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Eben A. Ayers Oral History Interview, June 30, 1970

Oral History Interview with
Eben A. Ayers

Seventeen year veteran with the Associated Press. Later news editor and acting managing editor of the Providence (Rhode Island) Journal-Bulletin, after which he served in the White House as liaison for the press-radio division of the Office of Inter-American Affairs. In January, 1945, he became part of the White House staff as a press officer until he retired at the end of the Truman administration.

Washington, DC
June 30, 1970
Jerry N. Hess

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Ayers Oral History Transcripts | List of Subjects Discussed]


Notice
This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.

Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. [45]) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.

RESTRICTIONS
This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.

Opened August, 1972
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Ayers Oral History Transcripts | List of Subjects Discussed | Top of the Page]

 



Oral History Interview with
Eben Ayers

Washington, DC
June 30, 1970
Jerry N. Hess

[358]

HESS: All right, to start with today, Mr. Ayers, in your opinion, just how successful was Mr. Truman in ability to separate his individual views from the views he thought he should take because he was President?

AYERS: That's a very difficult thing to answer fairly and accurately. You're speaking particularly, I think, of civil rights. That was the question most likely to...

HESS: That's the question usually raised in this context. When Mr. Truman would make a liberal pronouncement on civil rights, or when he supported the report of October l947, the one entitled To Secure These Rights, was he actually as liberal and as forward-thinking in matters of civil rights as it would appear from his pronouncements and from the report?

AYERS: Again, I say I think that such a question calls for one person's opinion only, because I don't think anybody knows exactly. But my own opinion is that he believed in what he advocated, because it was right. He might not have been as deeply affected inside as some of the other people were because of his background. His mother was an unreconstructed southerner, and he undoubtedly had

[359]

been influenced in his lifetime by her, and family, and his residence and all that, and it may have been quite a step for him to take. But I think he took it because he thought that the time had come for these things to be done and that they were the right things. Now that isn't a very good answer, perhaps, but it's as good as I can give.

I think he believed in those things just as a lot of people today, that you and I know, believe in these things but find it hard sometimes when it comes close to home, to go out a hundred percent. He did I think. He went farther than probably people in his area would have expected him to. I don't know; that's just supposition on my part because I don't come from that part of the country, and I don't know exactly how people thought, but I can guess how some did.

HESS: All right, one other question that we have to cover either today or some time in the future, is about Mr. Truman's relationship with Robert Hannegan. Have any comments on that today?

AYERS: I don't think so. I think that I have probably in my notes somewhere, some things about it, fleeting things perhaps, but I think Mr. Truman's relationship with him was fairly close, politically, because Hannegan

[360]

had a hand in his nomination for Vice President. He was out in Chicago and had quite a hand in it, as you know, and as the records show. But I think that perhaps the time came after his appointment as Postmaster General when he went a little farther in taking advantage of that relationship than some of the people, if not the President himself, thought he should. He thought he was going to have the run of the White House I think. At least he showed up--I know he showed up for--well, I don't know whether for more than one or two or not, but one or two staff meetings in the morning, and that didn't set too well.

HESS: Do you recall who objected?

AYERS: No I don't recall offhand. I might, somewhere in my notes somewhere, might have had something about that, but I don't know how fully I ever went into it; not very deeply probably. I know that it suddenly stopped. He didn't come for very long, very often, after that.

HESS: Were there other Cabinet members who wanted to come sit in on the staff meetings?

AYERS: Not to my knowledge.

HESS: All right. And during the latter part of the Truman administration was a period that is also known as the period of McCarthyism, when Senator Joseph McCarthy was

[361]

making many of his accusations about communism. Did that cause the--did you feel that that caused the members of the White House staff to be extra cautious in some of their actions?

AYERS: I don't know of any. The only one that I recall at all, who was affected directly, was Philleo Nash. I think that McCarthy did make some crack about Philleo at one time which nobody in the White House believed, and if there was any feeling in the White House it was one against McCarthy, strengthened against McCarthy because of that. I never thought anything about McCarthy, from a personal standpoint, and I don't know of anybody in the White House who did, other than Philleo, and I don't think I ever mentioned it to Philleo, and whether any of them took any special precautions to see that they weren't plastered with the mud--I don't know.

HESS: David Lloyd was also on one of Mr. McCarthy's lists. I believe . .

AYERS: Oh, he was? I forgot.

HESS: Do you recall that?

AYERS: No, I didn't recall that. I'm not surprised. Anybody that--anybody I suppose that might have been called a liberal was likely to be on the McCarthy list at that time. I personally never met Mr. McCarthy except once.

[362]

HESS: What was the occasion?

AYERS: Well, that was a very brief meeting. I think it was prior to a dinner by the Womens' National Press Club or something like that--one of the women's newspaper group's dinners. And my wife and I were there and we were invited by some of the girls to one of the numerous cocktail parties that were held before the dinner in the hotel, and at one that we went to, there was McCarthy, and somebody introduced us. That was before McCarthy had created McCarthyism--you know what I mean.

HESS: Yes.

AYERS: And I remember talking to him briefly, my wife and I. Got to talking about cheese. He was boasting about Wisconsin cheese .

HESS: Wisconsin cheese.

AYERS: And we stood up for the old northern New York cheese. Northern New York, and our hometown was the center, it was the greatest inland cheese market in the world at one time. And so we had a little friendly discussion. He was going to send us some Wisconsin cheese, which he never did.

That was my only direct contact with Mr. McCarthy and that was enough.

HESS: All right, getting right up to the next to the last day that Mr. Truman was in the White House, have you ever heard of the situation in which the President may have

[363]

been at the Blair House on January the 19th, 1953, this was the night before General Eisenhower's inauguration, in which there was a gathering of people and at which Mr. Truman may have said that what he would be remembered for and what his administration would be remembered for, would not be the Marshall plan or point 4, but would be for reorganizing the White House office in such a manner that no future President could make a mistake. Did you ever hear anything like that?

AYERS: No, I don't think I ever did.

HESS: Did you attend any parties or cocktail parties the night before the inauguration? Do you recall?

AYERS: I don't think so. I don't recall any. I wasn't at that one. I'm sure I wasn't.

HESS: This is one that we're not even sure took place, but it's just something that we have heard, that we're trying to trace down.

AYERS: I don't recall it and I don't find any reference to it in my notes, although it may have taken place without my knowledge. The President did give a dinner on the night of December 18th for the members of his staff. Possibly that may have been the affair of which you had some report or rumor. The guests at this dinner included not only the members of his staff at that time, but some

[364]

who had been with him in earlier years and had left.

There were about forty present and it was quite an informal affair. I may have more somewhere in my accumulation of notes and papers but now I have no actual recollection whatever of the affair and no idea just who attended.

HESS: Okay. What do you recall about Mr. Truman's interest in books and his reading tastes?

AYERS: Well, I have a little note or two here somewhere; somebody I think had asked him about that, on one of our trips. It was during a little trip on the Williamsburg back in, oh, I guess l946, and someone asked what books he found the most valuable or interesting in his life, something like that. And he said, "History, the old Greeks, and other satirists, and so forth;" Mark Twain, whose writings he had read extensively.

And then there was--there had been, in fact, a month or so before that, a little incident that's rather interesting I think. He was down the river, on the Williamsburg, just a little cruise, and Charlie Ross was along. It seems, as I recall, that the President had told the newspapermen--or Ross told the newspapermen--that the President had been reading a biography of Grover Cleveland, but he couldn't recall