— Sixty-nine years ago on July 26, 1948, President Harry Truman issued an executive order abolishing racial discrimination in the United States armed forces.
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“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,” executive order 9981 stated.
While the issued order established the President’s Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity in the Armed Services, or the Fahy Committee, segregation in the military wouldn’t officially end for months.
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The number of black Marines grew quickly, from 1,525 to 17,000 in May 1949.
Full integration, according to the Truman Library, didn’t happen until the Korean War in 1953, “when heavy casualties forced segregated units to merge for survival.”
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Before executive order 9981, blacks and other minorities serving in the military were segregated into separate units, often performing menial tasks.
Segregation within the armed services came to an official end in November 1954 with the deactivation of the 94th Engineer Battalion, the country’s last black military unit.
Read executive order 9981 below:
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- The Committee shall continue to exist until such time as the President shall terminate its existence by Executive order.
The White House
July 26, 1948