On this date in 1948, President Harry Truman issued executive order 9981, desegregating the United States military.
It said, “There shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regards to race, color, religion, or national origin.”
This was a very impressive move for several reasons:
1. It was not popular. Over half of all Americans believed that the military should remain segregated. Many of his top advisors begged him not to do it, exclaiming that it would cost him a chance at winning re-election, which would be decided in just over three months. He didn’t care, he told them it was the right thing to do.
2. President Truman went through a major transformation in terms of race. He had grown up in Missouri, and as a child went to parades honoring the confederacy. When his grandparents were married, they received slaves as a wedding gift. As late as six years before becoming President, Truman was known to have used the “N word”.
He heard the story of a man in Georgia, who was the only African American in his county to vote, being murdered for it in front of his children. He exclaimed “we have to do something about this. This is not right!”
He changed, dramatically.
3. It wasn’t just about the military, it was about our country. Millions of troops had grown up in the segregated south, hearing only bad things about African Americans without any real experience of interacting with them. When they finally got to serve and work alongside them, they realized so much of what they had been taught was baloney. When they left the military to go back home, they took with them a different and more enlightened attitude towards those they had been taught to hate.
Always remember: it is harder to hate those who you know.
Ironically, it was also on this date in 2017 that a later President would tweet his intentions to ban transgender people from serving in the military.
Let us hope that our future Presidents can echo the character, vision, and capacity and desire to grow that Harry Truman had.
P.S.- Do you notice the other headlines in the picture of the newspaper?
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