Military Commemorates 50 Years of Racial Integration
By Staff Sgt. Alicia K. Borlik, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jul. 31, 1998 Fifty years ago on July 26, 1948, President Harry S. Truman signed Executive Order 9981 and set in motion the racial integration of America's armed forces.
Three national level events marked the occasion July 24-26.
The Army sponsored a pageant tracing the lineage of heroes who walked the path before and after military integration. The pageant, "A Legacy of Values," highlighted African-American soldiers fighting the wars of America's past and the war for equality.
Defense Secretary William Cohen proclaimed Truman's order as "one of the best decisions any commander in chief ever made" during the July 24 celebration at Constitution Hall, near the White House.
"His executive order cleared a path for integration and opportunity, decreeing that never again should racism be the rule, regulation or regular practice of the armed forces," Cohen said. "Thanks to the courage and determination of countless heroes -- some of whom are in this hall tonight -- hope triumphed over hate."
The next day in Norfolk, Va., at the Navy commissioning of the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman, President Clinton said Truman showed courage when, despite the political pressures against him, he directed the military to "truly be a force for freedom and a shining example to all humanity."
"This ship, the Harry Truman, is a monument to the strength of character -- to the character of a president and the character of those who serve aboard her," Clinton continued. "The very sight of the Harry S. Truman will summon our best ideals and recall the will and vision of a man who arrived when we needed him most," he added.
On July 26, Deputy Defense Secretary John H. Hamre kicked off the third event, DoD's 1998 Worldwide Equal Opportunity Conference in Birmingham, Ala. This conference began the same day President Truman signed the executive order in 1948 that integrated the armed forces.
In his address, Hamre said Truman was shaken at the end of World War II when he saw African-American soldiers being pulled out of Army trucks in Mississippi and beaten.
He quoted Truman: My very stomach turned. Whatever my inclinations as a native of Missouri might have been, as president I know this is bad. I shall fight to end evils like this."
With the theme "Building Cohesion From Our Growing Diversity -- Challenges and Opportunities in the 21st Century," the four-day gathering saw more than 1,100 participants from throughout the military services and the Coast Guard and from countries around the world.