Truman’s Executive Order 9981

Executive Order 9981, a groundbreaking rule aimed at eradicating racial discrimination and segregation in the U.S. Armed Forces, was issued by President Truman on July 26, 1948. During World War II, minorities, especially African Americans, served in segregated military forces. Despite their contributions to the war effort, they were subjected to prejudice and received unfair treatment compared to their white peers. They also had few possibilities to develop in their military careers. These injustices and inequalities served as the impetus for change.

The purpose of Truman’s Executive Order 9981 was to ensure “equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed forces without regard to race, color, religion, or national origin.” It demanded that all service members, regardless of race or ethnicity, receive equal treatment and that the military be desegregated.

President Truman established the Presidential Committee on Civil Rights in 1946 before issuing the executive order. Truman was influenced by the committee’s conclusions and recommendations, including one that called for the desegregation of the armed forces, when he decided to issue Executive Order 9981.

There was internal resistance to and opposition to desegregation in the military. Deeply ingrained segregationist attitudes and practices required a lot of time and effort to overcome. The President’s Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity in the Armed Services was established as a result of the order to supervise the integration procedure.

Executive Order 9981 was a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement and a significant step toward racial equality in the United States. It was the federal government’s first significant response to military segregation. The order influenced the broader fight for civil rights and paved the way for later initiatives to end segregation in other facets of American society such as the landmark Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 that ended segregation in public schools.

The military’s desegregation had broader effects on American society. It fought against racial prejudice and discrimination and gave African Americans more chances to advance and hold leadership positions in the military. The armed forces’ integration also represented a significant step toward racial equality and sparked additional initiatives to fight discrimination and segregation in other spheres of life.

The United States military’s racial segregation and discrimination were effectively ended by Truman’s Executive Order 9981. Its influence extended beyond the armed forces, advancing the cause of racial equality in American society and the larger civil rights movement.

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Read full text of 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