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Harry Easley Oral History Interview

Harry Easley

Oral History Interview with
Harry Easley

Friend of Harry S. Truman since 1932; associate in his political campaigns in Missouri, particularly in Mr. Truman's campaign for senator in 1940; political adviser to Mr. Truman in regard to the Southwest Missouri area; and former treasurer of the Central District Democratic Committee.

Webb City, Missouri
August 24, 1967
by J. R. Fuchs

See also Harry Easley Papers finding aid

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | 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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 December 1967
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

 

[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]

 



Oral History Interview with
Harry Easley

 

Webb City, Missouri
August 24, 1967
by J. R. Fuchs

 

[1]

FUCHS: Mr. Easley, would you relate a little of your background to start this interview?

EASLEY: My folks came to southwestern Missouri about three generations ago, and I was born and raised in Webb City. I attended the public schools here, after which I obtained the bulk of my education at the hands of private tutors and finally went to work for the Atlas Powder Company, at a plant situated not far from Webb City, as a chemist. I was situated at this plant several years and subsequently transferred to one of the company plants in southwestern Pennsylvania where I was supervisor in charge of chemical

 

[2]

operations. I moved from this particular plant to Tamaqua, Pennsylvania, where I became the superintendent of the heavy chemical division of the plant and remained in this capacity, spending my time between Wilmington, Delaware, and Reynoldsville, Pennsylvania, until 1931, at which time I resigned and returned to Webb City. This came about through the murder of my brother-in-law, and there were no other male members of either family to carry on the family business. I engaged in business then with my father-in-law, Mr. A. D. Hatten, and ultimately took over the management of the Webb City Bank, with which my family had been associated for many years. Our family owned controlling interest in the Independence Ice and Creamery Company Plant at Independence, Missouri, and it was managed by my brother-in-law, Alvin Hatten. I was on the board and had occasion to visit Independence frequently. During these visits I met many townspeople, and among them

 

[3]

was Judge Truman, who used to come to the American Legion affairs, and I learned to know him quite well.

FUCHS: What year would you have met him, do you know?

EASLEY: This occurred in about 1932, at which time Mr. Truman was presiding judge of the county court of Jackson County. My acquaintance with him continued and I got to know many other people around Independence, including Roger Sermon who was mayor, and a political luminary, as it were. Finally, there was talk of Mr. Truman running for the United States Senate on the Democratic ticket.

FUCHS: What was your first impression of Mr. Truman?

EASLEY: I found that he was a very congenial person and had the ability of meeting people well, and he possessed a great deal of energy, and it

 

[4]

seemed to me that he was bent on achieving something worthwhile in life, I was very favorably impressed with Mr. Truman; so when it was finally determined after Mr. Aylward decided that he would not run for the Senate, or Mr. Shannon, on account of his health, also would not run, it then appeared that Mr. Truman was destined to make this race. I was contacted and it was requested that I meet with Judge Truman and attempt to show him around over the territory down in southwest Missouri and afford him an opportunity to meet a number of Democrats in the territory, inasmuch as he was not familiar with the area and was entirely without any acquaintances,

FUCHS: What were the principal counties that you would have taken in in such a tour?

EASLEY: Well, in this we started in the tier of counties extending from Nevada to the Arkansas

 

[5]

line, a double tier of counties there consisting of about thirteen counties, Finally we moved on over into Greene County and established some excellent connections over there with Mr. Howard Hannah, particularly; and Lester Cox, who was a prominent manufacturer in Springfield, also was interested in Mr. Truman's candidacy, which helped us considerably, especially from a financial point of view.

I might add that the contacts with Lester Cox were made through Mr. Dan Nee, who was at that particular time serving as collector of internal revenue for western Missouri and located in Kansas City. I had known Lester Cox for many years. As the campaign progressed, it began to appear that Mr. Truman was gaining in our part of the country, which we figured consisted of about thirty counties. These counties were ordinarily Republican, but of course this happened to be a Democratic primary, and that's what we were

 

[6]

primarily concerned with. John Cochran, out of St. Louis, appeared to be the principal person who was offering the most opposition, but Mr. Truman steadily gained on Cochran, who was Representative from St. Louis, Missouri. Tuck Milligan was the other opposition, and we ran into some trouble. He was essentially a Bennett Clark man, and the old Bennett Clark group were pretty well fighting Mr. Truman at this particular stage of the game. They fought him pretty bitterly, as it were. However, Truman consistently gained ground and finally won the election hands down, I think by about 40,000 votes, if I remember rightly.

