Let Us Fight as Free Men: Black Soldiers and Civil Rights

By Christine Knauer | Go to book overview

Chapter 5
Truman’s Order

The pressure on the president to make decisive changes mounted, as the chances of winning over the increasingly important black vote in the upcoming presidential election became more difficult. At the end of June 1948, an anonymous White House memorandum recommended that Truman “support the introduction of moderate [civil rights] legislation beating the Republicans to the punch” and garner “credit.”1 The president felt it necessary to act, but followed a slightly different route. On July 26, he issued Executive Order 9981, which called for the “equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the Armed Services without regard to race, color, religion, or national origin.”2 Since executive orders do not require the approval of the House or Senate, Truman circumvented painstaking discussions and the likely rejection of any such civil rights legislation in Congress.3 Contrary to numerous accounts and after-the-fact interpretations, the presidential order did not officially demand the immediate and complete desegregation or integration of the military. Instead, it established the President’s Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity in the Armed Services, later known as the Fahy Committee, to ensure the order’s implementation and to force the armed services to change.4

Clark Clifford, special counsel to the president, maintained that the decision to issue an order had been a primarily moral issue with only, “some political flavor to the timing of those two events.” He claimed that Truman felt “it was outrageous that men could be asked to die for their country but not be allowed to fight in same units because of their color.”5 It is certainly true that the executive order moved the armed forces and the country as a whole toward military desegregation, but Truman never unambiguously “ordered his military leaders … immediately to begin to

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Let Us Fight as Free Men: Black Soldiers and Civil Rights
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Introduction 1
  • Chapter 1 - Fighting for Respect 13
  • Chapter 2 - Coming Home 33
  • Chapter 3 - Stepping Up the Fight 55
  • Chapter 4 - Mass Civil Disobedience 82
  • Chapter 5 - Truman’s Order 112
  • Chapter 6 - A Country They Never Knew 130
  • Chapter 7 - Black Men at War 163
  • Chapter 8 - A Mixed Army 195
  • Epilogue 224
  • Abbreviations and Acronyms 231
  • Notes 235
  • Index 329
  • Acknowledgments 339
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