Oral History Interview
Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
Oral History Interview with
June 11, 1976
James R. Fuchs
FUCHS: Mr. Mayor, you might begin by giving a little of your background; when and where you were born, and perhaps something about your education, bringing us up to the time that you made your first acquaintance with Mr. Truman.
WEATHERFORD: I was born here in Independence on September 2, 1911, grew up here, went to all of elementary and high school. I graduated in architecture and became a registered architect
in '42. I became a member of the American Institute of Architects in 1950 and I am still a member.
As far as my acquaintance with Mr. Truman, it goes back to the time when I was about 18 or 19 years old, and he was Presiding Judge of the County Court. I used to visit him in his offices there. Then when he ran for the United States Senate I did a little campaigning for him against Mr. [Jacob L.] Milligan.
FUCHS: This was in 1934?
WEATHERFORD: '34. I remember going to Harrisonville with Rev. J. D. Robbins, who was a very prominent Methodist minister and had served Harrisonville, and we joined Mr. Truman there at the time that he made a speech in Cass County for the Senate, his first run at the senatorial office in Washington, which he held until he became Vice President.
It was quite a campaign, rather furious, loud, and long, and tiresome; but Mr. Truman was always very alert and a man of high integrity, and this is the message that came across to the people of Missouri. That's why they elected him, and that's how he was selected by the President of the United States to become Vice President.
I can say this for Mr. Truman from my personal acquaintance with him, he never acquired a dishonest dime in his life. He was dedicated, historically and personally, to the service of humanity. And I think he proved that throughout his career following his first admission to the Senate of the United States.
FUCHS: How did you happen to visit with him in his office when you were a young man in your teens?
WEATHERFORD: Well, they were building the courthouse and I was working in a store--you couldn't get a job in the engineering field or architecture--here in Independence and I sold the contractor the linoleum that went in the courthouse after the remodel was finished, and it brought me in contact with the Presiding Judge of the County Court.
Of course, I'm a Democrat of four or five generations from the old South and Mr. Truman always attracted me, his contagious personality, and his concept in the service to people. It probably affected my life after that because it was in 1950 that I was drafted to become a candidate for Mayor of this city. I always kind of used Mr. Truman in my earlier days as a model to follow because the example he set under the political situation that he served, was almost phenomenal to me.
FUCHS: Did you have an early interest in politics even when you were studying for architecture?
WEATHERFORD: Yes, I always had an interest in the Democratic Party. My profession was of my own choice. That's what I wanted to do, that's what I did do, and I still am practicing for Arizona Public Service Company. We build all over the State of Arizona and some in New Mexico.
But this was a situation, when I became Mayor, Mayor Roger Sermon, who I held in extremely high regard, passed away and before daylight the next morning I was the nominee. At the time I was president of the Independence Chamber of Commerce, active in civic affairs, had no intention of ever entering the field of politics; but when I got up that next morning after his passing, here I found myself a candidate on the Democratic ticket for Mayor of Independence.
I knew Mayor Sermon real well and it was said after he had passed away, by the City Clerk, that I was his personal choice. If that was the case I never knew it.
FUCHS: Do you recall any conversations you might have had with Mr. Truman? That is, as a youth in visiting his office?
WEATHERFORD: No, he and I were always interested in Southern history. I made a specific study of General Robert E. Lee and President Truman's hero was Stonewall Jackson of the Civil War era. And I remember one time down on Proctor Place, when I was in high school, he made a speech on the life of General Stonewall Jackson and I made one on General Robert E. Lee. That's the first public appearance that I ever had with Mr. Truman, sharing any kind of a social, or
historical reference point.
FUCHS: About what year was that?
WEATHERFORD: Oh, it must have been in 1928, '29, possibly '30.
FUCHS: What was your feeling about his knowledge of history?
WEATHERFORD: Well, I think that President Truman was probably the best informed man on the minute details of American history that ever served in the White House.
FUCHS: Did he have a good memory, in your opinion?
WEATHERFORD: He had an excellent memory, but he had read American history over and over until dates and events were just branded into his memory.
FUCHS: Did you practice architecture up to the time
you became Mayor?
WEATHERFORD: I practiced architecture and was very successful in my practice here up until the time I became Mayor. I kept the practice for a year or two after that, but I found that it wasn't a part-time job, it took about 12 or 14 hours a day. So I turned my practice over to a young fellow who went to the same school I did and who was coming along. I just turned it over to him, walked out, and left private practice then and there.
FUCHS: Back in November 1950, there was a luncheon held here when the replica of the liberty bell was presented to the City of Independence.
WEATHERFORD: That is correct.
FUCHS: Do you recall that occasion?
WEATHERFORD: Oh, do I recall it: I'd been in office about six or eight months and was green at the process of public protocol.
The President called me one morning at home and I was asleep. Of course, he was two hours ahead of me in Washington, and my wife said, "The President's on the phone and he wants to talk to you." I made some kind of remark that because he couldn't sleep I don't know why the Mayor of Independence couldn't. That was just a little levity between she and I. But anyway, I went to the telephone, the President said that the Mayor of Annecy, France had given a liberty bell to Independence, Missouri and wanted to present it, and would I make arrangements to receive it? Of course, I told him certainly I would be happy to, and later on did.
I talked to the City Council about this. The fact is that this is the only city outside of a state capital city in the country
that received one of these bells from the foundries in Annecy. It was a friendly gift to America, and this being the President's home city and named Independence, it was very appropriate.
We got to discussing it among the members of the City Council and myself, and the idea hit me why not do this thing up in a proper way.
So, I called Washington and invited the President to come and bring his staff and any members of the Cabinet that he wished, or anyone that he thought was fitting to come, and we would have a big luncheon and then we would have our dedication ceremonies. He agreed to it and came.
And I had quite a time with protocol, being green at the business. It got so hot for me as Mayor that the people of high standing in the Party and in the community in Jackson County, which primarily is Kansas City and Independence,
got to squabbling over who was going to set where at the head table.
So, I just came to my senses, called Matt [Matthew J.] Connelly at the White House and said, "Send a protocol agent out here to place these place cards, because I'm going to be in a riot if somebody doesn't take it over for me." So, that happened.
Anyway, we had two head tables, and the President arrived and various members of the military, and members of the Cabinet. Incidentally, John W. Snyder got to be a very good friend. I loved him and respected him.
FUCHS: Where was that dinner held?
WEATHERFORD: It was held in the Latter Day Saints Auditorium. The Laurel Club ladies served it down there, it was a delightful occasion, well
done. Probably one of the best handled dinners I've ever attended in a public function. Those ladies are experts.
FUCHS: Have you other recollections of that event?
WEATHERFORD: I don't recall the speechmaking and all that, the details of it. But the Secret Service came out a week or two ahead of time and they went over that building with a fine-toothed comb. And on the day of the dedication the Secret Service were in the crowd, of course, as they always are in the presence of the President. The only way you could tell who they were, they would have a little common ordinary pin stuck down in the seam of their left lapel with just the head of it sticking out. I was recognizing them, but they didn't know I knew that.