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Truman Library curator, set to retire after 40 years, says the 33rd president's legacy has shifted

Harry Truman on the steps of the U.S. Capitol.
Truman Library Institute
Harry Truman on the steps of the U.S. Capitol.

Clay Bauske has served as the curator of the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum for over 40 years and is set to retire at the end of the month. During his time in the role, museum curation has changed dramatically — but he argues that how we view President Truman has also shifted over these last four decades.

After serving as curator of the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum for over four decades, Clay Bauske will retire next week.

He says since he began in the role, people's views about Truman and his presidency have changed dramatically.

"Starting in the mid 80's through the mid 90's, there were a slew of books written about Truman," he told KCUR.

Bauske pointed out that books during that era by David McCullough and Alonzo Hamby elevated the 33rd president's profile.

"Those two books were complete stories of Harry Truman, his life and his presence. And so that period also helped to raise Truman's popular appeal," Bauske said.

Kurt Graham, the Truman Library's director, said Truman has been viewed much more favorably over the last 40 to 50 years than he once was — noting that he left office with what at the time were historically low approval ratings.

"I think it's really incredible to think of how unpopular he was (when he left office)," Graham said.

Much of the criticism of Truman centered on his handling of the Korean War, Graham added.

"I think a lot of that had to do with his perceived hesitancy around Korea," he said. "That he didn't want to go in and start World War III. And I think, after how we got bogged down in the quagmire of Vietnam and all of (President Lyndon) Johnson's troubles there, I think people recognize maybe Harry's restraint wasn't weakness, maybe it was wisdom."

  • Clay Bauske, Truman Library curator
  • Kurt Graham, Truman Library director
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