The Story: History

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'Course, we, in the State Democratic Convention in November of 1946, changed the rules so that the blacks could be members of the Democratic Party. You know, the Democratic Party was an all white party, see, and that was tantamount to disenfranchising black people. Because at that time you had no Republican Party, no viable Republican Party, and a Democratic nomination was tantamount to election.

Sidney McMath

Confederate soldier

World War II brought the race issue to the foreground for the armed services in addition to their civilian supporters. Segregated since the Civil War, the Army and Navy were reluctant to integrate. Despite efforts by the FEPC, the armed services remained segregated long after other governmental departments had been forced to integrate. In September 1942, a delegation of African American leaders met with President Roosevelt to demand full desegregation of the Army, Navy, and Air Force. Consequently, in May 1943, President Roosevelt signed an executive order greatly strengthening the FEPC. However, the implementation of this order and the eventual 1948 integration of the armed services were left to his successor, Harry S. Truman. Where Roosevelt had compromised with white southern Democrats in order to maintain their support for his New Deal programs, Truman would “give ‘em Hell.”

On April 12, 1945, Vice President Truman assumed the presidency following Roosevelt’s sudden death just weeks into his fourth term. Truman took on the role of Commander-in-Chief at a crucial point in international history. The end of World War II was drawing near. However, as president, Truman faced several key decisions before its ultimate conclusion on September 2, 1945. In the first five months of his presidency, Truman played a lead role in Germany’s surrender, the Potsdam Conference, the decision to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan’s subsequent surrender, and the end of the war. Following the World War II victory, President Truman was faced with a second conflict: the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union.

"No viable Republican Party"
- Sidney McMath

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As Cold War tensions intensified, President Truman shocked the nation by taking a strong stance in support of civil rights. He argued that the Russians were using examples of racist American policies to win the support of other nations, while his opponents claimed that the civil rights movement was funded by Communists. In 1947, despite extreme opposition from white southern Democrats, Truman made civil rights a Congressional issue. He authorized a civil rights committee to recommend new anti-discrimination legislation. Following the committee’s advice and recognizing the importance of winning black votes in order to secure the electoral votes of populous states, Truman demanded Congressional action on racial issues affecting the South (Bass 6). These issues included several that his predecessor had shied away from, such as anti-lynching legislation and the abolishment of the poll tax.