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Freedom to Serve: The Legacy of Executive Order 9981

February 2023


Freedom to Serve: Executive Order 9981

Since the earliest days of the republic, African Americans have participated in defending the nation – from the famed 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment of the Civil War to the Buffalo Soldiers to the Tuskegee Airmen and the 6888th Central Postal Battalion of World War II. But in all of these units, Blacks’ contributions were limited by segregation. After World War I, national organizations such as the NAACP and later the Committee Against Jim Crow in Military Service and Training fought for ending race discrimination in the ranks but found a lack of political will in Washington to challenge the status quo. The growing public pressure coupled with the brutal attack of World War II veteran Isaac Woodard in 1946 propelled the Truman White House into action.


E.O. 9981: Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum

Against the wishes of most of the senior military leadership, on July 26, 1948, President Truman issued Executive Order 9981 which forbid discrimination “on the basis of race, color, religion, or national origin” throughout the Armed Forces. At that time, Truman also established The President’s Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity in the Armed Forces, also known as the Fahy Committee, to provide a plan on how to integrate the military. With the Air Force leading the way in planning for integration, the Committee released the Freedom to Serve report in May of 1950 and within two years the last of the segregated U.S. military units had been disbanded. Since that time the military has continued to promote equal opportunity to all individuals providing a full opportunity for everyone to serve.  

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