Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum

Truman and Executive Order 9981: Idealistic, Pragmatic, or Shrewd Politician?
Jon Bauer
American History
Time Frame:
Hook Activity: 15-30 minutes Primary Source Analysis: 1-3 class periods • This depends upon how many sources you choose to use. Fifteen sources are provided, but use as many or few as you see fit. Extension: 15-30 minutes
Civil Rights
Civil Rights

Grade Levels:

Classroom/Homework Activity to be performed:

The lesson will have three major goals:

1)    Explore the motivations of various Presidents regarding Civil Rights by comparing their “Beliefs” vs. their “Actions”

2)    Formulate a deeper level of understanding of Truman and Executive Order 9981 by allowing students to construct their own opinion based upon evidence from primary sources

3)    Extend the topic to current events by exploring the issue of affirmative action


1)    The activity is designed to facilitate a deeper level of understanding of a very complex subject. 

2)    The analysis of sources allows students to build reading and writing skills, extending beyond a factual understanding of the material.

District, state, or national performance and knowledge standards/goals/skills met:

Kansas History, Government and Social Studies Standards

Standard 1:  Choices have consequences.

1.1:  The student will recognize and evaluate significant choices made by individuals, communities, states, and nations that have impacted our lives and futures.

1.2:  The student will analyze the context under which choices are made and draw conclusions about the motivations and goals of the decision-makers.

1.3:  The student will investigate examples of causes and consequences of particular choices and connect those choices with contemporary issues.

Standard 4:  Societies experience continuity and change over time.

4.1:  The student will recognize and evaluate continuity and change over time and its impact on individuals, institutions, communities, states and nations.

Primary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:

Mystery Quotes:  Jefferson, Lincoln, Truman and Johnson


“I will then that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races…and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races from living together on terms of social and political equality.”


“We (the NAACP) didn’t consider him a friend.  We considered him more dedicated to his concept of the role of a Majority Leader in the Senate than he was to the civil rights cause.”


“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”


“I wish to make it clear that I am not appealing for social equality of the Negro.  The Negro himself knows better than that, and the highest types of Negro leaders say quite frankly, that they prefer the society of their own people.  Negroes want justice, not social relations.”





“I wish to make it clear that I am not appealing for social equality of the Negro.  The Negro himself knows better than that, and the highest types of Negro leaders say quite frankly, that they prefer the society of their own people.  Negroes want justice, not social relations.”

-         Harry Truman, address to the National Colored Democratic Association (1940)

“I will then that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races…and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races from living together on terms of social and political equality.”

-         Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln-Douglas Debate at Charleston, Illinois (1858)

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

-         Thomas Jefferson, Declaration of Independence

“We (the NAACP) didn’t consider him a friend.  We considered him more dedicated to his concept of the role of a Majority Leader in the Senate than he was to the civil rights cause.”

-         Roy Wilkins, former Executive Director of the NAACP, an oral history taken in 1969 – Speaking of Senator Lyndon Johnson





Action Taken


Why Was This Important?



Thomas Jefferson



Wrote the Declaration of Independence


(+)  Sets the standard of equality that the United States continues to aspire to.


(-)   What about women and African Americans?  How are they included in this statement?



Abraham Lincoln



Issued the Emancipation Proclamation


(+)  Freed the slaves, but only in areas held by the Confederacy.


(-)  Wasn’t this just an act of war?



Harry S. Truman



Issued Executive Order 9981



(+)  Ended segregation in the military.


(-)  Didn’t baseball have a more successful move toward desegregation, without being forced to, at about the same time?



Lyndon Johnson



Pushed Through the Civil Rights Act of 1964



(+)  Ended unequal voter registration requirements and ended segregation in schools, workplaces and public places.


(-)  Isn’t this the same guy who was against civil rights legislation in the 1950’s?







Shrewd Politician




































President Harry S. Truman – Executive Order 9981 (July 26, 1948)

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, by the Constitution and the statutes 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 create 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 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 herof.

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.

5)      When requested by the committee to do so, persons in the armed services or in any of the executive departments and agencies of the Federal Government shall testify before the Committee and shall make available for use of the Committee such documents and other information as the Committee may require.

6)      The Committee shall continue to exist until such time as the President shall terminate its existence by Executive order.

