The Richmond History Podcast

Friday, February 24, 2012

Truman (Re)Integrates the Armed Forces

July 26, 1948, President Harry Truman signed Executive Order 9981 ending segregation in the US Armed Forces and created a President's Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity in the Armed Forces.4  In Oct, 1953 the US Army announced that 95% of African-American soldiers were fighting in integrated units.4  Seems amazing, yet slow, progress from the days when the Continental Army was led by George Washington, who by the end of his life owned more then 300 slaves.  

But according to historian Ron Chernow, up until that point The Continental Army, lead by a slave owner, was the most integrated US army to fight in a war until Vietnam (1955-1975).  More then 5000 blacks made up 6-12% of the Continental army.2  Washington couldn't have been happy about arming slaves and former slaves, but the British were promising freedom to slaves that joined them, and freed blacks were already being armed on the rebel side.  Slaves were armed by the Continentals to prevent them from fighting against the Continentals.  Washington may have realized that any soldier is better then no soldier.

In 1945 only 3% of the army were African American and at the height of WWII they only made up 8.7%.3

Washington didn't free the slaves he owned until his death and his estate did pay pensions to some of the older freed slaves.1  Many of "his" slaves were actually owned by his wife's family so he didn't have the power to free them.

I guess some is better then none and late is better then never. 

2. Washington, A Life, Ron Chernow

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