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President Harry Truman Wipes Out Military Segregation

What’s the Main Idea?

Object Description

Probing Further

By Executive Order--President Truman Wipes Out Segregation In Armed Forces

By Executive Order--
President Truman Wipes Out
Segregation in Armed Forces.

Chicago Defender, July 31, 1948.
Copyprint from microfilm.

Serial and Government
Publications Division

Courtesy of the Chicago Daily
Defender, Chicago, Illinois.

What's the Main Idea

Object Description

On July 31, 1948, the Chicago Defender, one of the most powerful black owned and edited newspapers in the country, published the headline "President Truman Wipes Out Segregation In Armed Forces." Executive Order No. 9981 issued by President Truman provided for "equality of treatment and opportunity in the armed forces without regard to race, color, religion, or national origin." This was the first time that a president used an executive order to implement civil rights principles and was a major victory for civil rights advocates in the quest for full citizenship. Despite these orders, full integration of African Americans in the armed services was carried out slowly. It was not until the end of the Korean conflict that full integration of the armed forces had been achieved.

Probing Further

  1. Study the front page of the Chicago Defender. What other front-page headlines do you see that speak to the state of race relations in America? Why was it so important to have newspapers that would print this type of information?

  2. In 1941, after much agitation from A. Philip Randolph, president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters Association, and other influential African Americans, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued an executive order banning racial discrimination in defense industries and the government. As a result of President Roosevelt's actions, African Americans for the first time began receiving flight instructions at Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama, a campus established by Booker T. Washington. Later, these pilots became known as the Tuskegee Airmen, the first black pilots in the U.S. armed forces. As well, African American nurses were finally sent overseas to treat soldiers, as shown in the photograph, European Theater of Operations, Nurses in England, 1944. Why was the flight school stationed at Tuskegee Institute? Why did it take so long for black nurses to be sent overseas despite nursing shortages?

  3. African Americans in the post-war years still found themselves living under the yoke of racial segregation, even though some civil rights victories had been accomplished at the U.S. Supreme Court level. Due to the 1896 Supreme Court ruling in Plessy v Ferguson, "separate but equal" facilities had been established throughout the South, and because it had never been overturned, segregation still occurred in all aspects of American life. Lawyers for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) focused their attention on education, and sought out to prove that in education, "separate" could never be "equal." Thurgood Marshall, a lawyer for the NAACP, who later became the first African American appointed to the Supreme Court, was the lead attorney on the landmark case Brown v Board of Education of Education of Topeka. Discuss the inherent inequality of the "separate but equal" decree that was established in Plessy v Ferguson.

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