Executive Order 9981

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Executive Order 9981

Desegregation of the Armed Forces

Executive order

By: President Harry S. Truman

Date: July 26, 1948

Source: Truman, Harry. Executive Order 9981. July 26, 1948. Available from the Truman Library 〈http://www.trumanlibrary.org/photos/9981a.jpg〉 (accessed April 30, 2006).

About the Author: Harry S. Truman (1884–1972), served as the 33rd president of the United States from 1945 to 1953. The Missouri-born Truman became the first president to introduce a civil rights bill to Congress. He is best known for making the decision to drop two atomic bombs on Japan to end World War II and for sending U.S. troops to Korea to fight against communism.


World War II (1939–45) and the subsequent Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union transformed the battle for African American civil rights. The vicious racism of the German Nazis, Italian fascists, and Japanese imperialists focused attention on the need for the United States to improve its own race relations and to provide for equal rights under the law. The increasing conflict with the communist Soviet Union also gave Americans a powerful incentive for improving race relations. The Soviets often compared segregation in the American South to the Nazis's treatment of the Jews. In this context, Harry S. Truman acted more boldly than any president before him in advancing civil rights.

Truman's activism was unexpected. For most of his political career, he had shown little interest in the plight of African Americans. He had grown up in western Missouri assuming that both blacks and whites preferred to be segregated from one another. As president, he had the courage to reassess these convictions.

In the fall of 1946, Truman hosted a delegation of civil rights activists from the National Emergency Committee Against Mob Violence. The activists, urging the president to issue a public condemnation of lynching, graphically described incidents of torture and intimidation against blacks in the South. Truman was stunned at the extent of the abuse and immediately appointed a Committee on Civil Rights to recommend preventive measures. The committee recommended the creation of a civil rights commission to investigate abuses and the denial of federal aid to any state that mandated segregated schools and public facilities. Truman went a step further on July 26, 1948 with 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.

Harry Truman
The White House
July 26, 1948


The order to desegregate the armed forces sat unimplemented until the Korean War. In January 1950, Army regulations were issued that directed efficient employment of manpower without regard to race. In March 1950, the Army abolished quotas that restricted the recruiting of black soldiers. As a result, enlistment of black men increased well beyond the requirement of the still-segregated units. Commanders then began assigning black soldiers wherever they were needed and expressed satisfaction with the results. Fears of hostility and tension between blacks and whites proved unfounded. In May 1951, General Matthew B. Ridgway, the Far Eastern commander, recommended assigning black troops to all units in Japan and Korea. In July 1951, the Deparment of the Army approved Ridgway's request and directed the integration of army units over a six-month period. Service units integrated after the combat battalions.

As Ridgway and the Department of the Army realized, a segregated army made no sense militarily. Given the tensions of the Cold War and the need for economical use of manpower in the modern armed forces, it was foolish to make policy decisions based on the social standards of some white Americans. For national security reasons, segregated units had to be phased out.

A large gap loomed between what Truman spoke about civil rights and what his government actually accomplished. Yet desegregation of the military led to far-reaching changes. Truman used his office to set a moral agenda for the nation's long-unfulfilled promise to African Americans. Before Truman, no one in a responsible position had the will to overcome personal prejudice or to strongly confront political opposition to integration. His decision created a military where advancement was based only on merit. The military then served as a model of desegregation for the civilian community.



Dalfiume, Richard M. Desegregation of the U.S. Armed Forces: Fighting on Two Fronts, 1939–1953. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1969.

MacGregor, Morris J., Jr. The Integration of the Armed Forces, 1940–1965. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Army Center of Military History, Government Printing Office, 1989.

McCullough, David. Truman. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992.

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