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William H. Foster Oral History Interview


Oral History Interview with
William H. Foster

Retired university professor, acquaintance of President Truman, and son of David K, Foster, Baptist minister, who hosted Harry S. Truman during appearances in Caruthersville, Missouri, from 1934 onward.

Independence, Missouri
June 14, 1983
by Niel M. Johnson

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


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.

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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 November, 1983
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri


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


Oral History Interview with
William H. Foster


Independence, Missouri
June 14, 1983
by Niel M. Johnson


JOHNSON: Dr, Foster, we will start by getting some background information on yourself. Would you tell me when and where you were born and the name of your parents?

FOSTER: I was born at Success, Arkansas in 1910, on April 1. I sometimes say that I came in on Halley’s comet and Mark Twain went out on it. Then we moved very shortly to a little place called Callao, Missouri, that’s in north Missouri. Then later to Bloomfield, Missouri back down in the southeast corner, to Doniphan and Caruthersville, and we lived there the longest.


JOHNSON: Caruthersville?

FOSTER: Yes. My father was pastor of that church for 27 years.

JOHNSON: Do you remember what year you moved to Caruthersville?

FOSTER: 1921.

JOHNSON: Your father was a Baptist minister?

FOSTER: He started out as a schoolteacher and Baptist minister. When I was born he was teaching school in this little town of Success and minister of the church too.

JOHNSON: We'll be talking a little bit more about him later. So you're up to Caruthersville in 1921; you're 11 years old at the time.

FOSTER: Yes sir.

JOHNSON: You went to school there; then you went to college apparently.


FOSTER: We had a junior college there at the very time I graduated in ’28, It lasted four years. It couldn't survive the depression. Anyway, I went two years and then I transferred to Murray State College (now Murray State University), in Murray, Kentucky, and I got my bachelor's degree there, in 1932.

JOHNSON: Were you intending to be a teacher?

FOSTER: I was intending to teach and coach.

JOHNSON: Your majors were what?

FOSTER: English and physical education and I taught both.

JOHNSON: You started out teaching where?

FOSTER: At Wardell, Missouri.

JOHNSON: You got that job right in the middle of the depression?

FOSTER: Right in the middle of the depression. There were fifty applicants for the one position that


I had.

JOHNSON: You were there for how long?

FOSTER: I was there for one year as teacher and coach and then I went to Portageville, Missouri as teacher and coach for two years. Then I went back to Caruthersville, my home town, as elementary principal for two years, after which I returned to Wardell as superintendent of schools for nine years -- from 1937 to 1946.

JOHNSON: And then after that?

FOSTER: After that I went west. My wife became ill and we went out there for her health. I came back to Missouri in 1966.

JOHNSON: I think you told me you were in Hobbs, New Mexico.

FOSTER: I was in Hobbs, New Mexico, and Carlsbad, Raton and Farmington -- all in New Mexico.

JOHNSON: Was it in 1966 that you joined the faculty


at Warrensburg, as a professor in the education department?


JOHNSON: You were there for how long?

FOSTER: Nine years -- until retirement in 1975.

JOHNSON: All right, let's talk about your father, We'd like to have, of course, your father's name.

FOSTER: David Kirby Foster, "D.K," he was called. He was born in Pitman, Arkansas in 1882. He grew up there and he went to a little Ouachita College in Maynard, Arkansas, It's defunct now, but that's where he got his education, He was trained for the ministry. He began teaching and preaching all at the same time and did that for three or four years, then he went full time into the ministry.

JOHNSON: Your father served in several parishes before he came to Caruthersville?


FOSTER: Yes, he started out in Maynard, Arkansas, and then to Success, and later to Callao, Missouri near Moberly. Later he served in Bloomfield, Doniphan, and Caruthersville -- all in Missouri. He retired from the ministry in Caruthersville.

JOHNSON: What church was it that he had?

