, and race prejudice in American life. Shortly afterward, his panel issued its report confirming that segregation, lynching, and discrimination at the polls had to be ended.

In the election year of 1948, Truman continued to push for civil rights, partially because he felt that it was the right thing to do, and partially because he knew that he had to win the black vote in order to be elected. Although most political analysts Truman pushed for civil rights, partially because he felt it was the right thing to do and partially because he knew that he needed the black vote in order to be elected. predicted a Republican landslide, Truman believed that the election would depend on a handful of cities in the North where the balance of power would be held by black votes. Senator Hubert Humphrey, who was deeply committed to civil rights, had successfully maneuvered the Democratic Party to support a strong civil rights plank in its campaign platform -- much stronger than Truman wanted. One of Truman's strongest arguments in favor of civil rights was that American and Russia were now locked in a deadly "Cold War" and the Russians were using America's Jim Crow policies to win support from the rest of the world. Southerners replied that the civil-rights program was supported by Communists.

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The 1948 Democratic Convention,
and the reaction of Strom Thurmond to Truman's support of civil rights.

Strom Thurmond, Governor of South Carolina, and a group of Southern delegates walked out of the Democratic Convention when the civil-rights platform passed. The dissidents formed the States' Rights party, whose members came to known as Dixiecrats. A reporter asked Thurmond why he had bolted from the Democratic party when President Truman had not done anything substantially different from his predecessor, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Thurmond replied, "Yes -- but Truman really means it." After the convention, Truman ordered the army integrated -- a move brought about, in part, by the intense pressure of civil rights leader A. Philip Randolph. Truman's stance on civil rights won him the black vote in 1948 -- and with it, the presidential election.

-- Richard Wormser

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Historical Documents
Executive Order desegregating the U.S. Armed Forces
See the executive order issued by President Truman desegregating the U.S. Armed Forces.
Related Pages
NAACP
Democratic Party
Communist Party
A. Philip Randolph
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