Congressman Emanuel Cleaver II says he never imagined he’d be given an honor such as the Harry S. Truman Good Neighbor Award.
“This is the highest award I have ever received in my life, and I can’t imagine receiving anything higher, no matter how long I live,” he said.
Cleaver, a Kansas City Democrat whose district includes Truman’s hometown of Independence, is to receive the award at a luncheon this Friday.
He has delved more deeply into the Truman story in recent years as he’s tried to have a statue of the president placed in the U.S. Capitol, and he says few politicians today measure up to Truman.
“I think everyone needs to read about Truman (as much) as they can, but if you’re in politics, be prepared to feel small,” he said.
The annual luncheon is held in the Imperial Ballroom of the Marriott-Muehlebach Hotel in downtown Kansas City, the room where Truman’s friends held birthday parties for him in the years after he left office. After he died in 1972, the tradition continued with the Good Neighbor Award, the first of which went to U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren in 1973. It has gone to Presidents Ford and Clinton, and to senators, authors, journalists and others.
The award is given to someone deemed to hold many of Truman’s characteristics. For Cleaver, the ones that stand out with the 33rd president include decisiveness, loyalty and being down to earth.
“He never exaggerated who he was,” Cleaver said.
His sense of service should be held up for others, the congressman added.
“It has to do with his desire for decency,” he said.
The Good Neighbor is among a handful of high-profile awards that bear Truman’s name. Former Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano is to receive the Truman Public Service Award, presented by the city of Independence, on May 29. Cleaver was given that award in 2014.
Two weeks ago, the Truman Library Institute gave its Legacy of Leadership Award to author David McCullough, who won both the Public Service and Good Neighbor Awards in 1993, the year after the release of his Pulitzer Prize-winning biography, “Truman.”
Cleaver calls Truman “our state’s greatest statesman” and says his commitment to public service is seldom matched these days.
“There’s not a lot of Harry Trumans around any more,” he said.