Harry Truman

The White House

July 26, 1948


Harry S. Truman – Letter to Bess Wallace (June 22, 1911)

At this time, Truman lived on the family farm thirty miles south of Independence, Missouri, and he is courting Bess Wallace.  Truman was twenty-seven years old when he wrote this letter.


“…Speaking of diamonds, would you wear a solitaire on your left hand should I get it?  Now that is a rather personal or pointed question provided you take it for all it means.  You know, were I an Italian or a poet I would commence and use all the luscious language of two continents.  I am not either but only a kind of good-for-nothing American farmer.  I always had a sneaking notion that some day maybe I’d amount to something.  I doubt it now though like everything.  It is a family failing of ours to be poor financiers.  I am blest that way.  Still that doesn’t keep me from having always thought that you were all that a girl could be possibly and impossibly.  You may not have guessed it but I’ve been crazy about you ever since we went to Sunday school together.  But I never had the nerve to think you’d even look at me.  I don’t think so now but I can’t keep from telling you what I think of you….

I am going to send you the book number of Life.  There is a page of books in it that look good.  Don’t get Ashes of God, for I am going to get it and I’ll and I’ll let you have it.  Every review I have read on it says it is fine.  I have thrown my sticks away and use only a cane now.  I told Ethel I am going to get me a gold-headed one and an eyeglass, if some one of my friends lent me the coin, and pretend that I had been to Georgie V’s crowning.  Don’t you abhor snobs?  Think of such men as Morgan paying to be allowed to dance with royalty.  You know there isn’t a royal family in Europe that wouldn’t disgrace any good citizen to belong to.  I think one man is just as good as another so long as he’s honest and decent and not a nigger or a Chinaman.  Uncle Wills says that the Lord made a white man from dust, a nigger from mud, and then threw what was left and it came down a Chinaman.  He does hate Chinese and Japs.  So do I.  It is race prejudice I guess.  But I am strongly of the opinion that negroes ought to be in Africa, yellow men in Asia, and white men in Europe and America….”

Senator Harry S. Truman – Speech to the National Colored Democratic Association at Chicago, Illinois (July 14, 1940)

In this address to a group of civil rights leaders, Truman provides his definition of racial equality.


“I wish to make it clear that I am not appealing for social equality of the Negro.  The Negro himself, knows better than that, and the highest types of Negro leaders say quite frankly, that they prefer the society of their own people.  Negroes want justice, not social relations.  I merely wish to sound a note of warning.  Numberless antagonisms and indignities heaped upon any race will eventually try human patience to the limit, and a crisis will develop.  We will know the Negro is here to stay and in no way can be removed from our political and economic life, and we all should recognize his inalienable rights as specified in our Constitution.  Can any man claim protection of our laws if he denies that protection to others?”











Senator Harry S. Truman – Speech at Sedalia, Missouri (July 25, 1940)

With this speech, Truman kicked off his campaign for re-election to the Senate.  His campaign headquarters were in Sedalia – the result of Truman trying to distance himself from Thomas Pendergast, who had just pled guilty to charges of income tax evasion.  This speech is also known as “The Brotherhood of Man” Speech.

“I believe in the brotherhood of man; not merely the brotherhood of white men, but the brotherhood of all men before the law.  I believe in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.  In giving to the Negroes the rights that are theirs, we are only acting in accord with our own ideals of a true democracy.  If any class or race can be permanently set apart from, or pushed down below, the rest in political and civil rights, so may any other class or race when it shall incur the displeasure of its more powerful associates, and we may say farewell to the principles on which we count our safety.

During the World War the need of men for an Army and for war industries brought more and more of the Negroes from rural areas to the cities.  In the years past, lynching and mob violence, lack of schools, and countless other equally unfair conditions, hastened the progress of the Negro from the country to the city.  In these centers the Negroes have never had much choice in regard to work or anything else.  By and large, they work mainly as unskilled laborers and domestic servants.  They have been forced to live in segregated slums, neglected by the authorities.  Negroes have been preyed upon by all types of exploiters, from the installment salesman of clothing, pianos, and furniture to the venders of vice.  The majority of our Negro people find but cold comfort in shanties and tenements.  Surely, as freemen, they are entitled to something better than this.”




