Executive Order 9981

US #3937a from the To Form a More Perfect Union sheet.

On July 26, 1948, President Harry Truman signed Executive Order 9981, calling for the end of racial discrimination in the US armed forces.

Early American laws barred African Americans from the military, but in times of war, white leaders recruited both slaves and free blacks.  The Continental Army had 5,000 African Americans, and at least 198,000 black men served in the Union forces during the Civil War.

In that war, blacks suffered unequal pay, promotion, supplies, and services.  “Jim Crow” discrimination in the military continued for decades after the Civil War.

US #3937a – Fleetwood First Day Cover.

Even so, large numbers of African-Americans still volunteered to fight for their country.  One million African-Americans served in the military during World War II.  Many black servicemen hoped their military service would earn them equal status in US society.  When they returned home, they were impatient with continuing anti-black discrimination and violence.

US #3937a – Mystic First Day Cover.

In 1947, A. Philip Randolph and Grant Reynolds formed the Committee Against Jim Crow in Military Service and Training to protest discrimination in the armed services.  This group, later renamed the League for Non-Violent Civil Disobedience Against Military Segregation, as well as other black leaders, pressed President Truman to end military segregation.

US #3937a – Classic First Day Cover.

Truman was aware how important the black vote was to his Democratic Party.  He knew that integration would also help America win Cold War allies among “Third World” countries.  So on July 26, 1948, Truman signed Executive Order 9981, requiring “…equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion or national origin.”

US #1862 from the Great Americans series.

The order also called for the creation of a committee to research and recommend civilian leaders to put the policy into practice.  Most of the changes under the order were completed during President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s administration.  This included the desegregation of military schools, hospitals, and bases.  The last all-black units were abolished in September 1954.

Click here to read the text of Executive Order 9981.

Click here to see what else happened on This Day in History.

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  1. How sad is that? Black men (and women), sure you can serve, fight and possibly die for us in the War For Independence, Civil War, Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, Korean War, etc., but you can’t vote or have equal rights when you come back.

    1. Equality proceeds in small steps. The Magna Carta gave the English nobles some rights, when was that? About 1205 AD i think. … In 1688 the Brits wrote a constitution (small-letter C) saying that the King was no longer an absolute monarch, that Parliament was supreme. Then the American colonies declared a Constitutional Republic, with the prospect of equal rights for all (1776-1789). Importation of slaves ended in 1808. Slavery prohibited in 1865. … The above article points out that Executive Order in 1948. In 1954 the Supreme Court ordered integration of schools. In 1957 President Eisenhower had to order the National Guard and the Army to enforce integration. In the 1960s Kennedy and Johnson and Congress moved things even more. … It’s an ongoing process even today, and the fact that things weren’t perfect in 1900 or 1800 does not mean we are an evil racist country. We should not judge the people of 1800 by the standards of 2020. The year 1800 was a different country, and people did things differently then.

  2. I find it interesting that so many people could be so patient! It is too bad that all Americans don’t seem to be equal under the law. Let’s elect officials who will come out and say that part of their agendas is to make sure all Americans are equql under the law. I also find it interesting that this article states that Truman knew the importance of votes – hinting that this was the only reason he did this. Sounds like something a Republican would say. Is it possible this site is written by a Repubiclan? I, myself, do not belong to any party, so I was just wondering.

  3. Orrin has written a nice list of the positive steps in race relations in the U.S. It brings to mind the old adage, “two steps forward, one step back.” Unfortunately, seems like it has often been two steps forward, two steps back. The end of slavery soon brought about sharecropping, Jim Crow segregation, and abject poverty for most blacks and their families. The progress that some African Americans made by the twentieth century was shattered by race massacres in such places as Tulsa OK, Wilmington NC, East St. Louis, and Chicago just to name a few. Racial covenants and “red lining” by realtors and insurance companies forced blacks to live in certain neighborhoods which often became blighted areas because of poverty. The “Brown v. Topeka Board of Ed.” case (1954), the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act of the 1960s officially ended segregation, but the Supreme Court case of “Shelby County v. Holder” (2013) gutted the Voting Rights Act. Racial profiling and police brutality toward blacks continues. The list could go on and on, but, it seems like “two steps forward, two steps back, ” or at the best, one and a half steps back.

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