Seventy-five years ago today, President Truman ordered the desegregation of the U.S. Armed Forces and the civilian workforce across the U.S. government. That historic step made the U.S. military stronger and made America better.
For far too much of our nation’s history, service members of color who fought to defend our country were forced to serve in segregated units. Black troops were denied the very rights that they fought to defend. Despite this bitter heritage, segregated units demonstrated their skill and mettle in war after war. During World War II alone, more than one million Black Americans served bravely to defeat fascism.
After the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II, President Truman rightly declared, “The only limit to an American’s achievement should be his ability, his industry, and his character.” On July 26, 1948, President Truman issued two Executive Orders to enshrine that deeply American principle, mandating “equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion or national origin.”
The end of segregation throughout the Department of Defense was a major step toward fulfilling America’s founding promises of liberty and equality under law. Since then, our extraordinary military and our dedicated civilian workforce have welcomed qualified patriots from all racial backgrounds to defend our country and serve alongside one another. Today, some 44 percent of our active-duty, all-volunteer force are Americans of color.
The U.S. military is the finest fighting force on Earth because of our strategic advantages: we can draw on the talents and the strengths of skilled and brave Americans of every color, creed, and background. As we reflect on the tremendous progress that our country has made over the past 75 years, we recommit ourselves to continue the noble work of all those who broke down barriers, fought prejudice, and worked to ensure that America’s peerless military embodies the democratic ideals that it so proudly defends.