Compare President Truman's attitude toward and efforts on behalf of civil rights with President Eisenhower's attitude and efforts.

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pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I would argue that Presidents Truman and Eisenhower were relatively similar to one another on the issue of civil rights for African Americans.  The main difference between them may have been brought about more by differences in their circumstances than by differences in their beliefs and attitudes.

Both of these presidents were generally in favor of African American civil rights and against discrimination and segregation.  For this reason, both of them took important actions in support of civil rights.  For example, President Truman appointed a federal committee on civil rights to investigate issues like the lynching of African Americans and to give suggestions as to how these issues might be resolved.  Truman went much further than that in July of 1948 when he banned racial discrimination in the hiring of federal employees and when he ordered that the military should desegregate.  Eisenhower also took important actions in favor of civil rights.  Under his presidency, public facilities in Washington, D.C. were desegregated, as were veterans’ hospitals.  Most famously, Eisenhower sent troops to Little Rock, Arkansas (and nationalized the Arkansas National Guard) to protect the first African American students to attend Central High School in that city.  All of these were important actions.

The main difference between the two men came in terms of their attitudes towards using law to end segregation and discrimination.  So far as we know, Truman did not voice any doubts about the efficacy of using the law to end racial discrimination.  By contrast, Eisenhower is known for his doubts on this issue.  He believed, for example, that the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education was actually a setback for civil rights.  He believed that it was impossible to force people to change by changing laws.  However, this does not necessarily mean that Truman and Eisenhower actually held different beliefs.  Unlike Truman, Eisenhower was in office at a time when more activism was occurring.  Truman did not have to think about how to deal with the fallout from Brown.  He did not have to deal with the beginnings of the Civil Rights Movement.  Therefore, it is possible that he would have said similar things (and it is possible that Eisenhower would not have said what he did if he had been president during Truman’s time).

Thus, we can see that the two presidents each took important actions to further the cause of African American rights.  There was some difference between their stated attitudes towards civil rights legislation, but this may or may not reflect real differences in their attitudes.