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Executive Order 9981

Calling for Desegregation of the Armed Forces

Three Black men in naval uniforms stand on a pier looking a moored ship.

Black crewmembers stand looking at their ship, USS Mason (DE-529), moored at the Boston Navy Yard, Massachusetts, 20 March 1944. (National Archives and Records Administration [NARA], 520644)

During World War II, more than one million Black American men and women served in the armed forces, including almost 200,000 in the Navy. In the aftermath of this conflict, Black veterans coming home were motivated to lend their voices to the civil rights movement.

On 26 July 1948, President Harry S. Truman issued Executive Order 9981 to abolish discrimination based on “race, color, religion, or national origin” in the U.S. armed forces.

This executive order also established the President’s Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity in the Armed Services, also known as the Fahy committee after its chairman, Charles Fahy. The purpose of this committee was to evaluate and to make recommendations to implement the federal government's policy of “equality of treatment and opportunity” for all members of the armed forces.

Photo #: 80-G-426556 USS English (DD-696)

A 40mm gun crew prepares to bombard enemy installations along the Korean coast, circa October 1950–February 1951, aboard USS English (DD-969). (NHHC, 80-G-426556)

In the summer of 1950, necessity began to close the gap between policy and practice. The Korean War was the first conflict in which integrated U.S. military units fought together on the ground, at sea, and in the air.

Photo #: 80-G-706531 Midshipman Jesse L. Brown, USN

Midshipman Jesse L. Brown, October 1948. (NARA, Official Military Personnel File for Jesse L. Brown [74863786])

In October 1948, Jesse Leroy Brown became the first Black man to earn naval aviator wings.

NHHC Sources:

African Americans in the Navy after World War II through the Korean War

African American Sailors in the U.S. Navy Chronology

Post-WWII—Korean War (National Museum of the U.S. Navy)


Additional Sources:

Equality of Treatment and Opportunity": Executive Order 9981,” Veterans History Project Collection, Library of Congress.

Freedom to Serve, Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum. 

Truman and Executive Order 9981: Idealistic, Pragmatic, or Shrewd Politician?, Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum.


Further Reading:

McGregor, Morris J. Jr. Integration of the Armed Forces, 1940–1965. Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, 2001.

Nelson, Dennis D. The Integration of the Negro Into the U.S. Navy. New York: Farrar, Straus and Young, 1951.

James, Rawn James Jr. The Double V: How Wars, Protest, and Harry Truman Desegregated America's Military. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2013.

Taylor, Jon E.. Freedom to Serve: Truman, Civil Rights, and Executive Order 9981. New York: Taylor & Francis, 2013.

Published: Thu Jul 20 16:13:30 EDT 2023