Ozarks Life Vault: Winston Churchill’s visit to Missouri

Churchill gave his famous “Iron Curtain” speech at Westminster College
Published: Mar. 4, 2022 at 7:33 AM CST
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FULTON, Mo. (KY3) - Just north of the Ozarks proudly sits Fulton, Missouri.

Almost eight decades ago, if you were lucky enough to have a ticket, you had a seat to listen to one of the most popular and powerful world leaders.

Former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill captivated a capacity crowd.

“One by one, we were all sucked into the awful war,” Churchill said in his speech. “Surely, ladies and gentlemen, I put it to you, surely, we must not let that happen again.”

“Seventy-six years ago,” director and curator of America’s National Churchill Museum at Westminster College Timothy Riley said, “when Winston Churchill came to Westminster College here in Fulton, he had something to say.”

Months after the end of World War II, it was here in Fulton on March 5, 1946, that Churchill created an infamous name for what he saw happening in Europe.

“An Iron Curtain has descended across the continent,” Churchill said about the rise of the Soviet Union.

“After the speech here in Fulton,” Riley said, “Churchill’s words helped form the way the UN and the way NATO would come to be and put into place in the geopolitical landscape a buttress to potential Soviet aggression.”

It was a big speech in a small town.

Sandra Haymart, a lifelong resident of Fulton, saw the parade as Churchill and Missouri’s own President Harry S Truman made their way through her familiar streets.

“The day that Churchill and Truman came to Fulton,” Haymart said, “I remember my daddy putting me up on his shoulders. And I remember him saying, ‘you watch this baby. Remember it. This is important.’ And it was for many reasons.”

“Words spoke from the middle of America at the heartland of America really did reverberate,” Riley said.

The physical representation of Churchill’s Iron Curtain, the Berlin Wall, separated the world until 1989. And eight pieces of it sit now on the Westminster campus - feet from where Churchill gave his speech.

“Fifty years after Winston Churchill rallied the people in the Battle of Britain, the world is a very different place,” former President Ronald Reagan said while attending a ceremony in 1990 at Westminster College.

The ceremony was to dedicate a sculpture made from the wall. It’s artist - Churchill’s granddaughter, Edwina Sandys.

“Fulton, Missouri, was good enough for my grandfather,” Edwina said, “and that’s why it’s good enough for me and my sculpture.”

“This place as being a bookend of history,” Riley said, “where the Cold War in some ways started (with Churchill’s 1946 speech) and where it ended (with the Berlin Wall sculpture), it can be looked at, studied, and we can learn from it.”

And in today’s world many are looking for answers. Winston Churchill’s speech then echoes the same message today.

“Churchill said, ‘the future is unknowable, but the past can give us hope,’ and those words are resolute,” Riley said. “And I think if we studied Churchill and his legacy, there’s some truth to that. And I think visitors walk away from this place refreshed with a sense of optimism.”

On Saturday, March 5, for the anniversary of Winston Churchill’s speech America’s National Churchill Museum has two events to celebrate the occasion. At 11 a.m. the museum will have a webcast to look at the speech in-depth. Then at 1 p.m. there will be a behind-the-scenes tour of the museum. Just click here to visit the museum’s website to learn more about both events.

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