After he was elected I had the opportunity to see him sworn into the Senate. He was somewhat handicapped by Clark's crowd. Because of seniority, Bennett was the man in the saddle. They were very aggressive, Mr. Truman had a substantial amount of difficulty obtaining

 

[7]

recognition on patronage. The situation continued until the WPA was set up in about 1934. At that time on account of the kind of campaign he had conducted, he had made himself widely known among all Democratic politicians across the state. As a result of this acquaintanceship and the influence that he could bring to bear, he was in a position to pretty well set up the WPA organization in Missouri, and most of the people in the key positions were Truman people when it came to the showdown. There was quite a lot of friction for quite some time with the Clark crowd, to the extent that there were even fisticuffs engaged in by the proponents of these two fellows from time to time. Along in about 1935 when the organization of the WPA was being set up, I was being considered for director of the southwest Missouri area. However, Matthew Murray, who had been named the state administrator, called me to Jefferson City and said that on account

 

[8]

of certain qualifications I possessed, Mr. Hopkins had recommended that they consider me for personnel director in the Jefferson City office. Well, I was reluctant to leave home. They told me that it would only take about ninety days to set the organization up and that I would be free to do what I wanted to after that. As things turned out I was in the organization for more than three years before I got out of it. It developed into a tremendous program, which at one time had 142,000 people on the payroll in the State of Missouri alone. So that is sort of the manner in which I became acquainted with Mr. Truman, and as time passed, on account of the very nature of my work, I of course corresponded with him constantly on matters of patronage, and on the development of the program as it affected our state. During the interval I think the relationship between Senator Clark and Senator Truman became more warm, the strained relationship at

 

[9]

least seemed to disappear as time passed. But definitely Mr. Truman was the person who had to be reckoned with insofar as matters political were concerned, so far as they affected the Works Projects Administration. I continued my work with this group and ultimately administered the program. In 1937, early in the year, I finally resigned my position, primarily because of the press of personal business.

FUCHS: What was your title?

EASLEY: I, at the time, was deputy administrator. They had no administrator. Murray had been holding down two jobs. He was the director of public works in Kansas City. He received pay for that. He was also Works Projects administrator and he left the responsibility of running the organization on me, and I would frequently go for weeks at a time when I would never even see him. This was not a very happy

 

[10]

situation and they changed my title, consequently, from that of assistant administrator to deputy administrator; and there was still a sufficient amount of interference, particularly from Kansas City from Mr. Murray and City Manager McElroy, as far as our projects were concerned. It gave me a substantial amount of trouble. I finally broke with them because they were expecting me to sign projects for millions of dollars sight unseen that I had no knowledge of, and this I refused to do. It was essentially and primarily for this reason that I decided that on account of the fact that my business was suffering and there was nobody to run it, I thought it would be a good time to get out, which I did.

FUCHS: Were you living in Jefferson City during this period?

EASLEY: I lived at the Missouri Hotel. I had an apartment there, and then I would come home

 

[11]

frequently, most every weekend and look after my affairs down here.

FUCHS: To go back a minute, did you know about a movement in 1931 to run Mr. Truman for governor? I understand you met him in approximately 1932, but I was just wondering?

EASLEY: No, the only thing -- I never heard that -- I know that Mr. Truman told me himself that he wanted to be collector of Jackson County at one time, but he could never get the proper endorsement. He was once defeated, I think the only time he was ever defeated for public office, and in that interval, he was made director of the Missouri State Employment Service and it was operated at Jefferson City. He would go back and forth, and I know that he held that job for a while until he went back onto the court. But I never knew of him to have been mentioned for statewide office.

