Independence celebrates historic moment from Truman presidency

Bill Grady
July 27, 2018 - 7:28 am

Getty Images - Hulton Archive - Keystone

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Thursday marked the 70th anniversary of President Harry Truman's signing of executive order 9981, which desegrated the United States military. 

Before Truman's risky decision -- he was facing a difficult election challenge from Republican Thomas Dewey -- black and white soldiers served in separate units.

The president was way ahead of the curve, said Kurt Graham, Truman Presidential Library director.

"It was a reflection of a lot of other changes going on, obviously," Graham said. "This is, in some ways, the beginning of what was later accomplished in the 1960s."

Truman had served in the military, as an artillery officer during World War I. More than 350,000 African-American men served in segregated units, often in menial, non-combat roles. Some performed heroically, even though opportunities were few.

"Truman said that he was going to extend the rights to all Americans, and he said, I mean all Americans, and people knew exactly what he meant," Graham said.

President Lyndon Johnson was standing on Truman's shoulders when he spearheaded the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, Graham said.

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