"Equality of Treatment and Opportunity": Executive Order 9981

On July 26, 1948, President Harry Truman signed Executive Order 9981, which mandated “equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion or national origin.” Though African Americans had been allowed to serve in all branches of the military during World War II, they had been relegated to service positions and segregated units, and in most cases, denied access to promotions and combat roles. While Executive Order 9981 abolished racial discrimination in the American military, the full integration of the Armed Services could not have been accomplished without the dedication, tenacity, and overwhelming patriotism of African American service personnel.

To commemorate the 70th anniversary of Executive Order 9981, the Veterans History Project offers this online presentation, featuring the collections of fifteen African American veterans who served before, after or in the midst of desegregation. Their stories describe the struggles these men and women faced in serving their country—oftentimes, even as it discriminated against them—and the battles they fought to prove themselves worthy of full participation in the military.

View the blog posts related to this online presentation: