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On July 26, 1948, President Harry S. Truman signed Executive Order 9981, which desegregated the U.S. military

July 26, 2025

On July 26, 1948, President Harry S. Truman signed Executive Order 9981, which desegregated the U.S. military. The order banned discrimination “on the basis of race, color, religion or national origin” and called for full integration in the armed forces. The order was a notable achievement of the Truman Administration and an important victory in the civil rights movement.

The end of segregation recognized the significant contributions of black servicemen and boosted Black morale in the military. By the end of the Korean War, nearly all of the military was integrated.

General Colin Powell, speaking on the 50th anniversary of the executive order, remarked of the measure that: “The military was the only institution in all of America—because of Harry Truman—where a young Black kid, now 21 years old, could dream the dream he dared not think about at age 11. It was the one place where the only thing that counted was courage, where the color of your guts and the color of your blood was more important than the color of your skin.”

Did you know? President Truman was an unlikely candidate to improve race relations. Despite being raised by Confederate-sympathizers (Truman’s own mother refused to sleep in the Lincoln Bedroom), many of his policies defied the racist beliefs of his upbringing.

Truman was particularly disturbed by the racially charged beating and blinding of Isaac Woodward, a black WWII veteran who was brutally assaulted on his way home from being discharged. The incident helped motivate Truman to seek better, fairer treatment for minorities in the military.

 

 

Troops in Burma stop work briefly to read President Truman’s Proclamation of Victory in Europe, Department of Defense/Department of the Army, May 9, 1945

-Written by Anna Zemaitaitis, Communications and Design Officer

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July 26, 2025
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