Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
Opened March, 1991
Oral History Interview with
January 20, 1989
by Niel M. Johnson
Topics discussed include politics in Mississippi County, Missouri; Truman's Senatorial campaign of 1934; Young Democrats of America; civil rights and the Missouri state legislature in 1949; National Urban League; desegregation in the U.S. Navy in 1945; Democratic Party politics in Missouri in 1952; nomination of Stuart Symington as Democratic Senatorial candidate in 1952; President Truman's national health insurance proposal; President Truman and civil rights; dismissal of General MacArthur; relationship of President Truman with Governor Forrest Smith; Inaugural of 1949; Stuart Symington and the Democratic national convention of 1960; and President Truman's offer of the 1952 Democratic nomination to Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Names mentioned include Roy Baker, William Boyle, Bennett Clark, Clark Clifford, Matthew Connelly, J.V. Conran, Forrest Donnell, India Edwards, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Lyman Field, J. Grant Fyre, Ernest G. Gilmore, Kay Glass, Lester Granger, John R. Hahn, Ted Hankins, Roy Harper, Ira Haymaker, Neal Helm, Thomas Hennings, Clarence Hicks, Harry Hopkins, Elmo Hunter, Herman Johnson, Clare Jones, James P. Kem, John F. Kennedy, Frank Knox, Ray Lucas, Charles Markham, Jim Meredith, Richard Nacy, Everett O'Neal, Jim Pendergast, Tom Pendergast, Tony Sestrik, Forrest Smith, Sid Solomon, Lloyd Stark, Hinkle Statler, Adlai Stevenson, Harold Stuart, Stuart Symington, J.E. Taylor, Vern Taylor, Harry S. Truman, and John Wells.
JOHNSON: I'm going to start out, Mr. Gilmore, by asking you for some background. Would you give us the date and place of your birth, and the names of your parents?
GILMORE: I was born December 25, 1911, in the area of East Prairie, Missouri. My father's name was Ernest G. Gilmore, and my mother's name was Maude B. Gilmore.
JOHNSON: What was the name of the place where you were born?
GILMORE: East Prairie.
JOHNSON: And that's located where?
GILMORE: It's in Mississippi County, Missouri. Mississippi County is down in what we call the bootheel of Missouri, southeast Missouri, and that's where I hail from.
JOHNSON: Is that bottom land there?
JOHNSON: Mississippi bottom land.
JOHNSON: Cotton country.
GILMORE: Yes, it used to be almost all cotton.
JOHNSON: Do you have any brothers or sisters?
GILMORE: I have a brother named George W. Gilmore; he's a lawyer in Sikeston, Missouri. That's near where we were born. I had another brother that died when he was aged 37, and his name was Ferd M. Gilmore. He also lived down at Charleston, Missouri but he was in Washington, D. C. going to law school when he died; he just died abruptly with a heart attack, without any previous experience with heart trouble. I had two sisters. [One is] Juanita Gilmore Long; her husband Roy Long is now deceased, and she lives in Sikeston, Missouri. I have another sister, Ernestine Gilmore Wright; she was always from Charleston, Missouri. Her husband was in the Army for thirty years; he got his law degree about the time he got out, and they lived at Charleston, Missouri.
Then they moved to Jefferson City, where he was supervisor of liquor control under Warren Hearnes, when Warren was Governor. They now live in Cape Coral, Florida.
JOHNSON: How about your education? Where did you go to school?
GILMORE: I went to school at the local grade school and high school in East Prairie; then went to Missouri U [University]. Well, I went to the Naval Academy first.
JOHNSON: After high school?
GILMORE: Yes. I went to the Naval Academy, and I was there just a little over a year, and then I got out because I was deficient in calculus. Then I came back and went to Missouri U, and finished my pre-law work, and did my first two years of law school there. But then I wanted to go out west to summer school. I started out to Boulder, Colorado, and I stopped at Topeka just to see what that law school was like at Washburn, and I liked it so well, I stayed there for summer school. I liked that so well I stayed there and finished my last year. So, my degree is from Washburn, in Topeka. I think that's the extent of my education, the L.L.B.
