The Evolution of African Americans in the Military

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The Evolution of African Americans in the Military

The Evolution of African Americans in the Military

Throughout the history of the United States, citizens of every race and ethnicity have answered the call to duty in order to defend the democratic ideals this great nation was founded upon. More so than any American war, World War II is thought of as the greatest American war, which pitted the “shinning light” of democracy against the looming shadow of the Axis powers which covered all of Europe. While the American victory established the United States as a dominate world power and as a symbol of freedom and democracy, not every American citizen enjoyed freedom and democracy. African Americans were subject to institutional racism in all areas of society including the military. By taking a look at the evolution of War Department policies towards African Americans throughout the War as well as the dedication of black soldiers to their racist country it is apparent that the fight for equality in American society started well before the 1960’s and the civil rights movement. The evolution of the African American in the military from being treated as second class solider to gaining equal opportunity with white soldiers was a long and arduous process. It came about due to ground breaking legislation in Congress as well as in the executive branch of the U.S. Government. The Selective Service Act of 1940 and Executive Order 9981 which led to the desegregation of the armed forces changed the fate of African Americans in the military for generations to come; but the transition and implementation of legislation was repeatedly contested by all branches of the military. Before looking into the problems that arose in the application of the legislation and its effects on African Americans, it is important to gain a sense of the War Department’s policies prior to the passage of both pieces of legislation. By gaining a true sense of the racism and oppression implemented through pre-World War II policy, one may gain a real understanding of how monumental both pieces of legislation were. Looking into the War Department’s pre-war policies also helps uncover the racist practices by one of the highest government agencies as well as the government’s struggle to impose social and cultural changes on the American military. Both the Selective Service Act and Executive Order 9981 came as a surprise considering the decades of racist policies implemented by the War Department. Three War Department studies over a period of seven years exposed the War Department and served as a grim reminder that even though the U.S. was 50 years removed from slavery, African Americans still remained a second class citizen in the minds of many top government officials. Each of these three studies resulted in the formation of the War Department official policies towards Negro involvement in the armed forces. The first study by the War Department was conducted by the Army War College in 1932 and titled, “Negro Manpower in Military Service”. This study by the War Department was aimed at assessing the use of African Americans in the military service and recommendations for their use in a future war#. The War Department recommended three different polices for the use of African Americans, listing the advantages and disadvantages of each policy. The first policy called for total exclusion of African Americans from the Armed Forces.# The advantages of this policy were that it would simplify the military and would, “…leave the negro in agriculture and industry where his value is unquestioned.”# The disadvantages listed by the War Department were that, “…the negro would not bare a just share of the burden of war…” and that “…it would be socially undesirable in the view of our national policy of separate but cooperating races.”# Based on these arguments it was decided that the African American should be employed in military service. The next policy question proposed was...
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