Today’s blog post comes from curator Jennifer Johnson and education and exhibit specialist Michael Hussey. Executive Orders 9980 and 9981 are on display in the National Archives Museum. See EO 9980 until January 5, 1015, in “Making Their Mark: Stories Through Signatures” in the Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery and EO 9981 until June 17, 2014, in “Records of Rights” in the David M. Rubenstein Gallery
“Recent events in the United States and abroad have made us realize that it is more important today than ever before to insure that all Americans enjoy these rights. When I say all Americans I mean all Americans…Our National Government must show the way.” President Truman, in a speech to the NAACP, June 29, 1947
Without Congress’s blessing, the executive branch or the President of the United States can issue a Presidential Proclamation or an Executive Order. Both carry the force of law.
Executive orders, known as decrees in other countries, are issued to manage the Federal government. Proclamations are aimed outside the Federal government and have been issued for things from declaring war as President Wilson did with Proclamation #1364 to declaring Thanksgiving a holiday as George Washington did when he issued Presidential Proclamation #1.
President Truman, the first President to speak to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), had based part of his platform on civil rights. Successfully elected but stymied by the 80th Congress, President Truman—armed with documentation from his Committee on Civil Rights—called for a special session for Congress. They were to convene on July 26, 1948.
On that hot, summer day in July, Truman signed his name to two documents: Executive Orders 9980 and 9981, integrating the Armed Forces and the Federal workforce.
At the time, Washington, DC—our nation’s capital—was a segregated city. “Whites only” or “Negroes” signs designated separate lunchrooms, work places, and restrooms. The Federal workforce was segregated, too, a policy implemented under President Wilson’s administration. When President Truman entered the White House, only one agency—the Department of the Interior—was integrated.
And more than one million African American men and thousands of black women, who were inducted into the armed forces and served across the globe during World War II, were in racially segregated units. He was President of a country that overwhelmingly opposed integration, but within a day, Truman had profoundly changed the development of the country’s racial landscape.
Each executive order outlined how policies would be implemented by setting up advisory boards and committees. For example, EO9980 mandated that the responsibility fall on the Presidentially appointed heads of each government agency. Within months, agencies began complying with EO 9980.
And despite considerable resistance to EO 9981, by the end of the Korean conflict, the entire military was integrated.
Currently, both EO 9980 and EO 9981 are on display in the National Archives Museum. See EO 9980 until January 5, 1015, in “Making Their Mark: Stories Through Signatures” in the Lawrence F. O’Brien gallery and EO 9981 until June 17, 2014, in “Records of Rights” in the David M. Rubenstein gallery.