Years before the height of the civil rights movement, A. Philip Randolph, founder of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first Black labor union, and Grant Reynolds a pastor, politician and civil rights activist, boldly stood up to Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman. At a March 22, 1948 meeting, the leaders called for President Truman to address the so-called “Jim Crow Army” and end military segregation. Some historians say the gathering did inspire Truman to sign Executive Order 9981 into effect.
President Truman met with 20 civil rights leaders and White House aides, including Randolph and Reynolds. Randolph was a vocal opponent of military segregation, challenging President Roosevelt during World War I. He continued that fight with President Truman. During the meeting, Randolph told him, “Negroes are in no mood to shoulder a gun for democracy abroad so long as they are denied democracy here at home.”
Randolph’s words upset Truman and at a Senate Armed Services Committee meeting days later, Sen. Wayne Morse called the leader’s testimony to rally Black and white men to not join a segregated military a treasonous offense. However, NAACP official Charles Houston came to President Truman with a calmer approach and much to the surprise of many, Truman promised to address the matter.
On July 26, 1948, the executive order was signed thus effectively ending segregation in the armed forces. Some armed forces officials continued to resist the order, including Army Secretary Kenneth Royall, who refused Truman’s order and was forced to retire.
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