 

[12]

FUCHS: There are two stories about his aspiration to be county collector: one referring to 1926, when he subsequently ran for the presiding judgeship, and the other story places it in 1934 when it turned out that he ran for the Senate. Do you know when he had this aspiration, when he hoped to be county collector?

EASLEY: I always understood that it was prior to the time that he ultimately ran for county judge. That's my understanding.

FUCHS: One young historian has written in his doctoral dissertation that Cochran simply entered as a stalking horse for Truman in 1934. Do you have a comment on that?

EASLEY: No, I knew Mr. Cochran. He was a dedicated man. He had a very strong following in St. Louis and he had made an outstanding Congressman. He was crippled. He only had one leg and he had a handicap on that account. I think Mr. Cochran

 

[13]

was a fine gentleman, he ran a fine campaign, and I don't believe he'd be a party to that, and I am sure that he was in that campaign to win. That's my feeling about it. He made a hard campaign and if St. Louis had been organized from the Democratic Party standpoint at that particular time, as well as it subsequently became organized, Mr. Cochran would probably have defeated Mr. Truman in my opinion. I think that there was a lot of ill will between the Clark crowd and the Truman crowd and that's why Tuck Milligan ran. I've always admired Mr. Truman's ability to forgive people who do him injury, and have done him injury; and his own cousin, "Snapper" Truman, supported Tuck Milligan and worked against him in this particular campaign, as well as in subsequent campaigns. Finally, it's a matter of record that Mr. Truman favored "Snapper" Truman's family and was very kind to him and very good to him in later years.

 

[14]

FUCHS: You say that he supported Tuck Milligan in the '34 campaign, but do you know that he also supported other opponents of Truman in subsequent campaigns?

EASLEY: Those others, who were in the campaign are of the opinion that he also supported Maurice Milligan, when Maurice Milligan ran against Mr. Truman at the time he defeated Governor Stark.

FUCHS: Who do you remember as being Mr. Truman's campaign manager in 1934?

EASLEY: I really don't think that Mr. Truman had any campaign manager in 1934. To me, from the standpoint of having an organized campaign, he just didn't have it, and he managed his own campaign, in my opinion, and worked tirelessly and endlessly to bring about his own election.

FUCHS: I see. The reason I asked, one account I have read says that James Aylward was his manager,

 

[15]

and another says that Fred Canfil was his manager, and I just wanted your comment about this.

EASLEY: My feeling is, I know Mr. Jim Aylward and he was chairman of the Democratic State Committee, and he is a fine man and he's a great organizer. Undoubtedly he threw the weight of the State Democratic Committee behind Mr. Truman. It's a well-known fact, however, that had Mr. Aylward wanted to run for the Senate, that he had an opportunity to do so before Mr. Truman was offered an opportunity. And I think that the records will also show that when he turned it down, there had been a lot of friction between the Rabbits and the Goats in Kansas City, which was the Pendergast and the Shannon factions of the Democratic Party, and that Mr. Pendergast, after Aylward's refusal attempted to get Mr. Joe Shannon to run for the Senate. Upon his refusal he then concentrated on Mr. Truman. There were several reasons. I think that Mr. Pendergast and

 

[16]

the organization, as such, felt like that here was a man that had a good record as county Judge, and while he wasn't one hundred percent for the Pendergast organization, why, he had a lot of qualities that would go over in out-state Missouri. He was a Protestant, he was a Baptist, he was a Mason, he had a lot of qualities which at that time were important factors in out-state Missouri particularly. I think Mr. Pendergast was a real smart politician. I've always had that feeling. And those things were the things in close elections that put a man over, you know, definitely. But as far as the manager was concerned, I saw a lot of his campaigns in those early days and he was a poor man, and he was a tireless worker, and we didn't have organizations aid campaign managers and big organizations to carry a man along in those days that we do now.

FUCHS: Do you know of a subsequent falling out, so to speak, between Mr. Truman and James Aylward?