President Harry S. Truman – Letter to Attorney General Tom Clark (September 20, 1946)

The incident Truman is referring to in this letter involved Isaac Woodward.  Woodward was an African-American from North Carolina who served in the army with distinction during World War II.  Just hours after his discharge from the army, Woodward was beaten by police in South Carolina.  He had boarded the bus in Georgia, and was on his way back to North Carolina.  The driver of the Greyhound bus he was on contacted police in South Carolina, where they removed Woodward from the bus and beat him.  Woodward was permanently blinded as a result of the beating.


“…I had as callers yesterday some members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and they told me about an incident which happened in South Carolina where a negro sergeant who had been discharged from the army just three hours was taken off a bus and not only seriously beaten, but his eyes deliberately put out, and that the mayor of this town had bragged about committing this outrage.

I have been very much alarmed at the increased racial feeling all over the country and I am wondering if it wouldn’t be well to appoint a commission to analyze the situation and have a remedy to present to Congress – something similar to the Wickersham Commission on Prohibition.

I know you have been looking into the Tennessee and Georgia lynching, and have also been investigating the one in Louisiana, but I think it is going to take something more than handling each individual case after it happens – it is going to require the inauguration of some sort of policy to prevent such happenings….”




President Harry S. Truman – Letter to his sister Mary Jane Truman (June 28, 1947)

Truman wrote this letter to his sister the day before he was to deliver a speech to the NAACP in Washington D.C.  In this letter, Truman discusses his upcoming speech, and mentions Abraham Lincoln.  It should be noted that Truman’s mother was from the South, and very much sympathized with the Confederacy.


“…I was very glad you called me today.  I had expected to call you tonight.  The situation here is very bad.  I am afraid the Taft-Hartley Law will not work.  But I’ll be charged with the responsibility whether it does or does not work….

I’ve got to make a speech to the Society for the Advancement of Colored People tomorrow, and I wish I didn’t have to make it.  Mrs. R. (Eleanor Roosevelt) and Walter White, Wayne Morse, Senator from Oregon and your brother are the speakers.  Walter White is white in color, has gray hair and blue eyes, but he is a Negro.  Mrs. Roosevelt has spent her public life stirring up trouble between whites and black – and I’m in the middle.  Mamma won’t like what I say because I wind up by quoting old Abe.  But I believe what I say and I’m hopeful we may implement it….”









President Harry S. Truman – Address to the NAACP (June 29, 1947)

Truman delivered this speech to the NAACP at the Lincoln Memorial, becoming the first President to address the NAACP.  The speech was carried live on radio.  Oregon Senator Wayne Morse, Eleanor Roosevelt and Walter White, the head of the NAACP, spoke before Truman.


“…It is my deep conviction that we have reached a turning point in the long history of our country’s efforts to guarantee freedom and equality to all our citizens.  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.

The civil rights laws written in the early years of our Republic, and the traditions which have been built upon them, are precious to us.  Those laws were drawn up with the memory still fresh in men’s minds of the tyranny of an absentee government.  They were written to protect the citizen against any possible tyrannical act by the new government of this country.

But we cannot be content with a civil liberties program which emphasizes only the need of protection against the possibility of tyranny by the Government.  We cannot stop there.

We must keep moving forward, with new concepts of civil rights to safeguard our heritage.  The extension of civil rights today means, not protection of the people against the Government, but protection of the people by the Government. 

We must make the Federal Government a friendly, vigilant defender of the rights and equalities of all Americans.  And again I mean all Americans.



As Americans, we believe that every man should be free to live his life as he wishes.  He should be limited only by his responsibility to his fellow countrymen.  If this freedom is to be more than a dream, each man must be guaranteed equality of opportunity.  The only limit to an American’s achievement should be his ability, his industry, and his character….

The support of desperate populations of battle-ravaged countries must be won for the free way of life.  We must have them as allies in our continuing struggle for the peaceful solution of the world’s problems.  Freedom is not an easy lesson to teach, nor an easy cause to sell, to peoples beset by every kind of privation.  They may surrender to the false security offered so temptingly by totalitarian regimes unless we can prove the superiority of democracy.

Our case for democracy should be as strong as we can make it.  It should rest on practical evidence that we have been able to put our own house in order.

For these compelling reasons, we can no longer afford the luxury of a leisurely attack upon prejudice and discrimination.  There is much that State and local governments can do in providing positive safeguards for civil rights.  But we cannot, any longer, await the growth of a will to action in the slowest State of the most backward community.

