The Truman Shirt is one of the more colorful stories and artifacts of Farley family lore. The Truman Shirt was conceived in 1952 by Willis Hite Farley (1906-1983), my paternal grandfather. Politics and government were a big part of the life of Willis (“Grandaddy”); that gene clearly skips a generation as my sister Amy Farley most definitely inherited it! The story below is told by his son (my father) Alan Keith Farley.
Dad loved to talk politics, even in those days. A fervent Democrat, he spent dinnertime adulating President Roosevelt. No wonder – life in the Great Depression years was a time of hope for the working class, and Dad was a union man through and through, having cut his labor teeth on John L. Lewis and the United Mine Workers. We would come to the supper table, eat and sigh as dad preached the union gospel. Not that it was bad. It was just not what young kids were about.
Among the tales of Dad’s political ‘events,’ including a failed candidacy for the state legislature, this one took the cake: Harry Truman was President, and had scheduled a vacation in Georgia. This was during the time of the southern rebellion against the Democratic party, spearheaded by the infamous Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, who broke away from the party and ran for president as an independent in 1948, sparking Truman’s famous characterization of “Dixiecrats.”
Knowing of the planned getaway, Dad’s imagination took off. He got mom to make a short-sleeved sport shirt of fabric with a Confederate – a la “Dixiecrat” design. In fact, he had her make two of them. He sent a shirt, along with a tongue-in-cheek letter, to President Truman at the Georgia retreat.
Behold! Dad received a personal letter from the President, also tongue-in-cheek, thanking him for his thoughtfulness. I was living at home at the time, and the whole event was hilarious – and dad was ecstatic. He harrumphed around the house for days – hard to tell what he said to the guys at the (Union Carbide) plant.
The shirt (close up provided here, so you can appreciate the depictions of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson – I imagine this fabric was in big demand at the local Piece Goods store) and original letter from Truman are in my care.
I assume this shirt is part of the official National Archives, as are all gifts to presidents. I am shocked – SHOCKED! – that this shirt is not featured in the examples provided online for Harry S Truman. (Trivia: Harry only had a middle initial, never a middle name, so there is no period after the S…except at the end of a sentence!) Then again, it could be housed at the Harry S Truman Presidential Library & Museum, but a cursory search doesn’t reveal the answer. I will contact both and post the results here.
Here is a PDF will the full text of both letters. Not sure what a Truman autograph is worth these days, but I wouldn’t part with this one.