July 26, 2018 

By Attorney Carl Henley 

President, Los Angeles NAACP 


The date, July 26, 1948, marks an important milestone in United States military history and race relations. On this date President Harry S. Truman issued Executive Order 9981. 


The executive order stated, “there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed forces without regard to race, color, religion, or national origin."  Thus, the executive order abolished segregation in the armed forces and ordered full integration of all the military services.  The presidential order was unmatched to any political act since the days of Reconstruction after the Civil War.


Ironically, during the American Revolution, blacks and whites served together in several units throughout the duration of the war.  However, after the Revolutionary War and the creation of a “more perfect union,” African Americans were relegated to segregation in the military.


As I recently returned from the annual convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in San Antonio, Texas, I was reminded that on June 28, 1947, President Truman was the first United States president to attend and speak at the annual convention of the NAACP.  At the closing of the annual convention of the NAACP in 1947 and from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, President Truman called for the government to protect not just civil liberties, but civil rights.


President Truman stated, “…each man must be guaranteed equality of opportunity.  The only limit to an American’s achievement should be his ability, his industry, and his character. These rewards for his effort should be determined only by those truly relevant qualities.” It was in 1948 the delegates to the Democratic National Convention (DNC) called for a liberal civil rights plank that included desegregation of the armed forces.


In response to the pressures from DNC, the NAACP, A. Phillip Randolph and other civil rights advocates, President Truman issued two executive orders banning discrimination in federal employment and the armed forces. 


Consequently, President Truman issued two executive orders on July 26, 1948. Executive Order 9980 eliminated racial discrimination in the federal bureaucracy.  The companion order was the landmark Executive Order 9981 to desegregate the armed forces.  Executive Order 9981was an event which forever changed the United States armed forces and set a political precedent for the civil rights movement.


July 26, 2018 marks the 70th anniversary of an end to segregation in our armed forces.  Moreover, the anniversary also serves as a reminder of the racial progress that has been made in America, but also how much further we must fight for civil rights in our nation.


On July 26, 2018 the Los Angeles NAACP urges this nation to pause to observe and commemorate the enactment of President Harry S. Truman’s Executive Order 9981. Furthermore, the Los Angeles NAACP calls on the President of the United States to create a commission and/or advisory board to study the status of people of color in the military. To include but not limited to: diversity, promotion, discrimination and military justice relating to people of color.


On behalf of a grateful Asso­ciation, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, we salute all our men and women in the United States military services.

Category: Opinion