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Judge Roy W. Harper Oral History Interview


Oral History Interview with
Judge Roy W. Harper

Democratic county chairman, Pemiscot County, Missouri, 1934; Chairman, State Offices, Harry S. Truman for U.S. Senator Renomination and Election Committee, 1940; service with 35th Fighter Group, U.S. Army Air Corps, 1942-45; Chairman, Missouri State Democratic Committee, 1946-47; U.S. District Judge of Missouri, Eastern and Western Districts of Missouri; 1947-59; Chief Judge, Eastern District of Missouri, 1959-70; Senior Judge, Eastern and Western Districts, since 1971.

St. Louis, Missouri
September 22, 1978
by J. R. Fuchs

[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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 September, 1981
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri


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


Oral History Interview with
Judge Roy W. Harper


St. Louis, Missouri
September 22, 1978
by J. R. Fuchs


FUCHS: Judge Harper, I thought that you might start by giving us a little background -- when and where you were born, your education, and something about your career up until the time you became acquainted with Mr. Truman.

HARPER: Well, I was born in Dunklin County, Missouri, in Gibson, on July 26, 1905, and we moved to Steele, Missouri in Pemiscot County when I was nine years old. There I graduated from high school. I went to the University of Missouri, from 1923 to 1929, and got an AB and a law degree. I graduated in 1929. I went with Shell Petroleum, doing appraisal work for them. It was a temporary job that lasted about a year and


a half. In March of 1931, I opened my office in Steele, Missouri and practiced by myself until December 1, 1934 when I went to Caruthersville, Missouri and became a member and partner in the law firm of Ward and Reeves. I was there until I came onto the bench in 1947.

I first met President Truman during the primary campaign in 1934. At that time I was participating some in the Democratic politics at the township level in my county. I was not for Mr. Truman in the primary. It so happened that one of my college roommate's boss was the campaign manager for John Cochran who was running against him, and I had committed myself to him early in the campaign through my roommate.

I met Mr. Truman when he was in Pemiscot County campaigning. As a matter of fact, I introduced him when he made a speech in Steele, while I was practicing, although I was not one of his supporters.

That fall, during the general election, I was the county chairman. I first became really


well acquainted with Senator Truman when I went with a committee of about 25 or 30 people from Southeast Missouri on a trip to Washington. We went to visit Congress when they passed the first farm bill that put in a provision for allotments with respect to the amount of cotton that you could raise on the farm.

Neat Helm, of Caruthersville, was one of the ones in the group; also included were Ed Coleman and Charlie Blanton of Sikeston, and a good many others. When we went up there, they had just passed in the House the farm bill which would give to the South twenty acres of cotton to the forty, if they had a history. But it only gave to Missouri eight acres to the forty, which meant that our section of Missouri was in real trouble if the bill were enacted as law. It permitted Missourians to raise only eight acres of cotton to the forty.

Most of those in our committee stayed only about three days and then they returned home. Mr. Ed Coleman of Sikeston and I stayed behind.


I was really leading the efforts to have the allotment raised.

FUCHS: Were you acting as the counsel for the committee? What was your interest; were you farming too?

HARPER: My only interest in it was that if we were able to get a fair allotment, the area would do well and I indirectly would profit. The only thing I got out of it was my expenses.

We worked in that matter very closely with Senator Clark and Senator Truman. Senator Truman was very busily engaged in holding hearings at the time, of the Interstate Commerce Committee, and he told us that he would support anything that we could come up with. Actually the one who took the bigger part of the lead was Senator Clark. The final result was that the bill passed by the Senate gave to Missouri sixteen acres to the forty, rather than the eight acres originally in the House bill. We were able to convince Senator Bankhead, who was the chairman of the Agriculture Committee, that if they didn't do that, that we'd defeat the bill.


California and some of the Western states with irrigated acreage were in the same situation. At Senator Clark's direction, I drafted the proposed amendment that would change it. Then it was turned over to Senator Clark, who had it introduced by Senator Hayden of Arizona. It was known as the Hayden Amendment. When it was passed by the Agriculture Committee and by the Senate, we also had the promise of Senator Bankhead who was going to be a member of the Conference Committee, that he would go into the committee and insist that it be the sixteen acres for those states. It was so passed.

At that time, of course, I became very close to both Senators Clark and Truman. From time to time thereafter, almost every year from that time until the war, I was up there when they had the farm program bill up for consideration. I was there to protect, or to try to protect, Missouri's cotton interest because Missouri is a bastard cotton state.

In other words, while cotton was the biggest


cash crop in the state at that time, it was only raised in three counties, in the southern half of three other counties, and the tip of a fourth. The South, of course, wanted all the acreage they could get and they did not look with favor on the irrigated areas or upon Southeast Missouri.

So, up until Pearl Harbor, each summer I would spend about a month or six weeks in Washington just keeping up with the legislation, and I was very active in the National Cotton Council. We were up there from time to time on cotton programs that they were working on and I would see our Senators. I think it would be fair to say that by the late 1930's that I was one of maybe a half dozen people in the state who was a good political friend of both Senator Truman and Senator Clark. Most people favored either one or the other. I was very close to the two of them. In 1940 when Senator Truman ran for a second term, I had a meeting with a group in St. Louis, I think around February, 1940. As I recall it, they had a state meeting of Young Democrats there about the


same time. In conjunction with that a group of Senator Truman's friends came in from around the state on the question of whether or not he was going to run for reelection.

