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“Freedom to Serve”: Secretary of Defense’s Copy of Seminal Report on End of Official Racial Discrimination in the Armed Forces
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the Committee is convinced that a policy of equality of treatment and opportunity will make for a better Army, Navy, and Air Force. It is right and just. It will strengthen the nation.

[LOUIS A. JOHNSON]. Book. Freedom to Serve: Equality of Treatment and Opportunity in the Armed Services (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1950). May 1950 report to President Harry S. Truman by the Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity in the Armed Services. Rare presentation edition, bound in decorative brown cloth with gilt lettering, with Secretary of Defense Johnson’s name gilt-stamped on the front cover. 82 pp., 6.8 x 9.8 in.

Inventory #24113       Price: $1,200

Historical Background

On July 26, 1948, President Harry S. Truman issued Executive Order 9981 declaring his policy 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.” The president appointed a committee to examine the military’s rules, procedures, and practices and to recommend changes to carry the president’s order into effect. The committee (Charles Fahy, former Solicitor General of the U.S., Chairman; Lester B. Granger, executive director of the National Urban League; Dwight R. G. Palmer, Missouri businessman; John H. Sengstacke, African-American newspaper publisher; and William E. Stevenson, president of Oberlin College) made recommendations to the President, and the Secretaries of Defense, and of the Army, Navy, and Air Force.

This final report issued by the committee summarizes the actions of the different branches, and recommends additional steps. President Truman responded to this report on May 22, 1950, “Today, the free people of the world are looking to us for the moral leadership that will unite them in a common purpose…to resist Communist imperialism.” In accepting these responsibilities, Truman continued, “We shall meet them with the sure knowledge that we can move forward in the solution of our own problems in accordance with the noblest of our national ideals—the belief that all men are created equal.”[1]

Truman began the process in earnest, even forcing Secretary of the Army Kenneth Claiborne Royall into retirement in April 1949 for refusing to desegregate the army. Still, it took until Eisenhower’s administration for the last all-black units to be disbanded in September 1954.


practices resulting in inequality of treatment and opportunity had the sanction of official policy and were embodied in regulations…

To put racial restrictions upon job opportunities seemed to the Committee to ignore completely the essential factor of individual differences.... Quite apart from the question of equal opportunity, the Committee did not believe the country or the military services could afford this human wastage.

a policy of segregation made mandatory the assignment of highly qualified Negroes to racial units where there might be no opening for their skills.

The thing that most impressed the Committee about the Navy’s experience was that in the relatively short space of five years the Navy had moved … to a policy of complete integration in general service. In this about-face, the Navy had not been primarily motivated by moral considerations or by a desire to equalize treatment and opportunity. Undoubtedly public opinion had been a factor in this reversal of policy, but chiefly the Navy had been influenced by considerations of military efficiency and the need to economize human resources. Equality of treatment and opportunity, the Navy had discovered, was a necessary and inevitable condition and byproduct of a sound policy of manpower utilization.

By the end of the war many high-ranking officers in the Air Force were convinced that the concentration of almost all Negroes in a relatively narrow range of duties had deprived the service generally of many skills which were lost by reason of segregation.

Almost without exception the commanders interviewed by the Committee’s staff stated that they had put the new policy into effect with some misgivings.... Without exception commanding officers reported that their fears had not been borne out by events. A far larger proportion of Negroes than expected had demonstrated their capacity to compete with whites on an equal basis, to absorb highly technical school training, and to perform creditably in their subsequent assignments.

As this report is submitted it is too early to appraise the effect of the Army’s new policy. However, the Committee firmly believes that as the Army carries out the Committee’s recommendations which it has adopted, then within a relatively short time Negro soldiers will enjoy complete equality of treatment and opportunity in the Army.

As a result of its examination into the rules, procedures, and practices of the armed services, both past and present, the Committee is convinced that a policy of equality of treatment and opportunity will make for a better Army, Navy, and Air Force. It is right and just. It will strengthen the nation.

Louis A. Johnson (1891-1966) was born in Virginia and received a law degree from the University of Virginia. He served in the West Virginia House of Delegates in 1916, and as an army captain during World War I. He was Assistant Secretary of War from 1937 to 1940, resigning after President Franklin D. Roosevelt bypassed him to appoint Henry Stimson as Secretary of War. Johnson was chief fundraiser for President Harry S. Truman’s 1948 presidential campaign. In March 1949, Truman appointed Johnson to replace Secretary of Defense James V. Forrestal. Both Truman and Johnson pursued the elimination of the Navy and Marine Corps, believing they were no longer necessary in an atomic world. Johnson was essential to Truman’s policy of ending racial discrimination in the armed services. However, in September 1950, charged with poor preparation for the Korean War, Johnson resigned and was replaced by George C. Marshall.

[1] Harry S. Truman, Statement by the President in Response to the Report of the Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity in the Armed Services, May 22, 1950, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Harry S. Truman, 1950, Volume 6 (1965), 141.

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