Civil Rights, Men, News

President Truman integrated the armed forces 70 years ago

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President Harry S. Truman

The brutal beating of a recently discharged black soldier by white cops that permanently blinded the soldier played a role in forcing Truman’s hand

Germany also attempted to recruit black troops during World War II, citing lynchings throughout the South and elsewhere in the United States

By Frederick H. Lowe

President Harry S. Truman issued an executive order 70 years ago June 26, 1948, desegregating the United States armed forces, which provided more opportunities for black women and black men, and my father, Mitchell Lowe, was one of them.

Executive Order No.9981 stated that “it is hereby declared to be the policy of the President that there be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion or national origin.” My father served in the Army 21 years, retiring at the rank of Chief Warrant Officer.

Black men have fought for this country since its founding. Crispus Attucks, a black man, was killed during the Boston Massacre on March 5, 1770, making him the first casualty of the American Revolution.

Throughout the nation’s racist history, most blacks were assigned to segregated military units, where they were paid less than white soldiers. Black soldiers duties were mostly limited to cooking and cleaning. 

Isaac Woodard (Center) with Joe Louis on the right and Neil Scott on the left. Woodard is with his mother in the second photo.

Some staff officers resisted Truman’s order, and the military did not become fully integrated until the Korean War  (1950 to 1953) when the high number of casualties forced integration, according to the Truman Library and Museum in Independence, Missouri.

Truman’s order also established the President’s Committee on Equality of Treatment and opportunity in the Armed Services. Truman had been mulling integration of the armed services since 1947 when he appointed the President’s Committee on Civil Rights.

In 1948, a White House memo indicated the president was ready to do it.

The National Democratic Convention that year provided the opportunity when delegates approved a plank calling for desegregation of the armed forces.

During  a recent presentation and discussion at the Truman Library & Museum broadcast on CSPAN’s “Book TV,”  Rawn James Jr., author of “Double V:  How Wars, Protest and Harry Truman, Desegregated America’s Military,” said Truman also decided to integrate the armed forces after learning about Isaac Woodard, Jr., a 26-year-old U.S. Army World War 11 veteran who had been brutally beaten by white cops.

Cover of the book “The Double V”

Woodard, a sergeant, who had been honorably discharged, was riding a bus from Augusta, Georgia to Winnsboro, South Carolina, on February 26, 1946, to meet his wife.

When the bus stopped, Woodard asked the bus driver if he had enough time to use the bathroom.

The driver of the Greyhound Bus became angry and said no. He and Woodard, who was wearing his Army uniform, got into an argument.

When the bus reached Batesburg, South Carolina, Sheriff Linwood Shull and other cops dragged Woodard off the bus and repeatedly jabbed him in both eyes with their police batons, blinding him.

The beating was reported to Truman by NAACP leaders in a meeting at the White House on September 19, 1946. Truman was shocked and both opened a Justice Department investigation into the case and promised to create what would become the President’s Committee on Civil Rights, the first national civil rights commission.

Another factor that may have influenced Truman’s decision to integrate the armed forces occurred  during World War II. Nazis dropped fliers over camps in Europe where black troops were stationed, urging them to join the German army because of the racism and violence they faced in America.

“There have never been lynchings of colored men in Germany. They have always been treated decently,” said the Nazi leaflet, dropped on African-American soldiers fighting across Europe.”

We now know that more than 4,400 black men, women and children were lynched in 12 Southern States between 1877 and 1950.

Another German leaflet said, “Uncle Sam’s colored soldiers are just cannon fodder!”

Black men fought for Germany during World War II, but they were native born Germans.

 

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