United States Department of Defense United States Department of Defense

July 2013
Department of Defense Celebrates 65 Years of Military Integration
1945

The United States declares victory over Japan on Aug. 15, effectively ending World War II, in which more than 900,000 African-Americans served. In October, Army Lt. Gen. Alvan C. Gillem Jr. is appointed to study the Army’s race policies and prepare a directive for the post-war African-American soldiers. In November, the Gillem Board makes 18 recommendations to improve the Army’s employment and treatment of African-American soldiers.

1946

The Army and Navy adopt policies of integration and equal rights for African-American Service members, though the policies were not widely implemented or enforced. War Secretary Robert P. Patterson directs military-wide acceptance of the new policies in April. But as services continue to challenge integration, Patterson suspends African-American enlistments in the regular Army in July. Meanwhile, racial turmoil across the United States prompts President Harry S. Truman in September to establish a civil rights committee to investigate racial violence – a decision that becomes the catalyst for widespread military integration over the next decade.

1947

Policies and practices within the services lead to a significant decline in African-American enlistment and retention. Meanwhile, there is progress in targeted areas. Lt. Gen. Clarence Huebner develops a program that trains thousands of African-American soldiers serving in Europe. The Army Air Force closes its last segregated officer training program at Tuskegee Airfield, Ala., to begin integrated classes. And civil rights leader A. Philip Randolph forms the Committee Against Jim Crow in the Military. In October, the President’s Committee on Civil Rights recommends sweeping reforms that include using the military “as an instrument of social change” by ending segregation of the services.

1948

In February, President Harry S. Truman refers the recommendations of the civil rights committee to Congress. In April, Defense Secretary James V. Forrestal tells African-American leaders that while he agrees with their quick goals for integration, his gradual approach is best. In May, Lt. John E. Rudder becomes the first African-American to receive a regular commission in the Marine Corps. In June, Congress passes the Selective Service Act, but refuses to act on segregation. Truman signs the bill and, following a racially-charged Democratic National Convention that nominated him for a second term as president, signed Executive Order 9981 to provide for equal treatment of African-American service members. The order is largely ignored by the services for months.

1949

In February, the Defense Department’s Personnel Policy Board drafts policies to eliminate all racial quotas, establish uniform draft standards and fully integrate the services by July 1, 1950, however these are not approved. In April, newly-appointed Defense Secretary Louis Johnson issues a policy affirming Truman’s integration order. Under increasing pressure from Johnson, the Air Force issues a “bill of rights” for African-American airmen, and the Navy proposes a recruiting program to enlist African-American sailors. By September, postwar downsizing leads the Marine Corps to eliminate its segregated training platoons and various on-post facilities.

1950

In January, the Army drops its longstanding defense of discriminatory practices by publishing a list of job vacancies that, for the first time, were to be filled without regard to race. Still, the Air Force leads in implementing integration by changing from 106 African-American units and 167 integrated units to 89 African-American units and 350 integrated units in a month. Forced by the necessities of war, the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade is assigned several African-Americans during the fighting on the Pusan Perimeter, marking the first time African-American servicemen are integrated as individuals in significant numbers in combat.

1951

Although support for segregation was still widespread in the Army, the service’s nine training divisions were integrated by March and African-American recruitment and retention is as much as 60 percent over authorization. Fort Ord in Monterey, Calif., was the Army’s first integrated training division; Fort Dix, N.J., and Fort Knox, Ky., were the last. Unlike in World War II, African-Americans are serving in combat at equal rates as whites in the Marine Corps, where at least half of African-American Marines in combat served in integrated units, earning much respect and commendation for fighting in Korea.

1952

In February, African-Americans for the first time become a minority in the Navy’s Stewards’ Branch, which was created after World War II to segregate African-American sailors. In April, the Army European Command’s integration program begins quietly, without publicity or incidents. By September, the Air Force has left only one segregated unit.

1953

Because of the Korean War, the number of African-American Marines grows from 1,525 in May 1949 to 17,000. The high competence of African-American Marines fighting in Korea and the general absence of racial tension during their integration destroyed long-accepted beliefs against integration.

1954

The Army completes integration in November with the deactivation of the last African-American unit in the command, the 94th Engineer Battalion. The Secretary of Defense announces that the last racially segregated unit in the armed forces of the United States had been abolished.

Source: “Integration of the Armed Forces, 1940-1965,” by Morris J. MacGregor Jr.

  • Intro
  • 1945
  • 1946
  • 1947
  • 1948
  • 1949
  • 1950
  • 1951
  • 1952
  • 1953
  • 1954

A Look Back at the History of Integration

Defense Department Reflects on Truman’s Fight for Civil Rights

President Harry S. Truman was remembered for making tough choices: polls taken before the 1948 presidential election showed that 82 percent of Americans opposed Truman's integration plans. Story

National Guard's Diversity Found in States, Territories, Communities

Today's diversity in the Army and Air National Guard reflects the diversity of the communities its members serve and live in, the National Guard Bureau's equal opportunity and civil rights director said. Story

Former Chairman Discusses Truman’s 1948 Integration Order

The opportunities that all servicemembers enjoy today are the result of people insisting things can be better, the first African-American to serve as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said. Story

Army Personnel Official Calls Diversity a National Security Issue

Ensuring the Army’s force is diverse goes beyond the initial integration of blacks into the service 60 years ago, the Army’s top personnel officer said. Story

Integration Brought Strength, Credibility to Military, Official Says

Today’s military is stronger and has more credibility in large part due to a presidential decision 60 years ago to integrate the forces, the defense undersecretary for personnel and readiness said. Story

Historian Charts Six Decades of Racial Integration in U.S. Military

Not even a presidential order could accomplish the full and fair integration of African-Americans in the U.S. military. That would take the Korean War. Story

On July 26, 1948, President Harry S. Truman signed Executive Order 9981 to end racial segregation and discrimination in the military. Although it would take more than six years to fully implement, Truman's order set in motion a wave of reforms for equality for African-Americans not only in the military, but in the federal workforce and public education, as well. On the 65th anniversary of the integration of the armed forces, the Defense Department celebrates the contribution of its African-American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines.