"Everything in My Power": Harry S. Truman and the Fight Against Racial Discrimination
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Any attempt to tell the story of federal involvement in the dismantling of Americaâ s formalized systems of racial discrimination that positions the judiciary as the first branch of government to engage in this effort, identifies the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision as the beginning of the civil rights movement, or fails to recognize the centrality of President Harry S. Truman in the narrative of racial equality is in error. Driven by an ever-increasing recognition of the injustices of racial discrimination, Truman offered a comprehensive civil rights program to Congress on 2 February 1948. When his legislative proposals were rejected, he employed a unilateral policy of action despite grave political risk, and freed subsequent presidential nominees of the Democratic party from its southern segregationist bloc by winning re-election despite the Statesâ Rights challenge of Strom Thurmond. The remainder of his administration witnessed a multi-faceted attack on prejudice involving vetoes, executive orders, public pronouncements, changes in enforcement policies, and amicus briefs submitted by his Department of Justice. The southern Democrat responsible for actualizing the promises of Americaâ s ideals of freedom for its black citizens is Harry Truman, not Lyndon Johnson. The shift in white American opinion necessary for the passage of the civil rights acts of the 1960s was generated by the cumulative effects of actions taken between 1945 and 1953.
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