The Harry S. Truman Presidential Library in Independence, MO, is undergoing a year-long renovation that will result in a new Truman permanent exhibition, new amenities for visitors, and enhanced educational and community programming.
Yesterday, I joined Missouri Governor Mike Parson, Missouri State Senator John Rizzo, Clifton Truman Daniel (President Truman’s oldest grandson), and Library Director Kurt Graham for a ceremonial ground-breaking to mark the beginning of this major renovation and expansion project.
64 years ago, on the 8th of May in 1955, Harry S. Truman himself stuck a shovel in the ground here to launch the construction of this, our third Presidential Library in the National Archives family of presidential libraries.
When Franklin Roosevelt dedicated the first of these libraries in Hyde Park, New York, he articulated a vision for these institutions that very much guides our work to this day. He said:
“It seems to me that the dedication of a library is in itself an act of faith. To bring together the records of the past and to house them in buildings where they will be preserved for the use of men and women in the future, a Nation must believe in three things. It must believe in the past. It must believe in the future. And it must, above all, believe in the capacity of its own people so to learn from the past that they can gain in judgment in creating their own future.”
That belief in the capacity of our people to learn from the past is what drives us in our work. At a time when studies show us that 60% of U.S. citizens would flunk the U.S. citizenship test, that 25% of Americans don’t know that Freedom of Speech is protected under the First Amendment, fewer than 50% can name a single Supreme Court justice, yet 2/3 of Americans know at least one American Idol judge, and nearly 2/3 of Americans cannot name all three branches of government, yet 3 out of 4 can name all three Stooges—at a time like this the work of the Presidential Libraries is critical to the future of our democracy.
This library has led the way in using the records of this president’s administration to teach students how our government works. The White House Decision Center, pioneered here and now standard in other Presidential Libraries, provides an experiential and collaborative learning experience for sixth through 12 graders. Students assume the roles of President Truman’s cabinet members, have access to all the intelligence that the cabinet did through facsimiles from our records, and deal with the real issues before the President during his administration—ending the war with Japan, addressing postwar Civil Rights in the Armed Forces, reacting to the Soviet blockade of Berlin, and responding to the Communist invasion of South Korea.
Students learn how their government works, the three branches of government, checks and balances, rights and responsibilities.
I am extremely proud of our work here and am grateful to the Truman Institute Board and staff, my staff, and the many generous donors to this renovation project. And I think Harry S. Truman would be very pleased with our efforts. In a 1959 letter to a donor he said:
“It is my ambition to make the Library a center for the study of the Presidency…This Republic of ours is unique in the history of government and if the young people coming along in the future generations do not understand it and appreciate what they have, it will go the way of the Judges of Israel, the City State of Greece, the Great Roman Republic and the Dutch Republic.”
Thank you, Mr. President!