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American Forces Press Service

President Truman Championed Military Integration

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 23, 2008 – The idea that President Harry S. Truman would integrate the armed forces in 1948 was counterintuitive.

Truman, after all, was the product of a segregated society in Missouri. He served as an artillery captain in the segregated World War I Army. He had a reputation as a machine politician who didn’t rock the boat.

There was really nothing in his biography to suggest he would champion integration.

Yet less than four months before the 1948 presidential election, Truman signed Executive Order 9981.

“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,” the July 26, 1948, executive order read in part.

The sweeping change virtually guaranteed that Truman would not win the so-called “Solid South” in the elections. The Southern states were reliable wins for Democratic politicians at the time. Truman’s stand on race relations caused many politicians to bolt the Democratic Party and run as “Dixiecrats.”

Strom Thurmond -- who later would represent South Carolina in the U.S. Senate for almost a half century -- opposed Truman in the election, garnering 39 electoral votes as the candidate for the segregationist States Rights Democratic Party.

New York Gov. Thomas E. Dewey, the Republican nominee, was considered a shoo-in for election. Thurmond took four states that normally would have voted Democratic in the November election, but Truman still won.

Through the next four years, Truman battled with military and civilian leaders to ensure they carried out Executive Order 9981. The Truman order was a landmark in American history. It intimated that separate was not equal five years before the Supreme Court agreed.

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