1948 February 2

President Truman Delivers Civil Rights Message to Congress


President Harry Truman on this day delivered a special message to Congress on civil rights, with a set of legislative proposals. His proposals were based in large part on the report of his Civil Rights Committee, “To Secure These Rights,” which had been released on October 29, 1947. This was the first-ever, comprehensive presidential message on civil rights. Truman recommended the establishment of a permanent Commission on Civil Rights; federal protection against lynching; protection of the right to vote; settling claims of Japanese-Americans who had been relocated after the attack on Pearl Harbor; statehood for Alaska and Hawaii; suffrage and self-government for the District of Columbia; and “prohibiting discrimination in interstate transportation facilities.”

Truman’s civil rights program, and the civil rights plank in the Democratic Party platform, caused Southern Democrats to walk out of the Democratic Party Convention on July 14, 1948, and form an independent, pro-segregation States’ Rights Party. Despite their defection, Truman won reelection as president in November 1948. Also in the summer of 1948, Truman took the historic step of desegregating the American armed forces on July 26, 1948.

Truman: “We shall not, however, finally achieve the ideals for which this Nation was founded so long as any American suffers discrimination as a result of his race, or religion, or color, or the land of origin of his forefathers. Unfortunately, there still are examples-flagrant examples–of discrimination which are utterly contrary to our ideals. Not all groups of our population are free from the fear of violence. Not all groups are free to live and work where they please or to improve their conditions of life by their own efforts. Not all groups enjoy the full privileges of citizenship and participation in the government under which they live. We cannot be satisfied until all our people have equal opportunities for jobs, for homes, for education, for health, and for political expression, and until all our people have equal protection under the law.”

Read Truman’s special message to Congress: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/print.php?pid=13006

Learn more: Michael Gardner, Harry Truman and Civil Rights: Moral Courage and Political Risks (2002)

Read “To Secure These Rights,” the Civil Rights Committee’s final report: http://www.trumanlibrary.org/civilrights/srights1.htm

Read: Steven F. Lawson, To Secure These Rights: The Report of Harry S Truman’s Committee on Civil Rights (2004)

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