Our National Government must show the way….”








W.E.B. DuBois – “An Appeal to Reason” (October 23, 1947)

DuBois had long been a leader in the African-American community.  He had been a key member of the NAACP from its founding in 1909 until 1934, when he left the organization over the issue of integration.  The NAACP wanted to fight for integration, while Dubois favored separatism.  He came back to the NAACP in 1944 and was responsible for “An Appeal to Reason,” a document whose audience was the United Nations.  Dubois and others had been working on the ninety-four page document since 1946.


“…We appeal to the world to witness that this attitude of America is far more dangerous to mankind that the Atom bomb; and far, far more clamorous for attention than disarmament or treaty.  To disarm the hidebound minds of men is the only path to peace; and as long as Great Britain and the United States profess democracy with one hand and deny it to millions with the other, they convince none of their sincerity, least of all themselves.  Not only that, but they encourage the aggression of smaller nations; so long as the Union of South Africa defends Humanity and lets two million whites enslave ten million colored people, its voice spells hypocrisy….

Therefore, Peoples of the World, we American Negroes appeal to you; our treatment in America is not merely an internal question of the United States.  It is a basic problem of humanity; of democracy; of discrimination because of race and color; and as such it demands your attention and action.  No nation is so great that the world can afford to let it continue to be deliberately unjust, cruel and unfair toward its own citizens….”





The President’s Commission on Civil Rights – “To Secure These Rights” (October 29, 1947)

The President’s Commission on Civil Rights (PCCR) was created on December 5, 1946 when President Truman issued Executive Order 9808.  Truman issued a statement that read “…I am asking this Committee to prepare for me a written report.  The substance of this report will be recommendations with respect to the adoption or establishment of legislation or otherwise of more adequate and effective means and procedures for the protection of the civil rights of the people of the United States.”  The committee was very balanced – both racially and politically.  They heard testimony from over forty people and read written comments by 200 more individuals.  The issued their 178 page report on October 29, 1947.

“In a democracy, each individual must have freedom to choose his friends and to control the pattern of his personal and family life.  But we see nothing inconsistent between this freedom and a recognition of the truth that democracy also means that in going to school, working, participating in the political process, serving in the armed forces, enjoying government services in such fields and health and recreation, making use of transportation and other public accommodation facilities, and living in specific communities and neighborhoods, distinctions of race, color and creed have no place….

A lynching in a rural American community is not a challenge to that community’s conscience along.  The repercussions of such a crime are heard not only in the locality, or indeed only in our own nation.  They echo from one end of the globe to the other, and the world looks to the American national government for both an explanation of how such a shocking event can occur in a civilized country and remedial action to prevent its recurrence.

Similarly, interference with the right of a qualified citizen to vote locally cannot today remain a local problem.  An American diplomat cannot forcefully argue for free elections in foreign lands without meeting the challenge that in many sections of America qualified voters do not have free access to the polls.  Can it be doubted that this is a right which the national government must secure?...

Our foreign policy is designed to make the United States an enormous, positive influence for peace and progress throughout the world.  We have tried to let nothing, not even extreme political differences between ourselves and foreign nations, stand in the way of this goal.  But our domestic civil rights shortcomings are a serious obstacle….

The international reason for acting to secure our civil rights now is not to win the approval of our totalitarian critics.  We would not expect it if our record were spotless; to them our civil rights record is only a convenient weapon with which to attack us.  Certainly we would like to deprive them of that weapon.  But we are more concerned with the good opinion of the people of the world….

The injustice of calling men to fight for freedom while subjecting them to humiliating discrimination within the fighting forces is at once apparent.  Furthermore, by preventing entire groups from making their maximum contribution to the national defense, we weaken our defense to that extent and impose heavier burdens on the remainder of the population.

Legislation and regulations should expressly ban discrimination and segregation in the recruitment, assignment, and training of all personnel in all types of military duty.  Mess halls, quarters, recreational facilities, and post exchanges should be non-segregated.  Commissions and promotions should be awarded on considerations of merit only.

Selection of students for the Military, Naval, and Coast Guard academies and all other service schools should be governed by standards from which considerations of race, color, creed or national origin are conspicuously absent.  The National Guard, reserve units, and any universal military training program should all be administered in accordance with these same standards.

