Harry S. Truman photo

Address in Harlem, New York, Upon Receiving the Franklin Roosevelt Award

October 11, 1952

Dr. Johnson, members of the Interdenominational Ministers Meeting, Mr. Mayor and distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen:

I deeply appreciate the franklin Delano Roosevelt award you have just given me. I appreciate it all the more because I received the same award here in Dorrance Brooks Park 4 years ago this month.

That was an occasion I shall never forget. The deep feeling that poured forth from the hearts of the many thousands of people who were assembled in this park 4 years ago, was one of the most moving experiences of my whole life. Mrs. Truman remarked that it was the greatest and most dignified meeting she had ever attended. That is something for her to say.

You, of course, know that Dorrance Brooks Park is named after a very gallant youth who was a private in the Army of the United States. He gave his life for his country in the best American tradition. It is to the credit of the people of this great city of New York that his heroism has been appreciated and acknowledged.

That meeting was the high point of the 1948 campaign. I knew then that you had placed your trust in me. We pledged ourselves that day to a great enterprise--the end of racial injustice and unfair discrimination. I am here to say to you now that fight will never cease with me as long as I live.

I am very proud of this award. Franklin Roosevelt beat back depression, he led us to victory in war, he gave us the chance to create a world order based on the equal worth and dignity of every individual. It is up to us to make good on the chance he gave us.

Today I am winding up a trip across this great country in which I have urged the American people to elect Adlai Stevenson as President. There are a great many reasons why you should do that.

The Democratic Party under Adlai Stevenson offers you the best hope of peace in the world. The Democratic Party offers you the best protection against depression. And not least, it offers you continued progress toward full civil rights for all Americans.

Now, many people have wondered how I came to have such a deep interest in civil rights. I want to tell you about that. Right after World War II, religious and racial intolerance began to show up just as it did in 1919. There were a good many incidents of violence and friction, but two of them in particular made a very deep impression on me. One was when a Negro veteran, still wearing this country's uniform, was arrested, and beaten and blinded. Not long after that, two Negro veterans with their wives lost their lives at the hands of a mob.

It is the duty of the State and local government to prevent such tragedies. But, as President of the United States, I felt I ought to do everything in my power to find what caused such crimes and to root out the causes. It was for that reason that I created the President's Committee on Civil Rights. I asked its members to study the situation and recommend to the whole country what we should do.

Their report is one of our great American documents. When it was handed to me, I said that it was a new charter of human freedom. Five years have passed, but I have never seen anything to make me change my mind. These 5 years have seen some hard fighting by those who believe in civil rights for all our people--women like that great lady, Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, men like your own good Senators, Herbert Lehman and Bob Wagner--and the fine Democrats you have sent from New York to the House of Representatives. These 5 years have seen a lot of progress--progress in spite of obstacles that have been placed in our way.

I want to review that progress for you today.

Right after the Committee on Civil Rights made its report to me, I sent to the Congress a special message making 10 recommendations for new legislation. Only 2 of those 10 recommendations have been approved by the Congress. The opponents of civil rights in the Congress have blocked every effort to enact such important legislation as a fair employment practices law, an anti-poll tax law, and an anti-lynch law. Not only that, they have succeeded in changing the rules under which Congress operates, so as to make it impossible to stop a filibuster.

Who are the opponents of civil rights? All you have to do is to look at the record. Read the Congressional Record, and you'll find them. I sent a good FEPC bill to Congress; but the Republicans introduced the McConnell amendment--a toothless substitute for FEPC. And the Republicans in the House voted 2 to 1 for that amendment--beating the Democratic majority that wanted FEPC. The Republicans also introduced and got passed in the Senate the Wherry rule making it next to impossible to stop these filibusters. That is rule 22 that Governor Lehman was talking to you about.

It is no accident that these anti-civil rights measures bear the names of Republican legislators. Republicans introduced them, and Republicans approved them. The Republicans deserve this recognition, for they are always on tap to provide just enough votes to insure the defeat of civil rights measures.

When the Congress refused to act, I went ahead to do what I could within the executive branch itself. This fight of ours cannot stop just because we have been blocked in the United States Congress.

First, I acted to stop racial discrimination in the armed services. The Navy and the Air force have now eliminated all racial distinctions. And for over 2 years, every soldier coming into an Army training unit in this country has been assigned on the basis of his individual merit--regardless of race or color. All the troops in Korea are now integrated, and integration is going forward elsewhere overseas.

I also had a fair Employment Board set up in the Civil Service Commission. Today, every Federal agency has a fair employment practices program that is working. Any Federal employee, or applicant for Federal employment, who feels he has been discriminated against because of race can now ask for and receive justice.

