Integration of the Air Force

In September 1944, fully one year prior to the cessation of the war, Assistant Secretary of War McCloy commissioned a study to analyze the performance of Blacks in the military. This was to act as a guide in developing postwar policies on the role Blacks would play in the future. Fearing obvious pressures from the Black press and Black leaders, the survey was kept top secret.

All reports to the War Department pointed to the inferiority and inability of Blacks to perform by "military" (read "White") standards. They suggested that Blacks lacked the ability to think technically and quickly and were most effective at manual labor. Almost unanimously, all surveyed supported continued segregation of the Armed Forces.

One dissenting voice was Col. Parrish, who in 1942 was Commanding Officer of the Tuskegee Institute. Unlike the other naysayers, Col. Parrish had the most intimate history of communication/relationship with Blacks in the service. He insisted that Blacks should be afforded the same rights and privileges guaranteed by the constitution. Regardless, a summary report was released affirming the views of Black inferiority and recommended limiting Black participation to 10% of Army Air Force personnel in segregated facilities.

In 1945, another board was set up by the Secretary of War to again help define the policy for this "persistent problem." The board was chaired by General Alan Gillem. Black and White leaders testified before the board; for the most part Blacks recommended integration while whites supported maintaining segregation. Col. Parrish was still the only white officer vocally supporting integration.

In the end, the Gillem Study recommended a more inclusive role for Blacks in the military, suggesting that integration was the best choice for the country. The report however, limited the number of Blacks permitted in the armed forces to their percentage in the country's population. Not surprisingly white military leaders were not in support of this more 'liberal' commitment to racial equality; and will the policy recommended change, in practice the Armed Forces remained separate and unequal.

On December 5, 1946 yet another committee was created to evaluate the place Blacks would occupy in the armed services; "The President's Committee on Civil Rights" was established under President Truman. Nearly a year later they released their report, "To Secure These Rights." The report recommended to the president that legislation should be passed to end discrimination and segregation in the Armed Forces.

President Truman, in kind, submitted a similar proposal to the Congress to be enacted as legislation in February 1948. His submission was greeted with a storm of opposition, especially from southern congressmen. Because Congress did not support the president's request, on July 26, 1948 he issued two executive orders.

The first executive order stated, "All personnel action taken by federal appointing officers shall be based solely on merit and fitness; and such officers are authorized and directed to take appropriate steps to insure that in all such actions there shall be no discrimination because of race, color religion, or national origin."

The second ordered more specifically focused on the military.


Establishing the President's Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity In the Armed Forces.

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:

NOW THEREFORE, by virtue of the authority vested in me as President of the United States, and as Commander in Chief of the armed services, it is hereby ordered as follows:

1. 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.

2. There shall be created in the National Military Establishment an advisory committee to be known as the President's Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity in the Armed Services, which shall be composed of seven members to be designated by the President.

3. The Committee is authorized on behalf of the President to examine into the rules, procedures and practices of the Armed Services in order to determine in what respect such rules, procedures and practices may be altered or improved with a view to carrying out the policy of this order. The Committee shall confer and advise the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of the Army, the Secretary of the Navy, and the Secretary of the Air Force, and shall make such recommendations to the President and to said Secretaries as in the judgment of the Committee will effectuate the policy hereof.

4. All executive departments and agencies of the Federal Government are authorized and directed to cooperate with the Committee in its work, and to furnish the Committee such information or the services of such persons as the Committee may require in the performance of its duties.

The Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity convened it first meeting on January 12, 1949 at which time the President restated his commitment to seeing the executive order implemented. The Secretary of the Air Force submitted a desegregation plan that got initiated on June 1, 1949 when the Black unit at Lockbourne was de-activated and its officers were reassigned to other Air Force units.


Copyright 2001-, Terry Muse
Revised: December 30, 2001
Contact: Terry Muse