The Committee believes that the recent unification of the armed forces provides a timely opportunity for the revision of present policy and practice.  A strong enunciation of future policy should be made condemning discrimination and segregation within the armed forces.”


Clark Clifford, Memo to President Truman (November 19, 1947)

Clifford was a lawyer from St. Louis who became Chief White House Counsel in 1947.  He was an important advisor to Truman regarding his re-election campaign in 1948.  In this memo, Clifford is looking ahead to the election that would take place a year later, in November of 1948.


“The title of this memorandum might well be “The Politics of 1948.”  The aim of the memorandum is to outline a course of political conduct for the Administration extending from November, 1947 to November, 1948….

Comments that are presented here are based solely on an appraisal of the politically advantageous course to follow….

President Truman will be elected if the Administration will successfully concentrate on the traditional Democratic alliance between the South and the West.  It is inconceivable that any policies initiated by the Truman Administration no matter how “liberal” could so alienate the South in the next year that it would revolt.  As always, the South can be considered safely Democratic….

A theory of many professional politicians is that the northern Negro voter today holds the balance of power in Presidential elections for the simple arithmetical reason that the Negroes not only vote in a bloc but are geographically concentrated in the pivotal, large and closely contested electoral states such as New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan.  This theory may or may not be absolutely true, but it is certainly close enough to the truth to be extremely arguable….

Unless the Administration makes a determined campaign to help the Negro (and everybody else) on the problems of high prices and housing – and capitalized politically on its efforts – the Negro vote is already lost….

The Republicans know how vulnerable the Democratic Party is insofar as the negro vote is concerned.  They have been bending every effort to woo the negroes away from the Administration’s fold.  In all probability, Republican strategy at the next session will be to offer an FEPC, and anti-poll tax bill, and an anti-lynching bill.  This will be accompanied by a flourish of oratory devoted to the Civil Rights of various groups of our citizens.

The Administration would make a grade error if we permitted the Republicans to get away with this.  It would appear to be sound strategy to have the President go as far as he feels he possibly could go in recommending measures to protect the rights of minority groups.  This course of action would obviously cause difficulty with our Southern friends but that is the lesser of two evils….

The Campaign of 1948 will be a tough, bitterly fought struggle.  The issues will be close and the ultimate determination of the winner may very well depend upon the type of staff work furnished to the two contenders.

No effort must be overlooked or left undone to furnish President Truman with the greatest possible assistance because the future of this country and the future of the world are linked inextricably with his reelection.

In national politics, the American people normally make up their minds definitely about the two Presidential candidates by the end of July.

If the program discussed here can be put into operation soon and executed properly, it can help in persuading the American people to make up their minds the right way.”








President Harry S. Truman – Annual Message to Congress (January 7, 1948)

Truman delivered this speech at 1:30 in the afternoon, and it was broadcast live on radio to the entire country.  He outlines five goals that he has for the country.


“…On this occasion, above all others, the Congress and the President should concentrate their attention, not upon party, but upon the country…

The United States has become great because we, as a people, have been able to work together for great objectives even while differing about details….

Throughout the world new ideas are challenging the old.  Men of all nations are re-examining the beliefs by which they live.  Great scientific and industrial changes have released new forces which will affect the future course of civilization….

I propose that we look ahead today toward those goals for the future which have the greatest bearing upon the foundation of our democracy and the happiness of our people….

Our first goal is to secure fully the essential human rights of our citizens…. Religious freedom, free speech, and freedom of thought are cherished realties in our land.  Any denial of human rights is a denial of the basic beliefs of democracy and of our regard for the worth of each individual….

Our second goal is to protect and develop our human resources…. We should now extend unemployment compensation, old age benefits, and survivor’s benefits to millions who are not now protected….Another fundamental aim of our democracy is to provide an adequate education for every person….It is deplorable that in a Nation as rich as ours there are millions of children who do not have adequate schoolhouses or enough teachers for a good elementary or secondary education.  If there are educational inadequacies in any State, the whole Nation suffers.  The Federal Government has a responsibility for providing financial aid to meet this crisis….

Our third goal is to conserve and use our natural resources so that they can contribute most effectively to the welfare of our people…. The resources given by nature to this country are rich and extensive…. We are doing less than we know how to do to make use of our resources without destroying them…. We must continue to take specific steps toward this goal.  We must vigorously defend our natural wealth against those who would misuse it for selfish gain….