At my request, the Solicitor General of the United States went before the Supreme Court to argue that Negro citizens have the right to enter State colleges and universities on exactly the same basis as any other citizens. And we won that fight. And more than a thousand Negro graduate and professional students have been accepted by 10 State universities that had barred their doors to Negroes before. This means that this country will have more men like Louis T. Wright and Ralph Bunche.

At my request, the Solicitor General again went before the Supreme Court and argued against the vicious, restrictive covenants that had prevented houses in many places from being sold to Negroes and to Jews. It was a great day in the history of civil rights when we won that case, also, before the Supreme Court.

As one result of that decision, more Negroes are homeowners today than ever before in American history.

Our locally-operated public housing projects are increasingly open to families of all races and creeds. The number of integrated projects has increased eightfold in 8 years. In the last few years, 9 States and 8 cities have forbidden discrimination or segregation in public housing.

In the last few years, 11 States and 20 cities have enacted fair employment practice laws. This is where the greatest gap exists in our Federal laws on civil rights, and I have repeatedly urged the Congress to pass the kind of law we need. Such a statute must have enforcement powers if it is to mean anything. To talk about voluntary compliance with fair employment practice is just plain nonsense. Federal fair employment legislation with enforcement power is greatly needed and it ought to be on the books. And I am going to keep fighting for it, come hell or high water!

Progress has been made in assuring Negroes the opportunity to exercise their right to vote as citizens. The courts have made the infamous "white primary" a thing of the past. Thank God for that. And there are only five poll tax States left in this Union. Nevertheless, we still need laws to abolish the poll tax and otherwise protect the right to vote where intimidation or restrictions still exist.

In the last five years, two States have enacted anti-lynch laws. Five States and forty-five cities have passed laws against wearing masks in public--which will strip the hoods off the Ku Klux Klan. One of the finest things that has happened recently was the conviction and prosecution of those Ku Kluxers down in North Carolina and Southern States. This is splendid progress in the fight to guarantee our citizens protection against mob violence, but it is not enough. It is the clear duty of the Federal Government to stand behind local law enforcement agencies, and to step in if they fail to control mob action. That is exactly what we have been doing through the FBI and through the civil rights section of the Department of Justice.

Last year, a mob formed in Cicero, Illinois, and prevented a Negro veteran and his family from moving into an apartment house. Fortunately, Illinois was blessed with a great Governor, who is now your Democratic candidate for President.

Governor Stevenson, who believes in action in these matters, restored law and order with the National Guard. But a local grand jury did the incredible thing of indicting--not the ringleaders of the mob--but the Negro veteran's lawyer and the property owner. At this point the Federal Government stepped in to prevent a gross miscarriage of justice. It obtained an indictment of the city officials who had failed in their duty to assure equal justice under the law. And the officials who had abetted the mob were tried and convicted in a Federal Court.

It was also last year that the Nation was shocked by the bomb murder in Florida of Harry T. Moore and his wife. These tragic deaths came shortly after the bombings of synagogues and Catholic churches and of the housing project at Carver Village. For several months the FBI has been gathering evidence on the mobs responsible for these outrages. And this week the United States Government began to present that evidence to a Federal grand jury at Miami.

These are examples of how your Federal Government--under a Democratic President-stands behind the constitutional guarantees of human rights. The Federal Government could do a better job if we had stronger civil rights laws--and we must never let down in fighting for those laws.

Now, the progress we have been making in the field of human rights is in grave danger. Make no mistake about that.

We are menaced by the forces of reaction which would have our Government turn its back upon the common man. These forces of reaction are organized in the Republican Party. They would have our Government cease to be what it has been for 20 years, under the Democrats--the protector of the weak against the mighty. And these policies, as sure as you are standing here, would lead us back to the dark days of the depression-and depression is always a breeder of hate among human beings.

You and I are not going to let this happen. We are not going to turn the clock back. We are not going to turn the country over to the greedy interests that control the Republican Party. They're not interested in equal rights.

Now remember this. One person in this country has to think of all the people all the time; that person is the President of the United States. If you want this civil rights program to continue, you must make the right man President this year.

Now every special interest in the United States has a highly paid lobby at Washington who spend their time banqueting the legislators and trying to force legislation through for the special interests. And the only lobbyist that the 150 million people have who can't afford to hire one, is the President of the United States.

Now on the one hand, there is the Republican candidate for President. He is the front man for the party that adopted the Wherry rule in the Senate--making it harder to stop a filibuster than at any time in history. His party is the one that produced a watered-down version of the FEPC in the House--and would not permit even that version to come to a vote in the Senate. His is the party that beat a retreat this year in the civil rights plank of its platform. That's the lousiest platform you ever read on the subject.

