The Academy Charter School and Hofstra University’s Summer Camp program participated in an wide ranging educational seminar.
Old Bethpage, NY - July 27, 2018 - In commemoration of the 70th anniversary of a Presidential Order that mandated the integration of the United States armed forces, youngsters from The Tri Community and Youth Agency (Tri CYA), The Academy Charter School and Hofstra University’s Summer Camp program participated in an wide ranging educational seminar that examined President Harry Truman’s historic decision and its continuing impact on American society.
President Truman signed Executive Order 9981 on July 26th, 1948 which read:
“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.”
NYU historian Dr. Jeffrey Sammons, an expert in African-American and U.S. military history, explained to the youngsters that prior to the issuing of Executive Order 9981, African Americans were segregated into separate units from their white counterparts. In many instances, these units were assigned menial tasks in the rear and rarely were permitted to enter combat.
Dr. Sammons stated, “On July 26, 1948, President Harry S. Truman, less than three years after an Allied victory over Nazism, fascism, and racism in which black soldiers fought and died for freedom and democracy abroad and at home, issued Executive Order 9981 which technically established the President’s Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity in the Armed Forces.
“Despite its lack of immediacy and failure to call explicitly for the end of segregation, its anti-segregationist intent and subsequent enforcement would make the document a basis for an integrated Army and serve as an important predicate to the much more heralded (U.S. Supreme Court) Brown v. Board of Education decision, declaring segregated public schools unconstitutional. It is safe to posit, that without this executive order the battle against systemic discrimination and segregation would have been immeasurably more delayed and difficult.”
A defining moment or America and her military
Lawrence Kadish, the president and founder of the Museum of American Armor stated, “This museum has a timeless mission, to tell the story of our American military heritage to a new generation. Seventy years ago President Harry Truman issued an executive order that integrated the American military. That is to say, there would no longer be a platoon of just black soldiers or a squadron of just black pilots. It was now one military comprised of Americans, blind to race, color or creed. His order finally recognized that American bravery and patriotism and sacrifice were color blind.”
“People of color have always worn the military uniform of our nation – even before it was a nation. I can only speak to my own experience as a woman of color and equally important, as an American woman of color, who has been proud and honored to be part of our military,” said Babylon Town Councilwoman, Jacqueline A. Gordon.
“Now retired from my rank as a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves, during my three decades of service, I was deployed to Germany, Guantanamo Bay, Iraq and Afghanistan. I have seen acts of bravery among my military colleagues and I have seen prejudice. I have seen the best we can be and the worst we can be. I have seen a military proud of its diversity and one still wrestling with racism, reflecting a nation that is still struggling with bigotry. In serving my country as an Army officer, I was equally proud of having served in the struggle for racial and gender equality. President Truman’s executive order started that journey some 70 years ago, but each one of us must continue to strive every day to meet its objectives.”
An equally proud veteran joining the Councilwoman was Suffolk County Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory who enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1993. Soon after, he was accepted to Officer Candidate School (OCS). After completion of OCS, Lieutenant Gregory was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Field Artillery. He would later make his own history by becoming the first person of color in history to be elected Majority Leader of the Suffolk County Legislature.
The journey is far from over
Nassau County Legislator Arnold Drucker reminded, “As an attorney I have been reminded since my earliest days before the bench that justice is blind. We gather here today, surrounded by weapons of World War II, when many of them were used by soldiers in a segregated army. And yet the courage and the sacrifice of those American soldiers were blind just like justice. Seventy years ago, President Harry Truman recognized their battlefield sacrifice and the hypocrisy of racism. It was the beginning of the end for those who thought our American principles of equal justice and equal opportunity didn’t apply to people of color. The journey is far from over, but I am honored to mark this milestone in American civil rights.”
Youngsters attending the event at the Museum of American Armor also met a group of African American living historians from the Museum of American Armor who presented themselves in various military uniforms spanning the centuries to help tell the story of the outstanding record of service of African Americans in the service of our nation.
The Museum of American Armor is a New York State chartered, 501 C 3, not for profit museum. Located at 1303 Round Swamp Road inside Old Bethpage Village Restoration, Old Bethpage, it is open Wednesday through Sunday, 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Admission donation requested is $12 for adults and $8 for seniors, veterans and children. Its web site is www.museumofamericanarmor.org and also on Facebook.