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Harry S. Truman’s Opelousas Connection

Carola Lillie Hartley
Publisher/Contributing Writer

Today in our history: On May 8, 1884, U.S. President Harry Truman was born near Lamar, Missouri. First entering politics in 1922 after the haberdashery he ran went bankrupt, Truman took his first public office as a count official before being elected as a Missouri senator in 1934. As a senator, Truman rose to prominence through his involvement in the Truman Committee which exposed corruption and fraud in wartime contracts during World War II. This brought him to the attention of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who chose him as his running mate in the 1944 election, which the pair won after a very close contest.

When President Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945, Truman succeeded him as President of the United States, becoming the Commander-in-Chief of a country that was fighting one of the deadliest wars in human history. Although Germany looked as if it was ready to crumble, the war with Japan was far from over.

Very early in his Presidency, Truman was faced with one of the toughest decisions any President would ever have to make. He knew that Japan would never surrender. They would try to fight it out, if possible, even though the majority of their population could be casualties.

A desperate and deadly battle for Japan could be avoided, however, with the use of the newly developed atomic bomb, which had enough force to level a whole city in a single blast. Truman had to decide if he wanted to use that new weapon, which might possibly force the Japanese to surrender after they had witnessed its devastating power. In the end, Truman decided in favor of the bomb, with the resulting explosions virtually annihilating the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Just as had been expected, the Japanese quickly surrendered after seeing the devastation of the atom bomb, ending World War II.

During the rest of his time as President, Truman saw the country through the early days of the Cold War, in addition to surviving an assassination attempt.  In 1953, Truman retired to his home in Missouri, where he died in 1957.

President Truman’s Connection to Opelousas
Did you know Harry S. Truman, the 33rd President of the United States has a connection to Opelousas? Yes, he had a cousin that lived in Opelousas and St. Landry Parish during the late 19th century. His name was William Lawrence Truman. Known as W. L., he was a politician and served in the state legislature from St. Landry Parish, elected in 1896. He was later elected City Judge of Gueydan, when he moved there in 1899.

As a native of Kentucky, how did W. L. Truman arrive in Opelousas? Well as the story goes, W. L. was a confederate soldier during the Civil War. While he was serving in Alabama he met Cora Hadden the daughter of Dr. Louis Hadden of Belmont, Alabama. Following the war, Truman and Miss Hadden maintained an active correspondence. During that time, the Hadden family fell upon hard times and Dr. Hadden moved his family to the Opelousas area. And as the old saying goes,” Love conquers all.” So Truman moved to Opelousas and married Cora Hadden there in about 1868. 

Besides being a good physician, Dr. Louis Hadden was involved in the Opelousas community in many ways. He was instrumental is getting the Presbyterian Church started in Opelousas on May 20, 1871.

 His son-in-law W. L. Truman was a leader in establishing the First Baptist Church of Opelousas and was one of the five charter members when the church was constituted in 1880. He was responsible for purchasing the property on East Bellevue Street, where the first building to house the church was constructed in 1883. In 1952, the congregation replaced that wood building with a new brick building, which is standing today, now occupied by the Bellevue Street Baptist Church.

The First Baptist Church on Bellevue Street in Opelousas that was built with help from W. L. Truman in 1883. This church building was replace in 1952 with a new brick building that stands today as the Bellevue Street Baptist Church (Carola Lillie Hartley Collection.)