And while the Republican candidate was in uniform, he told the Armed Services Committee of the Senate that a certain amount of segregation is necessary in the Army. You and I know that this is morally wrong. And what's more, it's even militarily wrong. Our troops in Korea are demonstrating, every day, that Americans can stand side by side, regardless of color, and fight better because of it.

Now, the Republican candidate, and his party, and his party's platform have refused to pledge effective action for assuring equal rights for all our citizens. You could not even depend on them to save what we have now--and goodness knows that isn't enough.

And now, while the Republican candidate is whispering promises to you, he has been touring the South to woo the Dixiecrats into the Republican fold. What do you think the Republican candidate and a Dixiecrat Governor talk about when they sit down together for lunch? Do you think they talk about civil rights ? I think maybe they talk about taking them away.

You can draw your own conclusion when the Dixiecrat Governor announces, after the lunch, he's going to vote Republican this year.

I am afraid, my friends, that the Republican candidate does not offer you much hope so far as civil rights are concerned.

On the other hand, there is the Democratic Party--the party of proven performance. This is the party that has taken the great forward steps I have just described-the greatest since the abolition of slavery.

The Democratic platform this year contains the strongest civil rights plank ever adopted by any political party in this country. Our candidates have taken their stand firmly on that platform. You can count on them to fight to carry it out.

You placed your trust in me 4 years ago when I dedicated myself to our great cause, and I have tried not to let you down. I am here today to tell you that you can place the same trust in the Democratic candidates in this election year. And I assure you with all the sincerity I have, that they will fulfill your trust in exactly the same way.

Adlai Stevenson has shown by everything he has done and said that he believes deeply in the equality of human beings. He will bring new courage and new energy to the fight for civil rights.

He has the courage to say the same things about civil rights in New York and in Richmond, Virginia. He has been a great civil rights Governor and he will make a great civil rights President.

Let me tell you some of the things he has done. When he gave his inaugural address as Governor in 1949, he listed the matters he wanted the Illinois Legislature to take up. High on that list was an FEPC. But Adlai Stevenson was not asking for the toothless kind of FEPC, so you can imagine what happened to his request. It passed the Democratic house only to be killed by that Illinois Republican senate. In the following session, both houses of the Illinois Legislature were Republican controlled. That year, the house bill died in committee. But get this one. This is really a good one. The Republican controlled senate committee reported out Adlai Stevenson's FEPC, but they brought it out with a recommendation that it not be passed.

That is an example of the same kind of Republican double-talk we get in Washington all the time.

Now let me tell you some other things about Stevenson, and what he did. He didn't make a lot of noise about them. He just quietly issued an executive order ending segregation in the Illinois National Guard. And he issued another executive order taking race out of the Illinois Employment Service forms. And it was during his administration that segregation was finally wiped out in the Illinois public schools. Now I think some of our generals could take lessons from him in how to get things done.

Adlai Stevenson also helped make it possible for Negro sailors to have duties other than as messmen. That was during the war when he was Assistant to the Secretary of the Navy.

You people know that if there is one thing I have fought for as President of the United States, it has been the protection of the God-given rights of every citizen of this great country. I solemnly pledged myself to that task at a meeting like this 4 years ago. Today, I have listed some of the things we have accomplished in the great fight. And Adlai Stevenson has shown by his record that he will continue the fight with renewed vigor.

Now, it's not enough to nod your heads in agreement when we talk about this fight we have been making together. You must go to the polls in such numbers that you can defeat the forces of reaction. You have until 10:30 tonight to register. And you are not worth a hoot to the Democratic Party unless you are registered. Make sure your name is on the books--and that your friends and neighbors' names are on the books--by the time those books close tonight. And on November 4, let's roll up a great majority for Adlai Stevenson and a Democratic Congress and we will support him in his battle for civil rights.

Note: The President spoke at 2 p.m. in Dorrance Brooks Park. In his opening words he referred to Dr. C. Asapansa-Johnson, president of the Interdenominational Ministers Alliance, who presented him with the franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial Brotherhood Medal, and Mayor Vincent R. Impellitteri of New York City.

Later he referred to Governor Adlai Stevenson of Illinois, Democratic candidate for President, Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, Senators Herbert H. Lehman and Robert f. Wagner of New York, Louis T. Wright, president of the medical board at Harlem Hospital, and Ralph J. Bunche, U.S. delegate to the United Nations. He also referred to Harry T. Moore of Mims, Fla, NAACP coordinator for the State of Florida, who was killed by a bomb blast in his home, and to Mrs. Moore, who died later from injuries sustained from the blast.
For the President's address upon receiving the award on October 29, 1948, see 1948 volume, this series, Item 265.

Harry S Truman, Address in Harlem, New York, Upon Receiving the Franklin Roosevelt Award Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/230773

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