Editor’s Note: This is the second story in a series of four articles about persons, who made a lasting impression on the author. The other two articles will appear in this newspaper on Monday, February 5, and Monday, February 12.
BY STUART CHILTON
One of the requirements for a student enrolled in a beginning journalism reporting class at Baylor University was to write for the student newspaper, The Daily Lariat. One of my first major student reporting assignments came in October, 1948, when I was assigned to find an unusual story about President Harry Truman’s visit to Waco. I was not to cover the President’s speech, but write what editors often call, “a sidebar.”
The Lariat’s editor was a senior by the name of Andy Anderson, who later became the
Outdoors Editor on The Dallas Morning News. Andy instructed me to find such a story. I might add Andy’s son, Dee Anderson, is currently the Sheriff of Tarrant County. Andy died a few years ago from cancer.
So with pencil and paper in hand, this novice reporter proceeded to the Katy Railway station in downtown Waco. Here’s the story —
The words, “Give ‘em hell, Harry,” were the familiar chant during the 1948 presidential election between Harry Truman, Democrat; and Thomas E. Dewey, Republican.
Perhaps one should say among because two other major candidates were also vying for the White House in 1948. The other two aspirants were Henry Wallace, nominee of the Progressive Party, and who had served as Vice President under Franklin Roosevelt from 1940-44; and J. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, nominee of the States Rights Party (Dixiecrats). Most political analysts had forecast Dewey would win a landslide since Wallace and Thurmond were former Democrats and thus would siphon votes away from Truman. But this was not to be the outcome of this presidential election in November, 1948. Truman won and was returned to the White House for four more years.
During the campaign, Truman used the train to carry his message “to the people” about the “Do-Nothing 80th Congress.” Early in October, 1948, Truman’s Victory Special came to Waco.
I had seen the President once before in March, 1947, when he came to the Baylor campus to be awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree. This occasion almost split the Southern Baptist denomination, and eventually costs Pat Neff his job as President of Baylor. Some Southern Baptist termed Truman as a “whiskey drinking, poker playing Baptist.” The powers at Baylor, mainly Neff, prevailed and the man from Missouri was awarded the honorary doctorate.
As the campaign train slowly pulled into the Waco railway station that October morning in 1948, the crowd was reluctant to move away from the tracks for fear of losing their vantage point. Finally the train was able to inch past the crowd and come to a halt at its designated spot.
Among the dignitaries with the President were his wife, Bess; daughter, Margaret; and soon-to-be U.S. Senator from Texas, Lyndon B. Johnson and his wife, Lady Bird. Johnson was the Democrat’s senate nominee in the November general election.
LBJ had narrowly defeated former Texas Governor, Coke Stevenson, in the Democratic second primary in August by a margin of only 87 ballots out of more than a million votes cast.
The Democrats feared that many of the Stevenson supporters might vote for the Republican senate nominee, Jack Porter, as a result of the controversial votes from Box 13 in Jim Wells County.
During his speech, President Truman gave Johnson a good boost, urging the crowd to “move Johnson from the House of Representatives to the Senate.”
As the politicians, mostly state and local persons, appeared on the train’s back platform, each took the occasion to warm up the crowd with campaign rhetoric. Finally the President was introduced.
Located immediately south of the train were a long, row of corrugated iron warehouses, which stored bales of cotton. Approximately 10 youngsters, ranging in age from about seven to 10, were running on the almost flat warehouse roof. They were having fun and creating loud noises.
After the applause had subsided, President Truman began his speech; however, the young boys on the warehouse roof did not stop their noise, and the President soon discovered that his competition from these youngsters was too much.
Pausing in his speech and turning to his left, President Truman addressed the young and playful boys with these stern words:
“Hey, you boys up there on that roof, sit down and get quiet.”
It was almost as if the Lord Almighty had spoken. The running immediately ceased, the noise stopped, the youngsters dropped in their tracks and sat down on the roof. There would be no more noise from the rooftop on this day; however, there would be noise from the crowd as some one yelled, “Give ‘em hell, Harry.”
And President Truman carried out the audience’s wishes. In addition this writer was able to write a “sidebar” story about the President of the United States.
I had heard that President Truman could be frank and forthright in his comments.
The occasion that day convinced me the “Man from Missouri” was “a man of his word.” My admiration for him began that October day in 1948 in Waco, Texas.“
Dr. Chilton is a retired journalist/educator, who lives in Stephenville. He occasionally writes for this newspaper.