 

[17]

EASLEY: No, I do not. Jim Aylward, later on, dropped out of politics pretty well. In other words, he always stayed on the outer edge, but to get in actively, I always had the feeling about Mr. Aylward that after President Roosevelt got Milligan into the position he was in, and "took in" after Mr. Pendergast and Matthew Murray and Mr. McElroy and the group up there, I always had the feeling that Mr. Aylward never had the interest in politics anymore that he had prior to that time.

FUCHS: We mentioned Fred Canfil. Could you put anything on the record as to how Mr. Truman became acquainted with him, and what their relationship was?

EASLEY: They had a very close relationship. Of course, I have no way of knowing how far back it extended. My impression always was that Fred Canfil's first political contact was made

 

[18]

with Mr. Pendergast, and possibly through this connection he became well-acquainted with Mr. Truman, and Mr. Truman did favor him with political appointments. I know that, while Fred was a rather rough and ready type of person, he possessed the quality of being exceedingly loyal to his friends to the extent that he would fight for them or do whatever was necessary to protect them. Sometimes he might have been mistaken, but he was sincere in what he did, and I think Fred was an honest fellow, and certainly he had a dog-like devotion for Mr. Truman always, to the extent that he arrayed himself against many good friends of Mr. Truman's. And, in my opinion, many times Fred was correct, which events have proven, because from my relationship with him I know what has subsequently happened. He had many good qualities that lots of people didn't recognize. So far as being loyal and honest and devoted to Mr. Truman there was never

 

[19]

a doubt about that.

FUCHS: Do you think that Mr. Truman relied upon his judgment in many cases?

EASLEY: In many cases; many times he did. I know of instances where, when Mr. Truman didn't want to send anyone else out, he would send Fred Canfil; because Fred would do exactly what he asked him to, and he'd take the word back exactly the way that he found it. I know in many cases this has been true.

FUCHS: Are there any examples that you would care to relate where Mr. Canfil went to bat for Mr. Truman?

EASLEY: Well, on one occasion when a friend of Mr. Truman's made disparaging remarks I saw Mr. Canfil strike him down. So I would say that when he was fired up, he was ready for action most any time. By the same token, I don't think

 

[20]

this is an unusual thing. I spoke before about the bitterness that existed between the cohorts of Senator Clark and friends of Mr. Truman. On occasion they would get together at Jefferson City and it wasn't an uncommon thing to see some of them show up the next morning with black eyes, and have stories of what happened out on the town the night before. I saw quite a lot of that.

FUCHS: What was the basic factor, as you would see it, in this bitterness between the two camps, Truman's and Bennett Clark's?

EASLEY: Well, Bennett Clark. got off the ground first. He had a famous father, and during the war, like Mr. Truman, Bennett Clark soldiered with a lot of fellows, and when he got in a position where he could favor them, he did. He gave them jobs. Senator Clark was a strange person in many ways. He didn't expect these people to have to work or do a lot of things. I had some of them working for me; it was difficult to get anything out of them.

 

[21]

If they didn't like the way you were doing something, they'd call the Senator on the phone, or write him a letter, and he'd call you back immediately and dress you down. You see, they had a sense of loyalty and I can name fellows like Redick O'Brien, Neal Williams, Pat Noonan, Hap Rothwell and Fount Rothwell -- they were all good fellows. I liked them, but they didn't do Clark any good. All of them were -- well, anytime he'd get a job for them, it was a sincecure and it reflected on the Senator. It didn't help him, because they weren't doing him any good, wherever they might be. The aftermath of the thing as far as Senator Clark was concerned -- I can recall when he was running for the Senate, and Mr. Truman tried to do everything he could to help him, but Bennett had developed to the point where he lost complete contact with the state. Ed Villimore was his secretary, and we had a big meeting arranged for Clark, for instance, down

 

