On July 26, 1948, President Truman signed executive orders that prohibited discrimination in the U.S. armed forces and federal employment. Executive Order 9980 instituted fair employment practices in the civilian agencies of the federal government. Executive Order 9981, above, required "equality of treatment and opportunity" in the armed forces. When asked whether "equality of treatment" meant integration, Truman answered "yes."
In November 1947, black labor leader A. Philip Randolph and his colleague Grant Reynolds had founded the Committee Against Jim Crow in Military Service and Training, which became known as the League for Nonviolent Civil Disobedience to the Draft. Randolph and Reynolds' goal was to convince President Truman and Congress to end segregation in the U.S. armed forces. In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee in March 1948, Randolph declared, "This time Negroes will not take a Jim Crow draft lying down." Unless segregation and discrimination were banned, he warned, "I personally will advise Negroes to refuse to fight as slaves for a democracy they cannot possess and cannot enjoy."
Randolph and Reynolds kept up the pressure throughout the next few months, sending letters to President Truman and organizing demonstrations in front of the White House. In a picket line in front of the 1948 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia that July, Randolph carried a sign that read, "Prison Is Better Than Jim Crow Service." Randolph and Reynold's actions, along with pressure from liberal whites, prompted President Truman to issue the above executive orders.
Read more about African Americans' history of service in the armed forces today at your Milwaukee Public Library.