Use the Activities
Putting It All Together
Harry S Truman's life serves as an example of civic duty. Always seeing himself as a public servant, he became a leader whose decisions made a real difference in this country and around the globe and which continue to affect our lives today. The following activities help students to explore the interaction of community and the common, as well as the great people, of America's past, present, and future.
Activity 1: The Place We Call Home
Explain to students that the homes and neighborhoods where we have lived help create who we are in the present, and who we will become in the future. Sometimes, opportunities exist to revisit our past. To return to a former house or neighborhood reminds us of where we came from and who influenced our lives. It enables us to have a better understanding of who we are as individuals, and as part of a larger community.
1. Each one of us has a place we consider home. Have the students discuss what "home" means to them. Ask them to draw a picture of their home and explain what makes it special to them.
2. Ask students to compare their neighborhoods to the one that President Truman lived in for most of his life. Discuss similarities and differences between their surroundings and his in Independence.
3. The neighborhoods surrounding our homes also influence our lives. Ask students to take a walk through their neighborhood. Direct them to take notes on who lives around them and what types of businesses or shops are nearby. Have students draw a map of their neighborhood.
4. Ask students to use their notes to write an essay about what makes this area important to them. They should discuss the things that are good about their neighborhood and the things that are bad.
5. Harry Truman was always interested in making his hometown better. Ask the students to design and undertake a project to improve their own neighborhood. Projects might include: a local cleanup project, planting trees, starting a community garden, or visiting elderly family friends or relatives to learn about local history.
Activity 2: Why Preserve Old Buildings?
Explain to students that Harry Truman loved history. He understood that historical events in the past could help shape events in the present and future. Truman also felt strongly about preserving the history of our states, towns, and local neighborhoods. Before and after his time in the White House, he was involved in various organizations that preserved local history in his hometown of Independence. In 1926, he was elected president of the National Old Trails Organization. After returning home from Washington, he helped to establish a local chapter of the Civil War Roundtable, as well as the Jackson County Historical Society. Realizing that developers were threatening the integrity of his hometown neighborhood, the former President also showed his support in the effort to save private residences near his home.
It is much easier to understand and explain our past if we keep physical reminders of it. These include such individual structures such as homes, but also intact whole neighborhoods. A real sense of "place" can then be preserved for future generations to learn from and appreciate. The former President knew this when he helped to establish the Harry S Truman National Historic District, National Historic Landmark in his neighborhood.
1. Ask students if any of them have lived their entire lives in a single area. Since most will not have, ask them why it's important to learn about the neighborhood in which they presently live.
2. Ask students to go out into their neighborhood and look at an old building. Have them take pictures to document their findings. Ask them what they can find out simply by looking at it. Can it tell them when it was built or for what purpose? Can it tell them any stories of who lived or worked there?
3. If possible, have them follow up their visit by conducting an interview with someone who lived or worked in the building. Or, ask them to conduct research at the library's local history section, the community historical society, or county or parish courthouse to learn more about the structure. Ask students to share their findings in a class presentation; either with an illustrated talk or a computer slide (Power Point) presentation.