JOHNSON: What year was it you got your law degree?
GILMORE: In 1938.
JOHNSON: You went through the Depression and were still able to afford a law education. What was your father's job, or occupation?
GILMORE: He was a farmer, and a contractor.
JOHNSON: What kind of farming did he do?
GILMORE: Just general farming, cotton, corn, wheat.
JOHNSON: How many acres did he have?
GILMORE: Well, he farmed probably, oh, 1,500 acres or so. He didn't actually do the work himself. He was busy with his contracting, building of homes and whatnot, business buildings. And he was County Collector. He was first on the County Court in Mississippi County, at the time that Harry Truman was on the County Court here in Jackson County.
JOHNSON: So they were acquainted?
GILMORE: They were acquainted; they weren't any great buddies or anything, but they went to conventions. They had meetings of the County Court organizations, and that's where my dad got acquainted with him.
JOHNSON: So that was a three member county court, like here? Was he presiding judge?
GILMORE: My dad was, and Mr. Truman was here.
JOHNSON: Do you remember what years he was presiding judge down there?
GILMORE: Well, I imagine from about 1930 to 1936, I guess. Then he became county collector.
JOHNSON: Did he get involved at all in the 1934 senatorial campaign for Harry Truman?
GILMORE: Yes, he got involved. I was at the right age where I was responding to what he wanted me to do, and I put up signs all over trees and posts, and what not.
JOHNSON: In both campaigns; both the '34 and '40?
GILMORE: In '40 I was just out of law school.
JOHNSON: Were you friends of Roy Harper?
GILMORE: You bet, sure.
JOHNSON: We have an interview with him.
GILMORE: Well, you'll find him to be a very gracious fellow. He was real active in our Democrat party affairs. He was probably six years older than me. He was in a law
firm at Caruthersville; Ward and Reeves law firm. But Roy was at every Democrat meeting we had in that part of the country. Now, I don't know what motivated him to do it, but he was real active in Truman's first campaign for the Senate in 1934. I presume it was because we had a fellow named Neal Helm, who was real active, and Neal had some money, by the way, that he could use, you know, and Roy didn't have any money. He was like most of us, when you get out of law school, but Neal Helm...
JOHNSON: You were acquainted with Neal Helm too then?
GILMORE: Yes. He's dead now.
JOHNSON: What was the source of his wealth, do you know?
GILMORE: Well, I'm not real sure; he was in business in Caruthersville. All I knew, he was at every Democrat meeting we ever had.
JOHNSON: Well, now, Truman liked to campaign in Caruthersville. Did you ever attend any of those rallies there?
GILMORE: Not in Caruthersville. Well, naturally he would because everybody down there was for him.
JOHNSON: But in '34 you put out signs and did help promote Truman's candidacy?
GILMORE: You bet.
JOHNSON: Do you remember Truman giving any campaign speeches there in Mississippi County? This is Mississippi County we're talking about isn't it?
GILMORE: Yes. I'll tell you what; our organization down there was such at the time, that, for example, when Harry Truman went into New Madrid to start the campaign, someone down there told him, "If you want to save your time, go talk to J.V. Conran." J.V., we called him "the boss of the bootheel." If J.V.'s for you, we're all for you." Well, that was true of my county too. We had the same people that were like J.V., and my dad was in that group.
JOHNSON: Did you know J.V. Conran very well?
GILMORE: Yes sir.
JOHNSON: What kind of a campaigner, or what kind of a Democrat was he?
