President Harry S. Truman signs Executive Order 9981 – ending discrimination in the military – on July 26, 1948. Truman’s Order ended a long-standing practice of separating black soldiers and relegating them to more menial jobs.
African-Americans had served in the U.S. military since the Revolutionary War, but were deployed in large numbers during the Second World War. By December 31, 1945, more than 2.5 million African Americans had registered for the military draft, and with African American women volunteering in large numbers throughout the war, the United States armed forces had become the first employer of blacks. By the end of World War II, some 900,000 African Americans had served in the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and Nursing Corps. army.
Black World War II veterans were eligible for free college education under the Servicemen Readjustment Act of 1944 – the GI Bill – as well as other benefits, but most were discriminated against when trying to ” access their advantages. This led many veterans to reconsider their mistreatment while in service.
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After witnessing racism in service, Grant Reynolds resigned his WWII chaplain commission and joined activist A. Philip Randolph in co-chairing the Committee Against Jim Crow in Military Service and Training. By drafting letters and telegrams, organizing protest rallies and hearings, and threatening to carry out a nation-wide resistance campaign project, the Committee worked with groups like the Committee to End Segregation in the armed forces and the League for Non-Violent Civil Disobedience Against Military Segregation to demand equal treatment for blacks in the US military.
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Pressure from these groups prompted President Truman to create a Civil Rights Commission, which in October 1947 issued a report calling for a standing commission on fair employment practices, anti-federal tax laws. lynching and anti-voting, and strengthening the department. of the Civil Rights Division of Justice. Truman urged the US Congress to move forward with the Commission’s recommendations. When Congress rejected his demands, Truman on his own pushed forward a large number of proposals. One of his most important actions was the signing of Ordinance 9981, which states: “It is hereby declared that the President’s policy is equal treatment and equal opportunity for all members of the armed forces regardless of race, color, religion or national origin. “
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