United States Air Force Staff Sergeant Edward Williams (right) of St. Louis, Missouri, exchanges a handshake with his Commander-in-Chief, President Harry S. Truman (left), at a casual meeting during the President’s morning walk. Williams had been a soldier in the Air Force nine years at the time of this photograph in 1950. Credit: Acme. Harry S. Truman Library.

July 26, 1948: President Harry Truman issued Executive Order 9981, which abolished racial discrimination in the United States Armed Forces. 

The order came after Truman saw many returning Black soldiers become victims of violence. “My stomach turned over when I learned that Negro soldiers, just back from overseas, were being dumped out of army trucks in Mississippi and beaten,” he said. “I shall fight to end evils like this.” 

Truman formed the President’s Committee on Civil Rights, which asked for an end to discrimination in the armed forces, and later said in a speech at the Lincoln Memorial, “It is my deep conviction that we have reached a turning point in the long history of our country’s efforts to guarantee freedom and equality to all our citizens.” 

Throughout the early history of the U.S. military, minorities had been segregated into separate units. Often given menial tasks, they rarely saw combat. But when they had been allowed to fight on the battlefield, they had proven their patriotism and their mettle. Many of the military brass resisted the change, and the last segregated army units didn’t disband until 1954. In 1963, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara “instructed military commanders to boycott private facilities used by soldiers or their families that discriminated against Black Americans.”

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Help inform our coverage as we build a newsroom for and by the people of New Orleans:

Please take a few minutes to share your thoughts with us by answering each question.

The stories of investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell have helped put four Klansmen and a serial killer behind bars. His stories have also helped free two people from death row, exposed injustices and corruption,...