September 4, 2018 – I was curious what President Truman was doing on my birthday, 72 years ago. I found this remarkable statement written on September 4, 1946, decrying the evils of discrimination and the harm it does to our people and to our nation. The President wrote to thank Charles G. Boldt, chair of the American Veterans Committee, for his support of a commission to open educational opportunities “for all able young people.” Some historians say Truman was right on all the big issues and wrong on all the little ones. This was a big issue, and he was right.
Dear Mr. Bolte:
I appreciate your favorable response to the establishment of the National Commission on Higher Education and welcome your support of its work.
I am keenly aware of the fundamental problem of discrimination in education to which you have called specific attention, and of the broader problem of intolerance which this discrimination symbolizes. Those who sincerely desire to see the fullest expression of our democracy can never rest until the opportunity for an education, at all levels, has been given to all qualified Americans, regardless of race, creed, color, national origin, sex or economic status.
It was with this principle very clearly in mind that I asked the members of the Commission to consider “ways and means of expanding educational opportunities for all able young people.” I am pleased that the Commission, in its first meeting recently concluded, has decided to deal specifically with this problem. I am sure that the members of the Commission will spare no effort in devising methods for eliminating existing barriers of discrimination affecting educational opportunity in our institutions of higher learning.
We have only recently completed a long and bitter war against intolerance and hatred in other lands. A cruel price in blood and suffering was paid by the American people in bringing that war to a successful conclusion. Yet, in this country today there exists disturbing evidence of intolerance and prejudice similar in kind, though perhaps not in degree, to that against which we fought the war.
Discrimination, like a disease, must be attacked wherever it appears. This applies to the opportunity to vote, to hold and retain a job, and to secure adequate shelter and medical care no less than to gain an education compatible with the needs and ability of the individual.
Very sincerely yours,
HARRY S. TRUMAN
[Mr. Charles G. Bolte, Chairman, American Veterans Committee, Inc., 1860 Broadway, New York 23, N.Y.]