Of course, [Maurice] Milligan, the District Attorney from Kansas City, was a candidate and Stark, the Governor, was a candidate. For the most part, Senator Truman got very little encouragement to run from the group that was there.

John Snyder was one of the ones that was present; he was living in Missouri at the time. I believe he was still living in St. Louis at that time, or he may have moved to Sedalia by then. At that time the Senator asked me to be the chairman of his campaign committee for the eastern half of the state. I told him that I would like to be, but that I had a partner, James Reeves, who was running for the Springfield Court of Appeals nomination, as a judge on that court, and that I would have to check with him, because I didn't want to do anything that would cause him problems.


I discussed the matter with James M. Reeves and he thought from his standpoint that it would be better that I not be the chairman. So I was not the chairman, at least in name. But in truth and in fact, I probably had more to do with his campaign than anyone officially connected with its operation in the eastern part of the state.

One of my very dear friends, and one of Truman's good friends at that time, who had become his friend through me, was Lewis Barringer from Memphis. It was in the off season of Lou's cotton business, so he made provision for me to put in Truman's St. Louis campaign office, a secretary for the office. His private secretary was there half of the time, and then his second secretary was here the balance of the time. We also brought in the head of Lou's mail room to handle the mail room in the office in St. Louis. Mr. Barringer paid their expenses while they were here and kept them on their regular salary.

Just sort of a side note; they drove to St. Louis, but when they reached Steele, Missouri,


where my home was, we pulled the Tennessee license off and put a Missouri license on their car. If anybody asked them where they were from, they said, "Steele." And they referred them to me.

The campaign, of course, became a very bitter, hotly contested race. In the early part of the campaign, probably around the late spring I guess, one of my dear friends and one of my close political friends, who was J.V. Conran of New Madrid County, went with me into St. Louis. He and I had worked together for a number of years at that time, and were always lined up with the same people for state and national office, and were the leaders in our respective county organizations. We both had wide acquaintanceship over Southeast Missouri, too. We came into St. Louis. To make a long story short, that year the Governorship campaign was between Larry McDaniel of St. Louis, and Senator McReynolds.

FUCHS: Was that Allen McReynolds?

HARPER: Allen McReynolds from Joplin. We weren't


particularly concerned about who the Governor was going to be. We were interested in Truman's campaign because he and Clark had been, in our opinion, responsible for doing more for Southeast Missouri than anybody else could have done with respect to farm legislation. And they had been able to keep it that way through the years. We came in, and went to the people here, the leaders of the two groups that represented the two candidates for Governor. We ended up making a deal with Bob Hannegan, who was the city chairman, and who was one of the strongest supporters for McDaniel. We agreed we would give McDaniel the big end of the Southeast Missouri primary vote, what we could get for him, which was the majority. We'd be responsible for that, and they would, in turn, deliver the primary vote of either eight or nine wards in St. Louis to Truman.

As the campaign progressed, it got bitter and more bitter and bitter. When they had the organization of the delegates to the national convention, I was one of the delegates to the convention. So


was Conran. Bennett Clark was chairman of the delegation. We had a meeting of a number of the leaders at the Mayfair Hotel before we actually went into the meeting to organize the delegation. It was obvious that Clark was going to be the chairman. One of the spots that came to the state was an honorary vice-chairman of the convention, which Governor Stark wanted. J.V. Conran and myself said to the group assembled, that under no circumstances would we support him for anything.

At the end of the discussion we said to Senator Clark, "What's the final decision on this?"

And he turned to me and said, "Well, we're going to run you for that spot."

So in the organizing of the delegation for various purposes, Stark was nominated and I was nominated, but I beat Stark for the vice-presidency of the convention.

When we went to the convention, Senator Truman was short of funds and he was staying in some small hotel. I don't remember the name of it now, in Chicago. But he used a suite of rooms



that Conran and I had at the Missouri headquarters in the Sherman Hotel as the place where he could meet various people. He held his meetings there. Prior to that time, of course, he had opened his campaign in Sedalia. A group of us from our area was at the opening of the campaign in Sedalia when he made his original kick-off speech. Later in Chicago we did everything we could to further his candidacy. Then in the later part of the campaign it became obvious that there were problems, because Stark had a very hard core group back of him, and the people on the other side were divided into two camps.

Bennett Clark -- Senator Clark -- was very very much opposed to Stark. He wanted no part of him. His preference for Senator, I think it's fair to say, would have been Milligan.

FUCHS: Why did he have that...

HARPER: Because Milligan was his appointment as District Attorney in Kansas City. He was the one who had appointed him to that place. And while he


was friendly to Senator Truman, he had been very close to Milligan, from the time of their service together, I think, in World War I.

FUCHS: Do you know why he had antipathy towards Stark?

HARDER: I don't know what his antipathy was about that. There were some problems that they had had. They were originally from the same area of Missouri. Bennett Clark's father was the Congressman whose district took in Louisiana, Missouri where the Starks were from. I don't know wha