GILMORE: He didn't know there was any party but the Democrat party. He was prosecuting attorney of New Madrid County for years and years and years, I guess until he died. I used to say, if you wanted to do any business in New Madrid County, you had better be getting along with
J.V., because he sent innocent men to the penitentiary and he let criminals go free, depending on where you stood with him.. That was true. Now over in Pemiscot County, [there was] that kind of organization; and in Dunklin County, the same way; Stoddard County and Mississippi County, we were all like that. If the party group was for you -- there wasn't any place down there hardly for Republicans then -- if the party was for you, you don't need to do any campaigning, it's going to be done for you. We didn't have any people, to speak of, that were Republicans down there.
JOHNSON: So you had a county committee, a Democrat County Committee?
JOHNSON: Did the Republicans have any County Committee at this time?
GILMORE: Oh, if they did, I didn't know about it.
JOHNSON: Was 1934 your first or earliest involvement in politics?
GILMORE: Well, no, I'd been involved before, when my dad was running for office, or whomever the organization was for. But you see, Truman didn't run in this county
until '34 I guess.
JOHNSON: What did your dad think of Harry Truman? Did he ever talk about Harry Truman to you?
GILMORE: Oh, he talked about when Truman became a name, you know, a candidate for the Senate, '34. He talked about him being an honest guy. A lot of people said, "He's for the Pendergast mess up there in Kansas City." But my dad said, "Listen, he's an honest fellow that knows what he's doing, and does what's right." He said, "You know, I've had meetings with him and the County Court commissioners -- they called them judges, but they were really commissioners -- when we have our meetings, Harry Truman is always for what's honest and honorable."
JOHNSON: By that time his road building program had earned him a good reputation I suppose.
GILMORE: Well, sure, you bet. Later, I found out after I moved up here that he had done a good job at that too.
JOHNSON: So in the late thirties you were getting your law education. What did you do right after graduation from law school?
GILMORE: Well, I couldn't get a job working for any law firm, because I was from the country. They wanted to
hire boys from the city. Well, like our Judge Elmo Hunter here now, a Federal Judge; Elmo got hired for $30 a month because he was number one in my law class. When you got out of law school then, nobody wanted to hire you unless you were one of the top boys.
JOHNSON: In other words, jobs were scarce for just about anybody and everybody?
GILMORE: That's true. You weren't alone in not having any money to spend.
JOHNSON: The New Deal was popular with your father and with the other Democrats I suppose, and Roosevelt was a popular figure?
GILMORE: My goodness yes, sure.
JOHNSON: Were you supportive of the New Deal consistently?
GILMORE: Sure. You bet.
JOHNSON: What kind of position did you get? What was your first job after graduation?
GILMORE: Well, I had to take the bar exam, and between the time you take the bar exam and the time you get word whether you passed or not, is usually a couple of months. So, since I was a good Democrat, the Democrat
group there saw to it I had a job working for the Highway Department as an accident investigator.
JOHNSON: This was in East Prairie?
GILMORE: No, at the Highway Department's headquarters down there which was at Sikeston.
JOHNSON: And after you got word that...
GILMORE: When I passed the bar? Well, of course, my job was supposed to be over with the Highway Department; it was just to tide me over. So, I went to work learning how to practice law.
JOHNSON: In a law firm down there?
GILMORE: No, I went to work...
JOHNSON: You started on your own?
GILMORE: I went to work on my own.
JOHNSON: In Sikeston?
GILMORE: No, in East Prairie and Charleston.
JOHNSON: So, you had your own law practice then for a while.
GILMORE: Well, that was just for a short period. We had a fellow in Scott County who got appointed to be
superintendent of insurance. He was a lawyer and had a pretty good law practice for a country law office; he just moved me in there and I took over while he was gone.
JOHNSON: What was his name?
GILMORE: His name was Ray Lucas, and he said, "You know, on weekends I'll come home and I'll teach you how to practice law." Well, the weekends never would let him do that; he was too busy. So I claim I never did learn how to practice law because my mentor wasn't available.
JOHNSON: So how long did you do that then?
GILMORE: Well, then I became prosecuting attorney like you're supposed to when you're a young lawyer. Then I ran for the State Senate and got elected in 1949.