Our fourth goal is to lift the standard of living for all our people by strengthening our economic system and sharing more broadly among our people the goods we produce…. If we distribute these gains properly, we can go far toward stamping out poverty in our generation…. Another basic element of a strong economic system is the well-being of the wage earners.  We have learned that the well-being of workers depends on high production and consequent high employment.  We have learned equally well that the welfare of industry and agriculture depends on high incomes for our workers…. The Government has wisely chosen to set a floor under wages.  But our 40 cent minimum wage is inadequate and obsolete.  I recommend the lifting of the minimum wage to 75 cents an hour….

Our fifth goal is to achieve world peace based on principles of freedom and justice and the equality of all nations….We believe that the United States can be an effective force for world peace only if it is strong.  We look forward to the day when nations will decrease their armaments.  Yet so long as there remains serious opposition to the ideals of a peaceful world, we must maintain strong armed forces….

…let us keep ever before us our high purposes….

We are determined that every citizen of this Nation shall have an equal right and an equal opportunity to grow in wisdom and in stature and to take his place in the control of his Nation’s destiny….

This is the hour to rededicate ourselves to the faith in God that gives us confidence as we face the challenge of the years ahead.”


President Harry S. Truman – Special Address to Congress (February 2, 1948)

This address to Congress came only three weeks after his State of the Union Address.  In this speech, he outlines his plans for implementing the ideas outlined in “To Secure These Rights,” the report issued by the President’s Commission on Civil Rights about three months earlier.  While Truman addresses groups such as Japanese-Americans, this selection concentrates on the parts that apply to African Americans.


“I recommend, therefore, that the Congress enact legislation at this session directed toward the following specific objectives:

  1. Establishing a permanent Commission on Civil Rights, a Joint Congressional Committee on Civil Rights, and a Civil Rights Division in the Department of Justice.
  2. Strengthening existing Civil Rights Statutes.
  3. Providing federal protection against lynching.
  4. Protecting more adequately the right to vote.
  5. Establishing a Fair Employment Practice Commission to prevent unfair discrimination in employment.
  6. Prohibiting discrimination in interstate transportation facilities.
  7. Providing home-rule and suffrage in Presidential elections for the residents of the District of Columbia.
  8. Providing Statehood for Hawaii and Alaska and a greater measure of self-government for our island possessions.
  9. Equalizing the opportunities for residents of the United States to become naturalized citizens.
  10. Settling the evacuation claims of Japanese-Americans….

The position of the United States in the world today makes it especially urgent that we adopt these measures to secure for all our people their essential rights.


The peoples of the world are faced with a choice of freedom or enslavement, a choice between a form of government which harnesses the state in the service of the individual and a form of government which chains the individual to the needs of the state.

We in the United States are working in company with other nations who share our desire for enduring world peace and who believe with us that, above all else, men must be free.  We are striving to build a world family of nations – a world where men may live under governments of their own choosing and under laws of their own making.

As part of that endeavor, the Commission on Human Rights of the United Nations is now engaged in preparing an international bill of human rights by which the nations of the world may bind themselves by international covenant to give effect to basic human rights and fundamental freedoms.  We have played a leading role in this undertaking designed to create a world order of law and justice fully protective of the rights and the dignity of the individual.

To be effective in those efforts, we must protect our civil rights so that by providing all our people with the maximum enjoyment of personal freedom and personal opportunity we shall be a stronger nation – stronger in our leadership, stronger in our moral position, stronger in the deeper satisfactions of a united citizenry.

We know that our democracy is not perfect.  But we do know that it offers freer, happier life to our people than any totalitarian nation has ever offered….”







Hubert Humphrey – Letter to James Forrestal (April 26, 1948)

Hubert Humphrey had a long career as a politician from Minnesota.  At the time he wrote this letter, he was Mayor of Minneapolis.  He later represents Minnesota as a Senator, serves as Vice-President for Lyndon Johnson, and is the Democratic nominee for President in 1968.  Note:  James Forrestal was Secretary of Defense, while Kenneth Royal was the Secretary of the Army.


“It is Governor Youngdahl’s intention to issue an executive order doing away with all discrimination in the National Guard on the basis of race, religion, national origin, and ancestry.  I understand that Colonel Robert Bell raised the question as to whether this might result in the withholding of army funds from Minnesota.  The Governor’s letter to you was for the purpose of obtaining a clear answer to this question….

