Harry Truman and Civil Rights: Moral Courage and Political Risks

By Michael R. Gardner | Go to book overview

CHAPTER EIGHT
The Turnip Day Congressional Session and
Executive Orders 9980 and 9981
July 26, 1948

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.

—HST, July 26, 1948

During his spirited acceptance speech at the 1948 Democratic convention in Philadelphia, candidate Harry Truman announced that he would summon the reluctant members of the Republican-led Eightieth Congress back to a special session; that session began on July 26 in a steamy Washington, D. C. 1 As members of Congress returned to the humid federal city on the banks of the Potomac River—a city where air conditioning was a rare luxury in 1948—the thirty-third president of the United States used the first day of the Turnip Day congressional session to hit the do-nothing Congress with a political two-by-four.

Without warning and in obvious response to gross congressional inaction on the president's civil rights special message, which had been submitted six months earlier, President Truman on July 26, 1948, issued two related executive orders, 9980 and 9981—orders that would forever change the racial landscape of the United States. With the stroke of his presidential pen, Harry Truman unilaterally mandated an integrated federal workforce and simultaneously integrated the vast U. S. armed forces. 2

For the million-plus African American readers of the Chicago Defender, Truman's issuance of Executive Orders 9980 and 9981 was described in articles

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