[22]

in Springfield, On Lester Cox's farm one night. He never even showed up. I don't know how long it had been since he had been to Missouri, and it wasn't any wonder when it came down to the tape that he was defeated by Roy McKittrick. Roy McKittrick went all over the state with a bunch of cards in either pocket and campaigned from house to house. Well, Bennett then started doing a lot of drinking and he didn't take care of himself at all; and he went on and, of course, McKittrick ultimately lost, but Clark was in Washington without a job and he was in a deplorable state. I can recall one night that Adolphus Busch had a Missouri party at the Shoreham Hotel, and I attended this party along with many Missourians who happened to be in Washington at the time. We left the party, and I left with Jim Pendergast and Dick Nacy, and Victor Messall, and we got out in the hall and we found Senator Clark sitting in a big chair out there. He was completely

 

[23]

stoned. He was unshaven, unkempt and in a deplorable condition; here was a man who had the opportunity to probably be one of the greatest statesmen that the State of Missouri had ever produced. He had all the qualifications and it was a sad thing. We got a bellboy and found out where his room was and we carried the chair over and put it on the elevator and took him up to his room. Now, this is something that you don't know whether you want to tell people, you see what I mean?

FUCHS: Yes.

EASLEY: It's just one of those things. That happened, see. After Senator Clark got his feet on the ground again, straightened out, what happens? Well, old Harry Truman gave him a job down in Washington as a judge in the District court; that was a sinecure for him for the rest of his life. He took care of Bennett Clark, but Bennett

 

[24]

Clark was a very bitter enemy of Harry Truman from a political point of view for a long period of years. In that book right there there's some pictures -- let me have it and I'll show this to you -- that scrapbook, which shows the Democratic Party in Missouri in happier days. I'd like you to see this. There's a picture there of a bunch of WPA officials around here, Matt Murray. Here, that was in 1936, see, we had the Democratic State Convention in Joplin.

FUCHS: Sam Wear, Governor Park with Truman.

EASLEY: Here's Park, Pendergast, and here's Jim and Allen McReynolds and myself. And here's old Grover James who was our county chairman at the time! There's Clark -- old Bennett got drunk down here. He was supposed to make the keynote speech and couldn't make it. Here's Redick O'Brien and Pat Noonan and Williams, they accused the Truman group of getting him drunk, which was a stupid thing. We went out to the hotel and he

 

[25]

failed to show up; he was locked in his room. They kicked in the bottom of the door and crawled in, and of course, he was soused. That was 1936, you see.

FUCHS: One scholar has written that Aylward declined to run in '34 because he didn't want to take the abuse that would come his way because of his connection with Pendergast. Would you care to comment on that?

EASLEY: I am inclined to think that probably there is a great deal of truth in that. Jim was a very ethical lawyer, and he had a family and was widely known. In the back of his mind, while he was an awfully good politician, I think he was worried about this senatorial race and what it might develop into, and I don't think he wanted to subject himself to all of the things that might have shown up. That's my honest opinion.

 

[26]

FUCHS: Victor Messall, who became Mr. Truman's secretary, was from down in this area. Would you give a little of Messall's background, as you recall it?

EASLEY: I first knew Vic Messall back in high school days. He came down here from western Kansas with his mother and they settled down, He was the only child. He used to work around the drugstores while he was a boy, with Jackson Drugstores, including the one here. We had a lawyer in Joplin, Frank Lee, who ran for the legislature here one year and was elected on the Democratic ticket; and he took Vic up to Jefferson City with him for a couple of years and indoctrinated him with a political outlook. In 1932 then, Frank ran for Congress. In that particular year the candidates were elected at large, and I think there were sixty-five on the ballot. He went to Kansas City and got the endorsement of the Kansas City organization and

 

[27]

got on their slate, and with whatever support he got he was elected to the House of Representatives; and at that time he took Vic on back to Washington with him, and Vic served as his secretary for two years. In the meantime Mr. Truman had been elected United States Senator, and he felt like he needed to have someone who knew the ropes around Washington. He hired Vic Messall to work in his office because Lee, in the meantime, had been defeated and Vic was without a job. He did stay with Mr. Truman and ultimately became his secretary. Vic knew a lot of people in Missouri and, in my opinion, was able to give the Senator a lot of good sound advice and help around Washington. The very fact that he knew quite a few Missourians was also very helpful to Mr. Truman. Vic continued in this position until -- as a matter of fact he was well liked by the other senators and by their secretaries and whatnot, and he became president of the Little

 

[28]

Senate group. A couple of years later he left Mr. Truman to enter into public relations work and he still has an office but on account of his health he's not performing very much.

FUCHS: It is known that there was an estrangement between Senator Truman and Victor Messall. Do you have any comment on that?

EASLEY: Well, I think, and it is my feeling that as the Senator became better known, Vic, of course became better known, and it was alleged that he used the Senator's office and the Senator's influence to further his own interests. This became a constant and continual complaint among Mr. Truman's friends that this condition existed, and that he should do something about it. And I know from my relationship with both of them that he was reluctant to do anything about it. So ultimately the relationship did become very strained, and a number of people discussed with me the possibility of going back to Washington as Mr. Truman's secretary,

 

[29]

which I had no ambition to do. Finally, Victor, when he did get ready to step down, I think things were pretty much at a breaking point; and when he did step down Bill Boyle, who was from Kansas City and did know the people and had all the political credentials, stepped into the office in his stead.

FUCHS: Well, now, there's a letter in your file, written in May '36, from you to Mr. Truman in which you said the story was being circulated that you were resigning to become Mr. Truman's secretary, and you wanted some assistance in stopping this story. Would this have been what you just referred to, that early?

EASLEY: Yes, it started that early, and it continued until Bill Boyle finally, I believe, stepped into the office.

FUCHS: I believe Harry Vaughan succeeded Messall in '41.

 

[30]

EASLEY: I'm sorry, that's right, in '41, This continued until that time, and until he did take over. Harry was in the office for some time before he took over as secretary.

FUCHS: I believe that Boyle took over when Vaughan went back into the service, is that correct?

EASLEY: That's right, that is correct.

FUCHS: Do you have any comments about those two gentlemen and their relative merits?

EASLEY: Well, from the political point of view, Vaughan had no standing at all. He was unknown in the State of Missouri. He had been associated with Mr. Truman and his assignment was credited entirely to the influence of Mr. John Snyder. It is alleged that that is the manner in which Harry Vaughan got into the picture. And it was a surprise to many of Mr. Truman's friends because they had never heard of Vaughan, never

 

[31]

seen him, didn't know him, and he did not know the people of the state and he did not know how to communicate with them after he got in a position where he should have been able to carry things out.

FUCHS: Do you think Mr. Truman's work suffered some from having Vaughan there for a period of time?

EASLEY: My personal opinion is that it did. With all of his shortcomings, Victor Messall knew the people, and I don't think Mr. Truman had competent help in the office -- politically I'm talking about now, I'm not talking about the ability of these people to do things from a personal standpoint, but politically, his office suffered a great deal during the time of Harry Vaughan and Bill Boyle.

FUCHS: What was Boyle's relationship and background as you recall?

 

[32]

EASLEY: Of course, Bill was an attorney, and not a very successful one. He had been chairman of the Jackson County Democratic Committee, and he was well-known there, and Bill was a "sunshine Irishman," and everybody loved him; but he was out of his element in Washington, and it was very much a surprise when he was finally elevated to the chairmanship of the National Committee. He had a hard time controlling his appetite for liquor. Bill was smart, had a fine personality and I liked him very much, but when Bill was in his cups he was useless.

FUCHS: Do you think there was someone who urged his employment on Mr. Truman, or was it solely Senator Truman's doing?

EASLEY: I think he took it on endorsement from political friends in Kansas City, for the reason that Bill wasn't known outside of Kansas City.

FUCHS: Who might they have been?

 

[33]

EASLEY: I think perhaps Jim Pendergast and the group that was allied with him. Dick Nacy had a great deal of influence with Mr. Truman and, of course, Jim's daughter was married to Dick's son. So, there naturally had to be a close relationship between Jim and Dick, and Bill fell into line accordingly.

FUCHS: You, as administrator of WPA, were well acquainted with Matthew Murray. Do you have any comments about him and his subsequent troubles?

