John Krull, publisher, TheStatehouseFile.com

Commentary: Harry Truman, Negro Leagues and the promise of America

By John Krull

Talent can come from anywhere.
I’m walking through the Harry S Truman Presidential Museum and Library here in the community where he grew up and died.

Truman was the last president of the United States not to have a college education. He came from a part of America often ignored, when it was not disparaged. Prior to his entrance into politics, he had failed at one business after another.

The president who preceded him in the White House was the patrician Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a Harvard-educated New Yorker whose self-assurance and composure never seemed to falter or flag. Roosevelt could reassure the nation with fireside chats because he possessed a mellifluous voice and, more important, always seemed to know exactly what to do.
Truman seemed more like one of us, more human, more fallible.

Unlike FDR, who seemed to rise above all struggles, Truman bled when he was cut.
When opponents chided him for taking his dog on a presidential trip, Roosevelt turned the criticism into a joke and to his political advantage. When a music critic failed to shower first daughter Margaret Truman’s performance with praise, President (and papa) Truman went on the attack and lambasted the critic.

And, yet, Truman had a quality Roosevelt didn’t, a willingness to seek counsel from many sources, even people with whom he disagreed. He lacked FDR’s conviction that he knew all the answers without ever asking questions.

Here at the Truman Museum, which is just a few blocks from the house in which he lived, the walls to both the Oval Office replica and the museum office are covered by bookshelves. And the shelves are filled with books.

Like so many Americans who were denied full educational opportunities, Truman had a hunger for learning. Perhaps because his road to knowledge had so many detours, he pursued it with determination that bordered on obsession.

While president, he led this country to the conclusion of a world war, managed our transition to becoming the world’s first super power, oversaw our first painful steps to desegregating the nation and kept rising tensions with and fears of the Soviet Union’s increasing strength from escalating into a third world war.

He made many mistakes along the way – “to err is Truman,” his Republican opponents liked to say – but he often corrected them.

When he left the White House, he went back home to the community in which he grew up. He spurned offers to join corporate boards and passed on other lucrative opportunities because he thought that would be “trading” on the presidency.
He thought that would be wrong.

Harry Truman was an unpromising man who came from a part of America often forgotten, but he helped shape this country and the life of the world in ways we still feel today.

Perhaps a dozen miles from the Truman Library is the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City. My tour of it drove home two competing impressions.

The only feeling greater than the thrill of watching the gifted and driven black baseball players of the first is the sense of despair that comes from studying the unnecessary and unjust hardships they endured.

Not only were they denied the opportunity to compete in the major leagues – and thus earn salaries commensurate with their skills – but the daily tasks of finding food and housing often were exercises in degradation and indignity.

When we talk about this era in American history, we often focus on how much the black athletes – or the black musicians or the black businesspeople or the black workers – lost.

We don’t talk about what the nation lost – the chance to have our best people in varied fields of endeavor compete or perform at the highest levels of their ability.
There’s a lot of talk now about making America great “again.”

But America’s greatness never has been a settled thing. It always has been a process, an opening up of opportunity so that all people can discover and share the best in themselves.

That’s the promise of America – the promise that a failed and largely self-educated businessman from western Missouri can become one of our greatest presidents and that the descendants of slaves can become the best in any number of chosen fields.

Talent can come from anywhere.

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.


President Harry S. Truman


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