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Home : News
NEWS | Feb. 5, 2016

Ending military segregation took an executive order from President Harry Truman

By Master Sgt. Mark Olsen New Jersey National Guard

TRENTON, N.J. - Revolution is both a process and an event.

The process for the desegregating the military can be seen in the successes of the Tuskegee Airmen, the 78th Tank Battalion – the first black armor unit and the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion – the only all-black Women's Army Corps unit to serve in Europe during  World War II.

The event came almost three years after the war ended.

In the beginning of 1948, White House memos showed that President Harry Truman wanted to  end segregation in the military.

In February, after Truman's request to Congress to act on the Commission on Civil Rights recommendations, which included anti-lynching laws, anti-poll tax laws and bolstering the Department of Justice's civil rights division, was met with the threat of filibuster from Southern senators, Truman turned to his executive powers.

On July 26, 1948, he issued Executive Order 9981, effectively ending segregation and ordering the full integration of all the United States Armed Forces.

To ensure that the executive order was carried out, the order specifically created the President's Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity in the Armed Services.

The executive order was met with resistance from the military, Secretary of the Army Kenneth C. Royall, was forced to retire in 1949 for refusing to desegregate the army. Yet, by the end of the Korean War, almost all the military was integrated and in September 1954, the last all-black unit was eliminated.

The United States military was finally beginning to reflect what American society looked like.

With the signing of 9981, Truman became the first president to use an executive order to enforce a civil rights issue.

He would not be the last, Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson all signed executive orders to deal with civil rights issues that the legislature was reluctant to take action on.

But it was Truman who set the precedent that presidents could use the presidential executive order to ensure that all citizens of the United States would be treated equally.

Executive Order 9981

Establishing the President's Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity In the Armed Forces.

WHEREAS it is essential that there be maintained in the armed services of the United States the highest standards of democracy, with equality of treatment and opportunity for all those who serve in our country's defense:

NOW THEREFORE, by virtue of the authority vested in me as President of the United States, by the Constitution and the statutes of the United States, and as Commander in Chief of the armed services, it is hereby ordered as follows:

1. It is hereby declared to be the policy of the President that there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion or national origin. This policy shall be put into effect as rapidly as possible, having due regard to the time required to effectuate any necessary changes without impairing efficiency or morale.

2. There shall be created in the National Military Establishment an advisory committee to be known as the President's Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity in the Armed Services, which shall be composed of seven members to be designated by the President.

3. The Committee is authorized on behalf of the President to examine into the rules, procedures and practices of the Armed Services in order to determine in what respect such rules, procedures and practices may be altered or improved with a view to carrying out the policy of this order. The Committee shall confer and advise the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of the Army, the Secretary of the Navy, and the Secretary of the Air Force, and shall make such recommendations to the President and to said Secretaries as in the judgment of the Committee will effectuate the policy hereof.

4. All executive departments and agencies of the Federal Government are authorized and directed to cooperate with the Committee in its work, and to furnish the Committee such information or the services of such persons as the Committee may require in the performance of its duties.

5. When requested by the Committee to do so, persons in the armed services or in any of the executive departments and agencies of the Federal Government shall testify before the Committee and shall make available for use of the Committee such documents and other information as the Committee may require.

6. The Committee shall continue to exist until such time as the President shall terminate its existence by Executive order.

Harry Truman

The White House

July 26, 1948