Truman Pushes the Issue for Civil Rights in the Military

January 22, 2019

Given the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day this week, The Veterans Clinic decided to look into the history of segregation in the military and share the facts on our blog.

In the Clinic, we know that fighting for our country is an extreme honor and it is an honor for us to help veterans with their VA claims on behalf of a grateful nation.However, until 1948, military service was an honor that not everyone received on an equal basis. The military, like many other institutions at the time, was segregated. In 1941, during World War II, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802 in response to complaints about discrimination in the United States. The order directed that African-Americans be accepted into job training programs in defense plants,forbid discrimination by defense contractors, and established the Fair Employment Practices Commission(“FEPC”).

President Harry Truman, Roosevelt’s successor, initially allowed Congress to terminate the FEPC, before appointing a distinguished panel to serve as the President’s Commission on Civil Rights, which recommended “more adequate means and procedures for the protection of civil rights of the people of the United States.” President Harry Truman initially called on Congress to enact laws implementing the Commission’s recommendations in February of 1948. However, he did not feel comfortable enough to issue an Executive Order until delegates at the Democratic National Convention of that year called for a liberal civil rights plank that included desegregation of the Armed Forces.

On July 26, 1948, President Truman issued Executive Order 9981, which provides, “It is hereby declared by the policy of the President that there should be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion, or national origin.” Although there was some resistance to the order within the military initially,by the time of the Korean War the military was fully integrated.