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The Moore Report: Progress in Race Relations – Desegregating the US Military for African Americans

Ralph E. Moore Jr.

African Americans have a long history of serving in the United States military, volunteering and fighting for their right to enlist. Despite their commitment to defend freedom overseas, they endured racial discrimination at home. World War II, a time of fighting against racism and oppression globally, was a poignant example of this irony, with African Americans denied access to schools, jobs, and other essential facilities in their own country. Moreover, upon their return, Black soldiers faced disrespect and rejection instead of gratitude for their sacrifices.

The Desegregation Milestone

It may be hard to believe, but just 75 years ago, the United States military officially desegregated on July 26, thanks to President Harry S. Truman’s 1948 executive order. Prior to this landmark decision, Black and White soldiers were segregated in living quarters, duties, and advancement opportunities.

The Legacy of Franklin D. Roosevelt

President Truman’s order was built on the foundation laid by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who took the initial steps towards desegregation. In 1941, FDR ordered the admission of African Americans into defense plant job training programs and ensured they were considered for contracts and jobs within the US Department of Defense. Although FDR didn’t mandate racial integration in the armed forces, he began the process by ending discrimination in military operations involving African Americans.

Truman’s Efforts for Civil Rights

After World War II, Congress dissolved the Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC), prompting Truman to establish the President’s Committee on Civil Rights in 1946. Truman’s commission aimed to safeguard the civil rights of all Americans and issued a report titled “To Secure These Rights” in 1947, advocating for anti-discrimination laws and the permanent establishment of the FEPC.

The Executive Order That Transformed the Military

Southern members of Congress opposed Truman’s legislative efforts, threatening filibusters. In response, Truman issued Executive Order 9981, effectively integrating all branches of the armed forces on racial, religious, and national origin grounds. A presidential advisory committee, chaired by Charles Fahy, monitored the implementation of changes to ensure desegregation in the military.

Challenges and Progress

The path to racial integration in the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines was not without challenges. Resistance persisted from enlisted personnel to high-ranking generals and admirals, especially those hailing from the South. However, Truman remained steadfast in his determination to achieve civil rights for all, using the military as a starting point.

Truman’s Personal Transformation

Ironically, Truman himself had voiced racial prejudices before becoming president. Growing up in a segregated Missouri town and born to grandparents who owned enslaved persons, he held negative views on race. However, during his presidency, a letter from a Black military officer detailing the brutal treatment of a Black veteran, Isaac Woodard, led to a transformation in Truman’s attitudes. He began actively pursuing civil rights for all Americans, demonstrating that personal growth and positive change are possible for individuals and society.

A Glimpse of Hope

Today, the appointment of Lloyd J. Austin III as the Secretary of Defense and the potential confirmation of Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. as the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President Biden’s administration indicate progress in diversity and representation within the military and the Department of Defense.

The desegregation of the US military marked a crucial step in the fight for civil rights and equality for African Americans. Although progress has been made, challenges remain, and continuous efforts are needed to ensure a more inclusive and just future. Truman’s personal transformation serves as a reminder that positive change is possible, providing hope for a better tomorrow.

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