FOSTER: The First Baptist Church, in Caruthersville,

JOHNSON: Your father was, of course, minister there in 1934 when Harry Truman was running for the Senate. Among the places he visited was Caruthersville. Would you explain as much as you can recall, about that event, how your father got acquainted with Mr. Truman and what resulted from that

FOSTER: When Mr. Truman came to Caruthersville, he was unknown. About the only thing that was known about him was that he was connected in some way with the Pendergast machine. He went to see the local Democratic politicians, but they weren't interested. In the conversation with one of them,


it was suggested that since he was a Baptist, or had been one, that he go to see the Baptist minister who took some interest in civic and political affairs. So he did. And my pop (as I called my father) liked him immediately. Truman said, "Well, I'd just like to be able to speak to a group here."

My pop said, "Well, I'll go to work and we'll see that you do."

He called the county presiding judge and asked for permission to use the circuit court room; then he began calling friends and everybody that he could think of and he got a pretty good turnout for Mr. Truman there that night. That was the introduction, and Mr. Truman never forgot the favor.

JOHNSON: What kind of impression did he make?

FOSTER: He made a good impression, Everyone came away from there saying, "Well, this man is straight-forward. He seems to be honest, and he's capable, We think he will do a good job." He won many votes right there that evening.


JOHNSON: But you were not there yourself?

FOSTER: No sir, I was in Portageville at the time.

JOHNSON: Your father must have talked to you about that.

FOSTER: He told me about it.

JOHNSON: What happened right after that then, anything special?

FOSTER: After that, of course, he was elected to the Senate. The fall following his election he was invited to come back to Caruthersville by the American Legion, who sponsored the county fair, and speak at the fair. He accepted the invitation, and that became an annual event. He would always go to my dad's church on Sunday. He would come down on a weekend, then he would go home with my father for dinner in the parsonage, after church.

JOHNSON: What time of year was that?

FOSTER: Usually late September and October, It started


in the last week in September, and continued into early October.

JOHNSON: So Mr. Truman made a practice of coming down there every year?

FOSTER: He did it every year.

JOHNSON: And he would first come to your father's house?

FOSTER: I suppose that after he became well acquainted with the Democratic leaders that he probably went to them first, but he always came to my dad's church, He would go home with him for dinner after church, and then we'd go on out to the fair.

JOHNSON: Do you remember the names of some of those local leaders who were influential?

FOSTER: Yes, I do. Neal Helm was one. Jim Reeves was another, along with Everett Reeves his brother, Jim Ahern was still another one, and there was Dyer Byrd, the mayor of the town, I would say


that they were probably the foremost of the Democratic leaders in that area.

JOHNSON: Did your father mix a little politics with religion, or how did this work?

FOSTER: Actually, he didn't, except that he was interested in it. Somehow or other he got the reputation of having a big vote following, and many candidates for state office would come to see him, even before Mr. Truman did. My father would always greet them cordially, and he would say, "I really don't. I've never told anyone how to vote." But he said they'd say, "Oh, Reverend Foster, we know better than that; we've been told that you control a thousand votes." He would laugh and dispute this, but it had no effect whatsoever. He still had a reputation of controlling a thousand votes.

JOHNSON: If you had to label him politically, would he be liberal politically?

FOSTER: A liberal Democrat.


JOHNSON: And strongly pro-New Deal?

FOSTER: Yes. Very strong. He was a liberal for a Baptist even in his religion, I always thought.

JOHNSON: In fact, I am wondering what might have appealed to the people in Caruthersville other than Truman's sincerity. What do you think did impress them?

FOSTER: His sincerity and straightforward talk and conversation were the things that put him across in the beginning.

JOHNSON: And did they favor strongly his policies?


JOHNSON: Was there a very strong New Deal sentiment in that part of Missouri?

FOSTER: Yes. They were ready for it, I remember in the depression we had a pretty bad time down there. I remember seeing, oh, 35 or 40 men, threatening to b