The Governor informed me a few days ago that he intends to issue such an executive order in the very near future whether or not he receives a reply from Secretary Royal.  It seems clear to me that the Governor is completely right on this issue.  I can see no moral, legal, or practical reason which would justify the federal government in withholding funds from the State of Minnesota after the Governor issues the order ending discrimination in the National Guard….

We in Minneapolis take pride in the forthright action we have taken to end the evils of discrimination and segregation in our community….

Therefore, I urge not only that you comply with Governor Youngdahl’s request, but that you take the initiative in ending the policy of segregation throughout the armed forces of the United States.  I believe that this step will build national unity and will strengthen both our military and our moral armaments.  It would implement a vital recommendation of the President’s Committee on Civil Rights.  I believe you would find support for this action from the great majority of American citizens and veterans, north, south, east, and west….”


A. Philip Randolph and Grant Reynolds – Letter to President Truman (July 15, 1948)

Randolph was an African-American labor organizer and civil rights leader.  Along with Reynolds (a civil rights activist from New York), he formed the “Committee Against Jim Crow in Military Service and Training.”  Reynolds was President of this organization, while Randolph was treasurer. 

In 1941, Randolph and others organized a march on Washington to protest discrimination and segregation in the armed forces and armed forces industries, only to call off the march when President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802.  Executive Order 8802 ended discrimination in war industries. 


“We were indeed happy that you decided to call Congress back into special session in order to act on civil rights legislation, among other matters.  We trust that in your message to Congress on July 26 you will specifically ask for legislative approval of anti-lynching and other safeguards for Negro draftees.  You are undoubtedly aware of the intense bitterness on the part of Negro citizens because of the bipartisan “gentlemen’s agreement” to scuttle the Langer amendment to the draft bill early in June.

The action most necessary today to strengthen the fabric of democracy is of the type that would enhance the dignity of second-class citizens.  Because the 1948 Republican platform expressed its disapproval of army segregation and because the recently adopted platform of your own party in essence called for the abolition of racial distinction within the military establishment, we feel that you now have a bi-partisan mandate to end military segregation forthwith by the issuance of an Executive Order.

May we take this opportunity to renew our request for a conference with you in the immediate future to discuss such an Executive Order.  The date for registration under draft is only a month away and it is the hope of all Negro youth that there will be an alternative beyond submission to a discriminatory law and imprisonment for following the dictates of self-respect.”

President Harry S. Truman / Ernest W. Roberts Correspondence (August 18, 1948)

Ernest Roberts was President of the Faultless Starch Company in Kansas City, a friend of his from the Kansas City area. 


Ernest W. Roberts – Letter to President Truman

“You can win the South without the “Equal Rights Bill” but you cannot win the South with it.  Just why?  Well you, Bess and Margaret, and shall I say myself, are all Southerners and we have been raised with the Negroes and we know the term “Equal Rights.”  Harry, let us let the South take care of the Niggers, which they have done, and if the Niggers do not like the Southern treatment, let them come to Mrs. Roosevelt….”


President Harry S. Truman – Letter to Ernest W. Roberts (August 18, 1948)

“I am going to send you a copy of the report of my Commission on Civil Rights and then if you still have that antebellum proslavery outlook, I’ll be thoroughly disappointed in you.

The main difficulty with the South is that they are living eighty years behind the times and the sooner they come out of it the better it will be for the country and themselves.  I am not asking for social equality, because no such things exists, but I am asking for equality of opportunity for all human beings and, as long as I stay here, I am going to continue that fight.  When the mob gangs can take four people out and shoot them in the back, and nothing is done about it, that country is in a pretty bad fix from a law enforcement standpoint….

I can’t approve of such goings on and I shall never approve it, as long as I am here, as I told you before.  I am going to try to remedy it and if that ends up in my failure to be re-elected, that failure will be in a good cause.”


President Harry S. Truman – Comments Made During the Documentary “Decision:  the Conflicts of Harry S. Truman” (1964)

In the early 1960’s, a documentary was made focusing on Truman’s Presidency.  Truman would have been about seventy years old when this documentary was made.  The selection that is here is from outtakes from the filming sessions that did not air in 1964.  They were uncovered by historians in 2003 at the Truman Library.


