June 20, 2020
When we learn new facts, we are obligated to change our opinions.
Some years ago I wrote a blog about a street in Lee’s Summit named after a man that David McCullough, author of the biography Truman, said was a member of the KKK. Subsequent research has shown that Mr. McCollough was mistaken in this assertion.
One example of this can be found in the Truman Library archives, the James P. Aylward Oral History interview with James R. Fuchs. It can be found at https://www.trumanlibrary.gov/library/oral-histories/aylward. Here is the pertinent except:
FUCHS: Scholars would probably be interested in almost any comments about Missouri politics. There is a lot I don’t know about.
AYLWARD: Well, you’re a stranger here. You wouldn’t know. Well, now, Mr. Todd George, who lives out around Lee’s Summit, Missouri–and he’s in his nineties now–he was actively engaged in politics for years; one time he served as a county officeholder. He told me this story in the presence of John Miller–I think held tell it to you–it isn’t exactly in confidence. I don’t know that it makes much difference. But Truman was a candidate for election to the county court as county judge, and the members of the Klan were against him, the Ku Klux Klan. Out at Grandview they had a klavern council, whatever they called it in those days; and he became disturbed because they were against him on the grounds that Pendergast was a Catholic politician and they weren’t going to support him. So Truman and Roger Sermon and Vivian Truman contacted George, who was not a member of the Klan, but he had a close relationship with the Grand Kleagle, the person in charge of such klaverns, and they asked him if he wouldn’t use his good offices with the kleagle to induce him to support Truman for county judge. So he agreed to go out and make an effort and discuss the matter with him. So they drove from Independence out to Grandview where this Klan lodge was located, and they were to wait for Todd George while he went upstairs to talk to the klansman about supporting Truman. And he went up the staircase and he rapped on the door and they had one of those small keyhole peepholes, and the inside guard came to the door and he said he wanted to get inside to see the Kleagle. The guard said, “Are you a member?”
He said, “No, I’m not.”
He said, “Well, you can’t come in here.”
He said, “Pardon me now just a moment, just hear me out.” He said, “He’s a friend of mine, and if you tell him I’m here and would like to see him, I believe he’ll let me in.”
It could very well be that Todd George is being confused with another individual with similar who rode with Quantrill and his Bushwhackers, an individual name George Todd. These were two different individuals, and one should not be confused with the other.
Personally, I regret writing a blog post some years ago without thoroughly vetting all the information. Certainly, there is no reason to make issues out of uncertain history, especially when the reputation of a man and his family is at stake. It’s indeed ironic that my blog made a larger point that seems to be ignored these days, namely, to learn how to recognize spin and propaganda when you see it.
To quote Harry Truman as I did at the end of that blog post, “If you keep your mouth shut about things you think are important, I don’t see how the democratic system can work at all.” That is what I am doing here.
James P. Aylward Oral History Interview | Harry S. Truman
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. www.trumanlibrary.gov.