Harry Truman and the Struggle for Racial Justice.

Author:Goldzwig, Steven R.
Position:Book review
 
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Harry Truman and the Struggle for Racial Justice. By Robert Shogan. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2013. 248 pp.

Robert Shogan gives us a readable, well-researched, and inviting account of Truman's role in civil rights. Shogan peppers his text with brief, chronological, historical narratives that help us understand Truman's motives and actions. These summaries are useful in emphasizing the highly political nature of the drive for civil rights in the United States in the mid-1940s through the early 1950s. Truman is convincingly portrayed as a principled populist whose dedication to the Constitution and sense of justice drove him to support the civil rights agenda, despite the backlash he received from opponents both within and outside of the Democratic Party. Shogan's savvy historical and detailed political analysis demonstrates how Truman overcame his own background, which included some not insignificant barriers to an appreciation of equal rights for minorities, including, among others, the fact that he was a grandson of slaveholders, associated for a time with the Ku Klux Klan, and had a history of racist remarks. Truman's long association with the Pendergast political machine tested his political acumen and allowed him to both appreciate and benefit from the art of coalition politics. In fact, Truman's entire political experience prepared him for representation of folks who would form the coalition of key constituencies that would ultimately lead to his upset victory in the 1948 presidential campaign, where African Americans played a central role.

Shogan's efforts may seem to have been already rehearsed by others, perhaps most recently in Michael Gardner's Harry Truman and Civil Rights: Moral Courage and Political Risks (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2002). But the key to the particular book under review here is that Shogan tempers Truman's "moral courage" with a well-defined analysis and explanation of Truman as an astute political operative driven by constitutional principles and a populist sense for defending the underdog. Truman's commitment to the "rightness" of the cause of civil rights for African Americans can also be traced back to his experiences with African American World War II veterans who returned home to violence and brutality as they sought to reintegrate themselves into civilian society. It was clear that Truman was also concerned about the public relations problem of promoting U.S.-style...

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