JULY 26, 1948

President Harry Truman shakes hands with Air Force Staff Sgt. Edward Williams, right, of St. Louis, Missouri, just two years after Truman issued Executive Order 9981. Credit: President Harry S. Truman Library and Museum

President Harry Truman issued Executive Order 9981, which abolished racial discrimination in the United States Armed Forces, eventually leading to segregation’s end in the services. The order came after he saw many returning Black soldiers become victims of violence. 

“My stomach turned over when I learned that Negro soldiers, just back from overseas, were being dumped out of army trucks in Mississippi and beaten,” he said. “I shall fight to end evils like this.” 

He formed the President’s Committee on Civil Rights, which asked for an end to discrimination in the armed forces, and later said in a speech at the Lincoln Memorial, “We have reached a turning point in the long history of our country’s efforts to guarantee freedom and equality to all of our citizens.” 

Throughout the early history of the U.S. military, minorities had been segregated into separate units. Often given menial tasks, they rarely saw combat. But when they had been allowed to fight on the battlefield, they had proven their patriotism and their mettle. Many of the military brass resisted the change, and the last segregated units didn’t disband until 1954. Exactly 15 years later, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara instructed military commanders to boycott private facilities used by soldiers or their families that discriminated against Black Americans.

More on this day


Something went wrong. Please refresh the page and/or try again.

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

The stories of investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell have helped put four Klansmen and a serial killer behind bars. His stories have also helped free two people from death row, exposed injustices and corruption, prompting investigations and reforms as well as the firings of boards and officials. He is a Pulitzer Prize finalist, a longtime member of Investigative Reporters & Editors, and a winner of more than 30 other national awards, including a $500,000 MacArthur “genius” grant. After working for three decades for the statewide Clarion-Ledger, Mitchell left in 2019 and founded the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting.