You can’t be anywhere near Independence MO without visiting Harry Truman’s home, tomb and library. At least we couldn’t.
His is another great American story – which could have made a great Hallmark movie. But you didn’t have to invent this one. Missouri boy falls in love with Missouri girl in Independence, and courts her for nine years in the house she was born in. He marries his Bess and moves into her family home, where their daughter Margaret is also born. He gets into politics and eventually becomes a Senator. Harry goes off to Washington with his family, but they spend every summer at the family home in Independence when Congress is not in session.
(The home at 219 Delaware Street, right in town, is open for tours, though we didn’t make it in time. But isn’t it still charming?)
To continue, Harry is elected Vice-President and serves with FDR, till the very end, when he becomes President. No more summers at home, but any possible ‘free’ time is spent there. Against many odds, he is elected President in his own right, and faces tumultuous times. His term ends, he returns home with Bess to Independence, where he resumes life in their home. He and Bess both die there, and are buried together in his presidential library. He wanted it that way so it would be convenient to his office if he wanted to wander around after he was dead.
Regardless of your politics, it was refreshing to be reminded of a man who always remembered where he was from and where he would return once the hubbub was over. Yup, downright refreshing.
The Presidential Library has a recreation of Truman’s Oval Office, charming in its simplicity.
And then remember the world that he suddenly found himself leading on FDR’s death. We were at war, and the end still remains controversial. People were starving in Europe, and Russia was grabbing for Germany. Soldiers were coming home to no jobs, and black soldiers were coming home to blatant discrimination and worse.
Truman did take an historic stance when he desegregated the Armed Forces, appalled at how black veterans were being treated, and realizing that step at least was within his control. And then there was the election of 1948, where many had Harry down for the count.
Oh, and a new nation named Israel wanted American recognition. Then there was the cold war. And the hot war – Korea. Who would want that job? But Harry soldiered on and he left with his head high and his popularity low. History has been more kind.
Our next stop was directly related to the work that Harry Truman set in motion. We were in Topeka KS, and stopped at Monroe Elementary School, which was at the center of the Brown vs. Board of Education landmark Supreme Court decision to desegregate public schools.
This is a nice elementary school. But the point is that it was one of only four schools in Topeka which black children could attend. The fight that broke the back of segregation in schools was not that this school provided a poor education. It was that the children who attended it by definition were being discriminated against because they were made to feel inferior to white students. And that ultimately is the argument that won the day. Lots to think about here, as we ponder the slow progress that has been made in some areas of American life. It is chilling to see the videos of the children brave enough to try to attend white schools – and the sheer hatred and venom they experienced.
Monroe is a nice school, but only now that it is empty.