Little Rock Look Back: President Harry S. Truman

On May 8, 1884, future US President Harry S. Truman was born in Lamar, Missouri.

Truman spent most of his youth on the family farm.  Serving in World War I, he saw combat in France and rose to the rank of Captain.  After the war, he returned to Missouri and became involved in Democratic Party politics.  After serving as a county official, he was elected US Senator in 1935 backed by the powerful Kansas City Pendergast machine.

In 1941, he headed a Senate Committee which exposed corruption and fraud in wartime contracts.  He also worked to show he was not just a puppet of the Pendergast machine (which was crucial once Pendergast went to prison).  In 1944, Democratic leaders were trying to knock the incumbent Vice President, Henry Wallace, off the ticket as FDR’s running mate.  Wallace was viewed as too far to the left.  Truman was a compromise candidate and was chosen to serve as FDR’s running mate.

He took office as Vice President in March 1945.  When President Roosevelt died in April 1945, they had spent little time together.  He oversaw the dropping of the atomic bomb on Japan in his hopes of ending World War II with fewer soldier casualties.

Following the war, he supported the creation of the United Nations, sought to contain communism through the Truman Doctrine, and worked to rebuild Europe.  In his quest to stem the spread of communism, he involved the US in the Korean War.

Domestically, he struggled with civil rights issues (including integrating the military) and labor issues (including the threat to draft striking railway workers into the military). His election in 1948 for a full four-year term is often seen as the biggest upset in US Presidential political history.

At the time he became President, Truman was still living in a small apartment with his wife and daughter.  Though they lived in the White House for a bit, they later vacated it for the Blair House so that the structure could be completely renovated.

By the approach of the 1952 presidential election, Truman’s popularity had waned again.  He half-heartedly ran in the New Hampshire primary because he did not like any of the candidates currently in the field.  After finishing second to Sen. Estes Keafauver, he announced he would not be a candidate.  He left office in 1953 and returned to Missouri.

From 1953 onward, he served as the senior statesman and father confessor of the Democratic Party.  Many political leaders made pilgrimages to visit him.  In 1965, President Johnson signed the bill establishing Medicare at the Truman Library with President and Mrs. Truman in attendance.

He died on December 26, 1972, after having been admitted to the hospital earlier in the month for pneumonia.

Truman made two visits to Little Rock while President.  In June 1949, he attended an Army division reunion and spoke at the dedication of War Memorial Park.  (He also spoke twice at Robinson Auditorium during this visit.) In 1952, he visited Little Rock while in the state to speak at the dedication of Bull Shoals Dam and Norfork Dam.


2 thoughts on “Little Rock Look Back: President Harry S. Truman

  1. Truman, then a Colonel in the Army Reserve, spent two weeks in late August 1933 as commander of the Citizen Military Training Camp at Camp Pike (present Camp Robinson). He wrote home often – copies of those letters are at the National Guard Museum on Camp Robinson.

  2. Truman never forgot ‘who brung ‘im to da dance’ — and even though the man was disgraced and spent time in prison, Truman attended the funeral of the once powerful political boss from the Kansas City / Jackson County area – Tom Pendergast

    Also — the famed photo of Truman wave’n his hat as he marches in the military reunion parade down Capitol Avenue in Little Rock… That image was snapped by the newly-hired-to-the-paper, Robert McCord who was (I think) working for the Arkansas Democrat at the time. The outstanding image received wide recognition and was nominated for several photo-journalism awards.

    McCord’s photo was also published on the front page of the U of A’s newspaper in Fayetteville. Over the years, McCord had lost his only copy. I discovered and purchased an edition of the aged paper at an estate sale and gave it to him. The Arkansas newsman confided the quickly recorded image — which was a tricky shot because of the extreme shadows from nearby buildings plus he wanted an action-shot as the President walked — was one of the highlights of his career.

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