President Harry Truman’s Decision to Desegregate the United States Military

President Harry Truman’s Decision to Desegregate the United States Military

During the 1940s, the United States comprised of about one hundred and thirty million residents of whom about ten percent were the black community. During the Second World War era, the army had a high demand for the recruitment of the African Americans.  Majority of the black community men who had enrolled into the military got induced into the army. They served in all the units and functions during this era but were segregated from the white troops. The act was however disregarded by the order 8802 issued by President Franklin Roosevelt which directed that all African Americans gain acceptance into military training programs, be given fair treatment in employment and not to be discriminated against (1). The Fair Employment Practice Commission was thus initiated to ensure this was adhered to. The body was however later terminated by congress due to significant issues raised against it. After the Second World War, many African Americans wanted to re-enlist in the army but were not allowed.

One of the factors that initiated implementation of desegregation was inequality in recruitment between races, military grouping, military enlisting and medical supervision and attendance in war. During the war, the African American casualties were treated in different sections from the white soldiers. Having different sections of treatment was discriminative and also posed unnecessary military expenditure (3). The African Americans also functioned under distinct protocols that for slowed their entry into the army. They waited for years to precede their training programs while the white members had to wait for only months before proceeding.   The process of integration began with President Franklin Roosevelt signing the official order 8802 signaling the finalization of racism in the United States army. The army however conformed to the separation policies during the World War II era. The efforts of the order 8802 were finalized and empowered by the civil rights movements and the national association for advancement of the colored people which had enlightened President Truman to afford protection and equal treatment to the African American people in the military department. The signing of the executive order by President Truman called for desegregation of the United States army. The president’s call marked the beginning of the fight for the black people to fight side by side with their white counterparts (2).

Truman used to serve in the American army during the First World War. He functioned as an artillery officer whose duty was to operate large movable canons during the war. During this period, he served together with African Americans who operated in separate units different from the white soldiers.  They were not assigned the combat roles but in some instances had fought side by side with the white soldiers to win the war. Truman had been known for his racism against the African American community through his family history (3). His family owned slaves who worked in their six hundred acre land. The act in war had changed his personal view and perception for the black people. When he came into office, he was one of the great leaders known to spearhead equality and worked hand in hand with the civil rights movements for the African Americans.

Another factor was the need for a National alliance with the Eastern Nations. President Truman in an effort to persuade the foreign countries to join with the Western Nations and fight socialism had to ensure his own country eliminated racial discrimination. Truman formed a civil rights committee in 1946 which relayed reports on progression only to him. The committee’s main objective was to fight against discrimination in recruitment opportunities and treatment to the black civilians. They African American deserved an equal right to their white counterparts in terms of staffing, opportunities, training and medical treatment (4).

The committee on its research found out that many of the civil rights for the African Americans were being violated. The black community was living in a discriminative environment where they served to secure their nation but in return it rejected them. They served to declare their patriotism and selflessness in sacrificing their welfare for the peace and security of the American nation (1). The African American activist leader Philip Randolph instructed Truman to eliminate segregation in the United States army. Failure to do so would be marked by African American refusal to serve in the army.

President Truman in search to maintain political support from the African American community and sustain the image of the United States issued the executive order 9981. Politics was one of the major catalysts to the initiation of the order. The period was an electioneering season and most of the democratic political supporters had shifted and had their own candidates. Truman was on his political downfall and needed support for some political gain. The president sought to capitalize on the issue so as to win a majority vote from the significant portion of the black community from the South. He opted for the executive order for fear of legislation rejection by the United States congress (4).

The executive order was followed by resistance from some of the army staff. Anonymous and open protests erupted in major army bases on integration. To combat the resistance, the Fahy committee ensured institution of integration in all military bases by overlooking recruitments and groupings. Integration however was fully instituted during the Korean War where mass fatalities led to merging of segregated groups.

Significance of desegregation

In the American history, the desegregation of the American army marked a civil rights achievement in the fight for equity for the African American community. Although the order faced a lot of resistance from some of the military staffs in all major bases and from some of the white counterparts, it served to be a major strike on segregation. It served as a corner stone towards the fight against racial discrimination, giving hope to the African Americans that change was inevitable. Enacting the order not only desegregated the army but also gave way to the initiation of the civil rights movements in the United States. During Presidents Franklin Roosevelt’s era, African Americans fought in the Second World War which the president termed as the ‘four important human freedoms’ despite the racism and violation of their civil rights (5).

Desegregation served to enlighten not only the African Americans, but also other races that democracy and freedom could be instituted in Americas constitution and that every member had an equal opportunity in the Nation. It foresaw an era where America recognized equity and freedom of expression and where democracy is not only instituted but availed to the welfare of its citizens through bureaucracy.



1.Colley, David, and Jon E. Taylor. “Executive Order 9981 (1948).” The Cambridge Guide to African American History (2016): 93.

2.Haulman, Daniel. “Freeman Field Mutiny: Victory for Integration or Segregation?.” Air Power History 63, no. 3 (2016): 41.

3.Heiss, Mary Ann, and Michale J. Hogan, eds. Origins of the National Security State and the Legacy of Harry S. Truman. Vol. 11. Truman State University Press, 2015.

4.James Jr, Rawn. The Double V: How Wars, Protest, and Harry Truman Desegregated America’s Military. Bloomsbury Publishing USA, 2014.

5.Musil, Donna. “MILITARY BRATS: A Living Study in Race Relations.” In Race and/or Reconciliation, the Third Conference on Veterans in Society. Virginia Tech, 201

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