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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Harold Fleming, January 24, 1990. Interview A-0363. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Truman deserves credit for opposing segregation early but not for national security policy

President Truman and his Civil Rights Commission condemned racism before the NAACP or the Southern Regional Council took a similar stand. Fleming attributes that to the relative protection offered by a national position and to Truman's disgust at a recent lynching. He commends Truman on opposing segregation but criticizes his stance on national security and the Korean War.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Harold Fleming, January 24, 1990. Interview A-0363. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

JOHN EGERTON:
Let me ask you a couple more things. Harry Truman put together that civil rights committee in 1948 and I find some evidence that one of the things that proded him to do that was that he was so outraged by the Walton County lynching that he made up his mind that he had had enough of that. He didn't really didn't have any strong feelings on race, I don't think. It wasn't that segregation bothered him particularly, but that particular incident really outraged him.
HAROLD FLEMING:
Something was eating on him because he took an extraordinarily strong position the first time. I mean, it was unbending. He didn't walk away.
JOHN EGERTON:
He never backed away from it a bit. Frank Graham and Dorothy Tilly served on that committee and the document that they put out really turns out to be the first official statement of the federal government of the United States against segregation. It is a very unequivocal statement. It came out in November 1947.
HAROLD FLEMING:
I remember it well.
JOHN EGERTON:
It was four years later before SRC could make such a statement and if I'm not incorrect you wrote that statement in 1951.
HAROLD FLEMING:
The Council Board commissioned such a statement in 1950. That was conterminous with the NAACP switching its school cases, I don't mean the two were linked.
JOHN EGERTON:
I was going to ask you coincidently?
HAROLD FLEMING:
I mean, when people have said to me that it is unconsciousable that the Southern Regional Council was so late in declaring itself forthrightly across the board against segregation. I say, the NAACP did it at the same time. This is true, too. There is a difference in that this was a national committee appointed by the President and the federal government. In other words, it was operating in a national context. It's a hell of a lot easier to do that than if you are operating in a purely southern context. Its members were absolutely beyond reach for reprisal and that kind of thing. I mean, their careers couldn't be destroyed, their families couldn't be threatened or reached. Miss Tilly was beyond those things anyway. You didn't mess with Miss Tilly. She was unintimidated. Look at the other members on there. Frank Graham was also a special case. The rest of them, Boris Shishkin, nobody was going to bother him. The other members, Cary, I think, and Sadie Alexander, their positions were enhanced. Charles Wilson of General Electric, he was the good Charles Wilson as opposed to the other one. But, it was a remarkable statement, no question. What was most remarkable was Truman's total committment on this. They didn't come out with something that he found unwelcome at all.
JOHN EGERTON:
Do you think when that happened that he wouldn't get elected in '48. Were you pretty fearful that he was not going to win?
HAROLD FLEMING:
Very fearful. I will never forget that night sitting up until all hours to hear that he had been elected. Of course, some of the leftist folks had gone around the bend with Wallace and it was thought that that was really the final nail in the coffin, that Wallace would pull off enough votes. It didn't happen, thank God.
JOHN EGERTON:
Neither did Thurman, which was the other side.
HAROLD FLEMING:
No, that's right. Thurman, the Dixicrats. . . . That whole thing is just amazing.
JOHN EGERTON:
Thinking back on that now it does seem really quite astonishing that he was able to win with those two parties against him.
HAROLD FLEMING:
It's unbelievable almost. I often feel there is some danger of the romanticizing the Truman presidency a little bit. At the time I remember I was very irked with him on a number of things.
JOHN EGERTON:
Well, the communist was one.
HAROLD FLEMING:
He started the loyalty oath business, you know.
JOHN EGERTON:
He got us in trouble on that pretty badly. Played into the hands of people like Martin Dies and John Rankin and Eastland and the rest of them.
HAROLD FLEMING:
Well, he started the National Security Program and some of its excesses. God knows he was nowhere near as bad as what followed. And also, I was not thrilled with the way he handled Korea and the Truman Doctrine. Truman was the same way when he was right and when he was wrong. He was totally adamant and couldn't be swayed. When he was admirable he was very, very admirable, when he was bad he was bad.