[ The Real McCoy Online Home ]                                                                                                                         July 25, 2008
Armywide News

Armed forces commemorates 
60th anniversary of integration

      WASHINGTON, D.C. (Installation Management Command) -- On July 26, 1948, President Harry S. Truman signed Executive Order 9981, establishing the President's Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity in the Armed Services. It was accompanied by Executive Order 9980, which created a Fair Employment Board to eliminate racial discrimination in federal employment.

      Segregation in the military services did not officially end until the Secretary of Defense announced Sept. 30,1954 that the last all-black unit had been abolished. However, the president's directive put the armed forces at the forefront of the growing movement to win an equal social role and equal treatment for our nation's African-American citizens.

      The Army, a little slow initially to embrace the change, began integrating units during the Korean War. Eighth Army commanders began filling losses in their white units with individuals from a surplus of black replacements arriving in Japan in late 1950. By early 1951, 9.4 percent of all African-Americans arriving in-theater were serving in some 41 newly and unofficially integrated units. Another 9.3 percent were in integrated but predominantly black units. The other 81 percent continued to serve in segregated units.

      This limited conversion to integrated units during the Korean War became permanent because it worked.  The performance of integrated troops was praiseworthy with no reports of racial friction.

      In December 1952, the Army Chief of Staff, Gen. J. Lawton Collins, ordered worldwide integration of Army units.  All of the earlier fears cited to support the continuation of a segregated Army proved to be groundless. There was no increase in racial incidents, no breakdown of discipline, no uprising against integration by white Soldiers or surrounding white communities, no backlash from segregationists in Congress, or major public denouncements. 

      The Army and the nation were taking the first steps toward racial equality and harmony that would be at the core of the civil rights movement of the early 1960s.

      The integration of the armed forces did more than just provide opportunity for African-American Soldiers, it opened the door of opportunity for people from diverse backgrounds. 

      "I think that we're leaders in many areas, but certainly we're leaders in the equal opportunity," said Lt. Gen. (Retired) Julius Becton of the military.  Becton was a Soldier who lived through the integration from World War II through the Korean and Vietnam War, and the Army's first African-American three-star general.  "We're leaders in giving all minorities an opportunity to demonstrate what they can do.  A point that we oftentimes are prone to forget, the order of 9981 did not just help the blacks."

      Executive Order 9981 not only opened the door of opportunity for people from all walks if life, it showed the strength that there is in diversity, which was quickly recognized.

      "That order of 9981 helped the entire Army, because it enhanced combat effectiveness," Becton said.  "We don't have separate this, separate that, but when you are training together, you're going to be a better Army. We've proven that time and time again."

      As part of a continuing observance of Executive Order 9981, the U.S. Army will be highlighting the historic importance of its 60th Anniversary through the eyes of Soldiers serving today in a diverse force.  The true strength of a diverse force, as first demonstrated in those early days of integration, is being played out in today's Army.

      "We are not the greatest Army in the world because we are white or black, but because we reflect the faces of our society," said Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth Pres-ton. "You learn early on that people can either be successful or not based on their abilities, willingness to make personal sacrifices and their commitment to the team."

(Sources:  Historical information above was condensed from Morris J. MacGregor, Jr.'s book, Integration of the Armed Forces, 1940-1965. A historian with the U.S. Army Center of Military History (CMH), MacGregor served for 10 years in the Historical Division of the Joint Chiefs of Staff before joining the CMH staff in 1968. LTG (R) Julius Becton quotes taken from PBS News Hour program transcript from link below: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/military/july-dec98/integration_7-31.html.)


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