JOHNSON: Okay, after the war. What did you do during the war years?
GILMORE: When I got out of law school, I applied to the Navy for a commission in the Naval Reserve, and they gave me a commission. Then, in the fall of 1940 they ordered me to duty, which they did in February of 1941. So, I went on duty with the Navy and was in the Navy four and a half years. Then I came home, and then I ran for State
JOHNSON: It was in February of '41 that you went on duty in the Navy?
JOHNSON: And you're in the Navy until '45?
GILMORE: Yes. I went on duty in February of '41; that's before Pearl Harbor, and I was on duty until November, '45.
JOHNSON: Did you serve overseas at all?
GILMORE: No, I didn't. They assigned me to the personnel office at the Naval Training Center, Great Lakes. Later, I went to the amphibious force, Atlantic, but then something happened there at Great Lakes. They ordered me back there to be personnel officer. I had been assistant personnel officer before. The last year of the war, I was ordered to duty, to the Chief of Naval Personnel Office at Washington. And I stayed there until the war was over.
JOHNSON: Of course, in '44 Truman ran for the vice-presidency and the convention was in Chicago. Did you go to the convention or have a chance to go to the convention in '44?
GILMORE: No, because I was on duty in the Navy. But after he got elected as Vice President, some of us that were from Southeast Missouri met with him. In my position I had gotten commissions for some of the fellows because the Navy told us that Great Lakes was going to go real big, and we don't have the manpower to man it. You find the right people for the jobs, and we'll put the right uniforms on them. I had some buddies from the bootheel up there with me. So we went down to see Truman one time when he was in Chicago, after he was Vice President.
JOHNSON: He was Vice President only for about 81 days.
GILMORE: Well, that was the time when we went down there.
JOHNSON: In February or March of '45, I suppose.
GILMORE: Yes, that's right.
JOHNSON: So you did get to visit him once then while he was Vice President.
GILMORE: Yes, I remember it very well.
JOHNSON: Do you remember that one?
GILMORE: Yes. Of course, the Secret Service were everywhere. And even though we had an appointment with
him, they were going to see to it that we didn't get in there. I had known Matt Connelly, so I said, "Tell Matt Connelly we're here." So, of course, Matt came out and got us, and he said he had told those "sonsofbitches" that we were going to be there.
JOHNSON: So you weren't at the White House when you visited him as Vice President, were you?
GILMORE: No, I was in Chicago, at the Morrison Hotel.
JOHNSON: How did you know Matt Connelly? How did you get acquainted with him?
GILMORE: Well, that's a long story. I got involved with the Young Democrats. And I was president of the Young Democrat Clubs of Missouri; then me and some others decided I would run for president of the Young Democrats of America. Well, my idea was that we had all these other states that had people that wanted to run, too, you know, and here I am from Missouri and the President's from Missouri. This was after the Vice Presidency, but Matt worked for him when he was Vice President.
JOHNSON: And when he was the head of the Truman Committee.
GILMORE: Yes, that's right, because Matt used to talk about
that. Well, anyhow, I decided that if I was going to get involved in running as president of the Young Democrats, that I ought to go out and talk to Truman. I should go out to Washington, because, you know, some of these other states had fellows that wanted to run, and they had people that were in a position to trigger Truman's help. So I thought if I'm going to run for president of the Young Democrats of America, and if the President is going to come out and be for somebody from some other state, then I don't want to get in there to begin with, because I'm going to get my ears whipped off.
So I went down to talk to Truman. I called up to get an appointment, and he had me talk to Matt Connelly. He knew who I was, of course, but he said, "Now, you talk with Matt." Then he and I discussed it; I talked with Matt, and then I went up to see Mr. Truman. He said, "Why do you want to see me about this?" I said, "Well, you're the President and Bill Boyle is the chairman of the Democrat National Committee, and I've already heard some of these other people that want to be candidates for president of the Young Democrats, opposing me. It just wouldn't be right to have the President, and the chairman of the Democrat National Committee, Bill Boyle, and the president of the Young
Democrats all from Missouri; that wouldn't do." So I said, "My people out there are going to raise some money to support me if I run, and I don't want to get myself into position where some day I get word from the White House to get out of this. If there is any chance that I'm ever going to get that word, I want to get out and never get into it." So, we talked maybe ten minutes and he said, "I'll tell you what you do, old bootlegger," because I was from bootleg country there, "you go back over to that hotel where you are and wait for a call from Matt."
