IV. The Right to Fight: Executive Order 9981

The injustice of calling men to fight for freedom while subjecting them to humiliating discrimination within the fighting forces is at once apparent. Furthermore, by preventing entire groups from making their maximum contribution to the national defense, we weaken our defense *106 to that extent and impose heavier burdens on the remainder of the population. 1

This finding from the President's Committee on Civil Rights captures at once the two reasons why the military establishment eventually yielded to the call for equality in the armed services: the recognition of the unjustness of military policy and, more importantly, the negative effect of that policy upon military efficiency. True awareness of the necessity of desegregation was unfortunately not had until the President issued an edict commanding the end of military segregation. The most important directive of the Executive Order regarding the military was contained in the following excerpt:

Whereas it is essential that there be maintained in the armed services of the United States the highest standards of democracy, with equality of treatment and opportunity for all those who serve in our country's defense . . . It is hereby declared to be the policy of the President that there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion or national origin. This policy shall be put into effect as rapidly as possible, having due regard to the time required to effectuate any necessary changes without impairing efficiency or morale. The order also created the President's Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity in the Armed Services, charged with bringing the policies, practices and procedures of the armed forces in line with the new policy.

Not unlike the initial reaction to Randolph's plan for civil disobedience, the Negro press and black organizations were not unified in their opinion of Executive Order 9981. A favorable review was contained in a Chicago Defender editorial, praising Truman for moving "forward toward a fuller realization of the high ideals of our democratic system." Other black organizations and leaders, however, were not so easily swayed by the President's order. It was felt by many that the Executive Order was purposely vague because it failed to mentioneither segregation or integration directly. 1 The CAJC itself was initially *107 concerned that the Executive Order was not clear. 1 The President cleared up any confusion regarding his intent three days after issuance of Executive Order 9981. When asked whether his desire for equality of treatment and opportunity in the armed forces "envision[ed] eventually the end of segregation," Truman simply replied "Yes." 1 In light of this response, and after reviewing the Executive Order, Randolph discontinued the CAJC's call for mass disobedience. 1 In spite of Randolph's announced discontinuance of the civil disobedience campaign, not all felt Executive Order 9981 was sufficient. The League for Non-Violent Civil Disobedience Against Military Segregation, created by Randolph to force the President to issue an Executive Order, vowed to continue the campaign. 1

In spite of continued resistance by elements within the military, the services were eventually completely integrated, and segregation within the branches was eradicated. Mr. Randolph's successful struggle for executive branch recognition of the need for equality of treatment and opportunity in the military did not only benefit black soldiers. Executive Order 9981's effects, primarily the President's implication that segregation was inherently unequal, were positively felt throughout American society, particularly in the courts, where the struggle for civil rights continued.