EASLEY: Matt Murray was one of the finest men I ever knew. He was one of the most truthful. I think that his trouble with the Government arose from the fact that he trusted everybody and he tried to please everybody. Matt had been an engineer with the state highway department, and did an outstandingly fine job as a

 

[34]

bureau chief. He had a lot of fine contacts in southeast Missouri. He lived around Charleston and Sikeston for years and he was a political powerhouse down in that part of the state. He ultimately went into Kansas City and he became director of public works there, and he loved Mr. McElroy and trusted all his friends. He thought a great deal of John Pryor and Bill Boyle. They were both affiliated with the organization and getting a lot of paving contracts and whatnot. I think that a lot of money fell into Matt's hands, and he was a very free spender and I don't think he kept any record. I think that he was swayed by his friends, and at the time that Matt Murray was finally prosecuted there was a lot of political persecution because of Maurice Milligan being on the other end of it. But I don't think Matt Murray was dishonest; I don't think he was corrupt; he spread himself out too thin; my

 

[35]

relationship with him was excellent aside from the fact that he loved Kansas City and he would penalize, if he could, the entire State of Missouri for the benefit of Kansas City, as witnessed by the paving of Brush Creek. He laid out and helped design the memorial hall up there, the juvenile court building and the City Hall. All of these things happened while he was there. He built the airport in Kansas City, and while it's becoming obsolete now it's still about the only major airport in the United States where you can be uptown in five minutes, you know. He had visions. He could look ahead. I was very fond of him. But when I left the WPA, I couldn't stand there in good conscience and let Kansas City take all the funds that should have been distributed over the remainder of the states, which, of course, is what they were doing without any conscience. That was not a personal thing, it was a thing that I had to conclude in my own

 

[36]

good time, but it had nothing to do with any bad relationship I might have had with Matthew Murray.

FUCHS: I believe that when you resigned in February you wrote Mr. Truman that part of your reason for resigning was personal integrity. That's what you just referred to?

EASLEY: That's correct. Those are the things that you can't let your guard down on.

FUCHS: Who was Walker Burriss? There seems to be considerable correspondence in your file about Walker Burriss,

EASLEY: Walker Burriss was district director of the Works Projects Administration, the WPA setup, for southwestern Missouri. He was very active in politics. He knew all the politicians, and while he ran WPA he politicked a great deal.

FUCHS: You don't care to say any more about him?

 

[37]

EASLEY: No, not particularly. He's dead now.

FUCHS: In 1938 Senator Truman supported Senator Clark. Is there anything you recall of interest about that?

EASLEY: Well, it was just another one of those things. Like I said awhile ago, their relationship after the 1934 election steadily improved and these people who had attached themselves to the Senator fell by the wayside, the friends that inspired Clark to a point of enmity there against Senator Truman gradually lessened. They didn't disappear altogether, but they lessened a great deal.

FUCHS: You wrote Senator Truman in March 1939 that the Young Democratic Convention at Joplin had been, you thought, packed for Dwight Brown and you said "they mended things up," and you thought Canfil had a hand in the deal, and you also thought it was best if Canfil would stay

 

[38]

away from Jasper County.You said something to the effect that Canfil was aligned with Grover James and George Haworth, who "use patronage rightfully belonging to you." Could you elucidate on that a little bit, if you care to?

EASLEY: Well, I'll tell you what happened. That was in a period that I didn't even know Canfil. That's how I learned that he had a great deal of influence with Senator Truman. The people down here, the organizational group, knew that I had expended a lot of time and effort and some money on behalf of Senator Truman, and so they wanted me for this area job down here. And Truman, I think, originally was inclined to go along with it.

FUCHS: This was a job as...