Well, I went back over there for a couple of hours and Matt called me and said, "The Boss said, come on over here." I went back over there. He said, "Old bootlegger, you get right in there. I won't do a thing to help you out, but I'll promise you no one will ever pull a stopper on you." That's what I had asked him to do, see? "Let me know if there's any chance I'm going to be told someday to get out of this; tell me now and I won't get in it." So he gave me his word, and I'm sure that he was asked to get me out, but he didn't. He told me he wouldn't do a thing in the world to help me.
We had a convention down in Chattanooga, Tennessee. When I got down there and checked into this convention hotel, about a week before that convention, I found out
that up on the top floor of the hotel, traveling incognito, was Neal Helm, who worked for the Democrat National Committee, and Eddie Brown. He was one of the publicity people for the Democratic National Committee. When they found out I was there, they told me to come up to see them, but don't tell anybody that I knew them. They were going to be there all the time; they had been there two weeks when I got there. And he said, "Now, the President said we're not to get involved in this, but we will see to it that you don't get mistreated by anybody."
JOHNSON: That first visit with Truman in the White House, was that on July 22, 1949? We do have on the record that you had an appointment at that time, and apparently you were in there with Senator Lyndon Baines Johnson and Estes Kefauver as well as Miss Kay Glass, Vern Taylor, and Mrs. Van Hicks.
GILMORE: July 22, '49?
JOHNSON: Yes. Well, you were elected at the Chattanooga conference.
GILMORE: Well that was in November.
JOHNSON: You think that came a few months later. But this first visit with Truman, was that when LBJ was there
with you at that time?
GILMORE: I don't believe so. No.
JOHNSON: You don't remember the year or the month of that first visit?
GILMORE: Well, I think, after I got elected, the first time I ever met with him in the White House, that would have been about the middle of November '49.
JOHNSON: Yes, but you went to him before you were going to run, so it had to be before November, your first meeting, and I suppose maybe it was this July meeting. Maybe LBJ and Kefauver weren't there with you, if you don't recall that they were.
GILMORE: I don't recall. I had a very close relationship with Kefauver, and I had known Lyndon Johnson since he was a young member of Congress.
JOHNSON: When did you first become a member of the Young Democrats of America? When did you start becoming active?
GILMORE: As soon as I got home after the war in 1946.
JOHNSON: In '46. You went back to your law practice and then you joined the Young Democrats of America. Then
you became President of the Missouri Young Democrats?
JOHNSON: Did you attend the 1947 National Convention in Cleveland?
JOHNSON: You weren't there for that one. That's when Roy Baker was elected.
GILMORE: Right. Yes.
JOHNSON: And he apparently was kind of a staff assistant, or was associated with Senator Lyndon B. Johnson; he was a Johnson person.
GILMORE: That's right. Now, at that time, we didn't have any idea he was one day going to be President.
JOHNSON: Had you known Baker, or did you just get acquainted with him after you became president?
GILMORE: I got acquainted with him before I became President by attending the National Convention, and the regional meetings.
JOHNSON: But you weren't there in Cleveland in '47.
JOHNSON: So you had served like two years as president of the Missouri Young Democrats when the convention of '49 occurred?
