July 26th, 1948

President Harry Truman Orders Integration of U.S. Armed Forces

By the end of World War II, black troops had fought in every major United States military campaign since the American Revolution while suffering continuously from racial discrimination within the armed forces, including disparities in training, equipment, and opportunity. Following the Allied victory, black civil rights leaders persistently pressured President Harry S. Truman to alleviate this problem.

A. Philip Randolph, head of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, was a leading advocate for black troops seeking equality. Black leaders warned President Truman, a Democrat, that he would lose black voters’ support in the upcoming 1948 election if he ignored racial discrimination. Clark Clifford, the president’s special counsel, echoed the warning in a confidential memo. In February 1948, President Truman asked Congress to pass comprehensive civil rights legislation but legislators failed to act. Black leaders then urged President Truman to enact an executive order. He remained hesitant to act unilaterally to change segregation policies in the military until, in 1948, the Republican party declared its opposition to military segregation.

On July 26, 1948, in Executive Order 9981, President Truman ordered the integration of the United States armed forces. Black voters responded by turning out in droves to re-elect President Truman over Republican challenger Thomas E. Dewey, and handed the president key victories in three states with close races: California, Illinois, and Ohio. The last all-black military unit was disbanded in 1954 but the desegregation order marked just the beginning of a campaign for equal rights, opportunities, and promotions for minority troops in the military.