EASLEY: …as district director of WPA. Well, then the next thing that happened was his attitude changed somewhat, and there was a fellow down here by the name of George Haworth, and he had

 

[39]

never been too active politically but the local chairman of the Democratic Party, who was Grover James, was aligned with him and Fred Canfil was aligned with Haworth. And I learned that they were trying to give me a real bad time. However, I didn't particularly want the thing anyway. The next thing that happened, as I pointed out to you awhile ago, Matt Murray called me into Jefferson City. He had been named as director and he wanted me to have an interview with Mr. Hopkins, and on account of the Pendergast organization they felt that since I had had personnel experience and whatnot, I could cope with political problems at that level better than I could down here as district director. Well, I refused to accept this job and came on home. You'll see it in this scrapbook here. And Murray called me back in, and Mr. Truman got in touch with me and so did Bennett Clark. I went back in for an interview and that was when they told me, wouldn't I take it

 

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for just ninety days. Well, I knew that was to get me out of the way so they could appoint Haworth down here. I had no feeling against George; he was a good friend of mine, as a matter of fact, and I thought, well, if it will help them out any, "I'll take it on for ninety days." But I was in there from that time on up until I finally quit. But that is the reply to your question. And the strange thing about it was, I did take this personnel job and the first time I ever met Fred Canfil, he came down to Jefferson City, and I was in the personnel office. Mr. Pendergast used to sign his name in red ink on letters of endorsement, and I was told that I didn't dare ignore one of those -- I had to put that person to work immediately. So, I made it a point to never put anybody to work that brought me a red penciled letter from Mr. Pendergast. It caused me some discomfort at the local level, but that's a fact. And Fred Canfil came to my office and in the first conversation I ever had with him,

 

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he said, "I go down to see the Boss regularly, at a certain time. He sends those letters out," he said, "but what I want you to realize and what he wants you to realize is that some of these damn fools come and sit in his office for hours on end to try to get a letter out of him. Sometimes he'll give them a letter to get rid of them. "So, he said, "I don't blame you for the action you have taken, and he doesn't blame you either." That was the first inkling of that I ever had, and it was the first time that I ever met Fred Canfil and that was the kind of a conversation we had. From then on he used to come in and see me every once in a while, but he never attempted to influence me. Anytime I was with the Federal Government he never asked me to do anything that wasn't according to Hoyle. Anything that he ever asked me to do, he would ask me to do because he thought it would be helpful to Mr. Truman. He never wanted anything

 

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for himself.

FUCHS: In that letter there you felt that quite a few people were a little bit disenchanted with Canfil at that time, and that's why you said he ought to stay out.

EASLEY: That's right, that's right. Well, they were, because all my friends when they got to seeing the weight he was throwing around, you know, why, they didn't appreciate it.

FUCHS: How did you participate in the '40 campaign? And in that connection, I want to ask you about the meeting in early 1940, January, I believe it was, in the Hotel Statler in St. Louis. Your memories of that, who was there and so forth?

EASLEY: I'm quite sure that I had a letter from Mr. Truman and then he had Victor Messall call me, urging me to attend a meeting, and that

 

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they'd like to talk to me, and I did. I know I went up on the train and I spent the night up there. They were registered at the Statler and they had quarters for me, and I spent the night, and we talked over the political situation, on account of my connections with WPA and the fact that we had over 42,000 people working in St. Louis. There were many key people in the WPA organization, who had contacts; they were committee people, they were active in precinct politics, at higher levels. We discussed all this and I made a list and suggested people, making arrangements for them to be there the next day. I distinctly remember that I talked to Gene Gualdoni, Frank Tomasso, Jimmy Miller -- he's the J.P. I told you about who said, "We vote them out where I live like a machine." Of course, Gene was a committeeman out on what they call "Guinea Hill" and that was the most populous ward in St. Louis, and still is. He is still a committeeman, and incidentally has charge of the Kiel Auditorium

 

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in St. Louis. At the time I talked to him he was park commissioner. So, we talked to Jack Dwyer, and there was another one; Jack was chairman of the city committee. However, Jack, before I left, had not gotten up, but he was going to support Mr. Truman, and he had a great deal of influence. Since there was no one there from the western side of the state, I called my brother-in-law, Alvin Hatten, and he said that he would be in the next day and that he'd bring Roger Sermon and probably Bill Sermon. However, Bill didn't come; Roger did. I also called Dan Nee, who was Internal Revenue collector in Ka