GILMORE: No, I was already president of the Young Democrats of Missouri, and I was in the State Senate of Missouri; that's when we had a meeting in Kansas City of all the states that Roy Baker had a close relationship with to determine who was going to be his successor. What we wanted to do was eliminate a lot of work if we could. We wanted to get those states -- and there were about 16 of them that Roy had a good working relationship with -- and we wanted to get those people together at one place and see if we couldn't agree on who should succeed him. They had that meeting here in Kansas City; well, it seems to me like it was in the spring or summer of '49. At that meeting everybody there, from the various sixteen states, agreed that I would be the one.
JOHNSON: Is that when you decided to go to Truman and get his blessing?
JOHNSON: When were you first elected to the State Senate?
GILMORE: In 1948.
JOHNSON: In our collections, there is a telegram, from Elsa Williamson, June 1949, stating that Missouri House Bill 182 and the Missouri House Committee substitute for the bill were tied up in the Missouri Senate Education Committee. Apparently this was a bill that would have opened up higher education, helped desegregate higher education. She said the legislature was likely to adjourn on Thursday, and she asked Truman to recommend to chairman D.W. Gilmore of Missouri, Senate Education Committee -- you were apparently in charge of the Senate Education Committee at the time -- passage of bill 182 or its substitute.
I don't see any more evidence about this. Do you recall what happened to that bill?
GILMORE: Well, I recall what happened because at that time you couldn't run a bill like that through the Missouri Senate with a squad or platoon of Marines. So whoever it was who wanted me to help that get passed, I just said to them, "There is no way at all that it can get passed. It'll just die in committee."
JOHNSON: Is that what happened then?
JOHNSON: What was the thrust of that bill? Would it simply
have integrated the colleges and universities?
GILMORE: They had a black fellow that was wanting to make application to attend the University of Missouri at Columbia and that was, of course, an effort of the National Urban League with headquarters in New York. They were doing this all over at that time, and the people in Missouri had not been "brainwashed" enough for that to happen. There wasn't any chance of doing it.
JOHNSON: Well, the Young Democrats, though, weren't they supporting Truman's civil rights program and desegregation of the Armed Forces, for instance? Is that what you recall?
GILMORE: Well, actually we didn't call it the civil rights program. I guess you are talking about '49 now; we did sure. But we had people in our Senate and in the House that were violently opposed to it.
JOHNSON: Well, apparently the majority were opposed.
GILMORE: Yes. And things like that, they were too hot a potato to handle; you just let them die in committee.
JOHNSON: But as president of the Young Democrats -- you were elected in 1949 for a two-year term -- one of its policies or programs apparently was to support Truman's civil
rights legislation which was bottled up in the Congress. That included a fair employment practices act, anti-lynching, and anti-poll tax.
GILMORE: We were for all those things, but they always had some other things thrown in with it. The people weren't ready yet, and they wouldn't ever have been ready if it hadn't been for people like Harry Truman. Well, even then, you couldn't expect him to go out and be what you call a Jesse Jackson. You know, he was a good President, but you can't be for everything that people want.
JOHNSON: Well, he set up these two Presidential committees, one on civil rights and the other one on desegregation of the Armed Forces, equality of treatment in the armed forces. On the basis of their reports, he proposed certain legislation, and of course, also issued that executive order for desegregating the Armed Forces. I think this was in '49, about the time you were president of the Young Democrats of America. What did you actually do during those two years that you were president of the Young Democrats of America?
GILMORE: Well, I went to all of the State conventions, and everybody wanted a job in the Government. Not everybody, but...
JOHNSON: Patronage was one of the big issues?
GILMORE: Yes; and to keep the organizations intact in the other states. We want to keep them where they could be effective, and to be effective you have to sort of be tuned in on what the people say they want.
JOHNSON: They were not organized in every state, I would guess.
JOHNSON: Do you remember how many states the Young Democrats were organized in?
GILMORE: Almost all of them.
JOHNSON: Almost all of them?
GILMORE: Yes. A lot more than there were Republican.
JOHNSON: Where were they strongest? Was it on college campuses for instance, that you had your grassroots? Where did you have your grassroots?
GILMORE: For our Young Democrats?
