Troops from the United States and other Allied nations land on the beach at Normandy, France in 1944, beginning the western European invasion that would lead to defeat of Nazi Germany.
U.S. Timeline - The 1940s
World War II
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July 26, 1948 - Executive Order 9981, ending segregation in the United States military, is signed into effect by President Harry S. Truman.
Service had begun a long time before for African American soldiers. From Crispus Attucks at the Boston Massacre in 1770 into the American Revolution, the Civil War, and World War II. It had long ago been time for the official desegragation of military forces in the United States. And this year, in a year after the degregation of the second World War, and before the thought that the Korean War would come, President Harry S. Truman took the subject by the horns and wrote Executive Order 9981. Long time coming. Past time to get it done.
The military has always been at the forefront of change. Whether that be in the protection of its citizens in a time of conflict or in recognizing the rights of those who serve. The act of President Truman would not end the struggle for civil rights. Although it was not in its infancy, it sure had been a slow slog through the years after the Civil War. It would take more than fifteen years to give the regular citizens of the country the same rights as Truman gave the military. It would take until President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into effect in 1964 and some would argue, a whole lot longer than that.
Although the service and various attempts to integrate soldiers into the United States military had gone in fits and starts, a renewed effort to end segregation practices restarted in 1947 when Asa Philip Randolph, a black Civil Rights leader who had organized the first black union, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, in 1925, met with Grant Reynolds, a black chaplain in World War II, attorney, and Civil Rights leader as well. Randolph had been previously successful in getting President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to issue Order 8802, which, on June 25, 1941, had prohibited racial discrimination in the defense industry. On October 10, 1947, Randolph and Reynolds organized the Committee Against Jim Crow in Military Service and Training. They threatened Civil disobedience, suggesting that African American might disobey the draft law. Truman's executive order, coming the next year, prevented that. It would take until the Eisenhower Administation in September 1954 for the final all black unit to be abolished.
Timeline of African Americans in the U.S. Military
Prior to the American Revolution, there were black soldiers serving in the militia during the French and Indian War. Once conflict began in Boston during the Boston Massacure, Crispus Attucks became the symbol of black soldiers and sacrifice, when he was the first man killed during the conflicts of the American Revolution. No, Attucks was not technically a soldier. It is unknown, for certain, whether he was slave or free. He was a sailor and seaman, part of the crowd of Bostonians who had rallied for a boy being mistreated by British soldiers. The American Revolution and Attucks may have fostered the rationale that would eventually lead to inclusion and desegregation, but during that war, African American involvement, and George Washington's take of their efforts, was mixed. Free blacks and slaves fought during the Battles of Concord, Lexington, and Bunker Hill. Despite this, George Washington, succumbing to pressure from some white leaders, banned the inclusion of blacks in the Continental Army when made commander. After the British took advantage of his order, recruiting blacks into British Service, Washington changed his mind. Blacks would serve in the Continental Army in integrated units for the remainder of the war.
Despite that service, the integration and inclusion of African American soldiers in the new United States Army and militia would not last. During the Second Congress, the 1792 Militia Acts were passed. They prohibited all but "white males" into service. That statement would not change until July 17, 1862, during the Civil War, when the Militia Act of 1862 allowed African Americans to participate. Yes, it is true that African Americans participated in the War of 1812 despite the ban at the beginning of the war. They served either in the U.S. Navy, approximately fifteen percent of the total force, or the British Navy.
Service during the Civil War saw one hundred and eighty-six thousand and ninety-seven soldiers of African American descent take place. In World War I, approximately three hundred and fifty thousand African American soldiers served in segregated units. During World War II, one million soldiers of African American descent served in segregated units.
Full Text, Militia Act of 1862
The Militia Act of 1862
CHAP. CCI. - An Act to amend the Act calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections, and repel Invasions, approved February twenty-eight, seventeen hundred and ninety-five, and the Acts amendatory thereof, and for other Purposes.
SEC. 12. And be it further enacted, That the President be, and he is hereby, authorized to receive into the service of the United States, for the purpose of constructing intrenchments, or performing camp service or any other labor, or any military or naval service for which they may be found competent, persons of African descent, and such persons shall be enrolled and organized under such regulations, not inconsistent with the Constitution and laws, as the President may prescribe.
SEC. 13. And be it further enacted, That when any man or boy of African descent, who by the laws of any State shall owe service or labor to any person who, during the present rebellion, has levied war or has borne arms against the United States, or adhered to their enemies by giving them aid and comfort, shall render any such service as is provided for in this act, he, his mother and his wife and children, shall forever thereafter be free, any law, usage, or custom whatsoever to the contrary notwithstanding: Provided, That the mother, wife and children of such man or boy of African descent shall not be made free by the operation of this act except where such mother, wife or children owe service or labor to some person who, during the present rebellion, has borne arms against the United States or adhered to their enemies by giving them aid and comfort.
SEC. 14. And be it further enacted, That the expenses incurred to carry this act into effect shall be paid out of the general appropriation for the army and volunteers.
SEC. 15. And be it further enacted, That all persons who have been or shall be hereafter enrolled in the service of the United States under this act shall receive the pay and rations now allowed by law to soldiers, according to their respective grades: Provided, That persons of African descent, who under this law shall be employed, shall receive ten dollars per month and one ration, three dollars of which monthly pay may be in clothing.
APPROVED, July 17, 1862.
Executuve Order 9981, Full Text
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.
The White House
July 26, 1948
Photo above: African American soldiers in the U.S. Army Signal Corps during World War II, November 9, 1944, Signal Corps. Courtesy Library of Congress. Image below: Crispus Attucks at the Boston Massacre, Engraving by John Bufford and William L. Champey, circa 1856. Courtesy National Archives. Info source: Harry Truman Library, blackpast.org, whitehouse.gov, Wikipedia Commons; Freedmen & Southern Society Project, U.S., Statutes at Large, Treaties, and Proclamations of the United States of America, vol. 12 (Boston, 1863), pp. 597-600; Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.
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