GILMORE: If we didn't have a Young Democrat organization, we
kept in touch with the state president and his organization to see that one was created there. We wanted to create Young Democrat activities everywhere, but college campuses were one of the principal places, you know.
JOHNSON: You were in the State Senate until when?
GILMORE: Until 1951.
JOHNSON: Okay, so you're still a member of the State Senate while you were going around the country.
GILMORE: That's right. Now, you were talking about that telegram to me. I remember now. I was on the Education Committee; I don't know if I was chairman or not. Ted Hankins, a friend in the State Senate, he liked to drink a little whiskey, and he liked somebody else to furnish the whiskey. He was a Republican senator, a real nice guy. And I found out that if I would get him over to my office early in the morning and give him a drink -- I had in my filing cabinet a little bottle of something or other that he liked -- that after about two drinks I could find out if the Republicans had anything up their sleeves that day.
Well, one morning I found out from Ted Hankins that the Republicans were really going to throw a bombshell,
and that they were going to hurt me. Ted was a friend of mine, and he told me about this bill, that they were going to raise hell about, to try to make us get it out of committee. Of course, I went right straight to the Democrat leadership in the Senate. Let's see, it was the floor leader and the president pro tempore. Well, we didn't convene the Senate that morning; we took another 30 minutes, delayed it. Our party was in power, so that if the president pro tem didn't want to start the meeting on time, he just sent word out that it's not going to start until he was ready. We had a quick meeting of all the Democratic members of the Senate and we decided to get that bill out of committee today. See, what they were going to do was raise hell because here's old Gilmore, president of the Young Democratic Clubs of America, and Truman's wanting to get this bill out that he's got bottled up over there. So we got the bill out that morning. Of course, that was the end of that.
JOHNSON: You mean the bill to desegregate higher education?
GILMORE: Well, in effect, yes.
JOHNSON: You got the bill out of committee?
GILMORE: Yes, I remember we got it.
JOHNSON: Then did it go up for a vote on the floor?
GILMORE: Well, it has to go to the House.
JOHNSON: Has to go to the House.
JOHNSON: But it died in the House?
GILMORE: Yes. They knew it would die over there. What they wanted to do was to embarrass me, you see.
JOHNSON: Well, then, in other words, it wasn't popular to be pro-civil rights exactly at that time.
GILMORE: In the State of Missouri that is exactly right. No matter how you wanted to, you better not if you want to get elected next time.
JOHNSON: Was there a black vote in your district that was important to you?
GILMORE: No, but there was a white vote that was. The black people didn't vote much then. But the white people of my district were agreed. If I had been out here loud-mouthing around about civil rights -- now, of course, no matter how you stood, you can't run water up hill. And so why go out here, when all you're going to do is to
get yourself bruised up, and you're not going to get anything done. That was our attitude at that time. As I say, if it hadn't been for Harry Truman, that would have been the attitude almost everywhere.
JOHNSON: So he did make a big difference, eventually.
GILMORE: Yes sir. But I already knew what his position was. While I was in the Navy, the Chief of Personnel appointed three officers to be in charge of the Navy's position on blacks. And I gravitated to that position. The Navy's personnel manual doesn't say anything anywhere about the color of your skin, so the Navy's attitude was, "There's the Navy regulations." We were told we were to formulate and promote plans to go out from the Secretary of the Navy that would make them assimilate the Negro, the blacks, into the Navy.
Now, you see, there is background to that, too. The background of that was the Navy didn't take any draft people, and of course, I guess they saw to it that damn few got volunteered. But through Mrs. Roosevelt's efforts and Paul V. McNutt, who was Manpower Commissioner, they put enough heat on Roosevelt to order the Navy to get into this civil rights program and treat black people like people. They're not blacks, they're people in the Navy. Now, that was before I got into
this program, but when I first got into the program I was given a transcript of all of the communications between the President and Secretary of Navy that the Navy Department had. They said you better familiarize yourself with that before you start working on this.