“A foreigner, when he comes to this country, is usually always puzzled to find that there is to some extent bigotry in regard to the treatment of the Negro.  Usually, the matter is explained to him on this basis, which I expect to do now and I hope it’ll explain a great many things to people.  He’ll understand the situation.  The South in the War Between the States…eleven of those states left the Union, and about three and a half million Negroes were freed and turned loose.  And Abraham Lincoln was assassinated before he had a chance to implement the situation that he had in mind.  And the freed Negroes felt that due to their emancipation and the amendments to the Constitution that were passed in 1868, (they) had the same rights as the white people.

Well, the Southerners, having been raised in the slave time, just couldn’t see it.  And if the men from the North would have patience and stay out of the situation down South – they’re always sticking their noses in someplace where they’re not wanted and stirrin’ up trouble.  The Southerners are not bigots.  They understand the situation.  They know that eventually the situation will have to develop so there is equality among the races, and when that equality comes you’ll find those Southern Negroes who came up here to New York – there’s a million of ‘em here – and who went to Chicago – there’s a million and a half of ‘em in Chicago – are now wishing they were back home, for the simple reason that they found that they don’t get any better treatment from these so-called Northern friends of theirs, not half as good treatment as they get down South because a Southerner understands ‘em, and if they’ll approach this thing in a level-headed, easy manner, in the long run the whole thing will work out as it should.

The Southerners believe in the equality of opportunity.  They believe in equality of the political approach to the Government of the United States, and they understand that the constitution provides for just that, and that the civil rights law which had been passed to implement that – and I got that law through the Congress after about four years fight – and it has now been, to some extent but not entirely, implemented.  There is another civil rights law now in contemplation, and eventually the whole situation will be worked out.  But it takes patience and understanding, and the people of New York, Chicago, and Boston, particularly, can’t understand the attitude of the Southerners in this matter.  If they’d stayed home and tended their own business and the niggers who’d been invited to go up there and find out that they’re not half as well treated as they are down South.  And after a while, there won’t be any difficulty with it because I know – I come from a state, as I told you, a Southern state.”




Primary Sources

Harry S. Truman – Letter to Bess Wallace (June 22, 1911)


Senator Harry S. Truman – Speech to the National Colored Democratic Association at Chicago, Illinois (July 14, 1940)

            Jon E. Taylor – Freedom to Serve – page 49

Senator Harry S. Truman – Speech at Sedalia, Missouri (July 25, 1940)

            Jon E. Taylor – Freedom to Serve – page 48

President Harry S. Truman – Letter to Attorney General Tom Clark (September 20, 1946)


President Harry S. Truman – Letter to his sister Mary Jane Truman (June 28, 1947)


President Harry S. Truman – Address to the NAACP (June 29, 1947)


W.E.B. DuBois – An Appeal to Reason (October 23, 1947)

            Jon E. Taylor – Freedom to Serve – page 81

The President’s Commission on Civil Rights – “To Secure These Rights” (October 29, 1947)

            Jon E. Taylor – Freedom to Serve – pages 83-85


Clark Clifford, Memo to President Truman (November 19, 1947)


President Harry S. Truman – Annual Message to Congress (January 7, 1948)


President Harry S. Truman – Special Address to Congress (February 2, 1948)

            Jon E. Taylor – Freedom to Serve – pages 143-150

Hubert Humphrey – Letter to James Forrestal (April 26, 1948)


A. Philip Randolph – Letter to President Truman (July 15, 1948)


President Harry S. Truman / Ernest W. Roberts Correspondence (August 18, 1948)

Jon E. Taylor – Freedom to Serve – pages 128-129

President Harry S. Truman – Comments Made During the Documentary “Decision:  the Conflicts of Harry S. Truman” (1964)

Jon E. Taylor – Freedom to Serve – pages 127-128



Full description of activity or assignment.


Hook Activity 

1)    Have students read the four quotes and formulate their guesses as to who each is referring to.

  1. You can give students the four choices (Jefferson, Lincoln, Truman, Johnson) or let students come up with guesses on their own
  2. Note:  Students should know that three were written by the Presidents, and one was an oral history where they are referring to the President

2)    Have students offer their answers and explanations.  Go over correct answers.  Discuss the (+) (-) chart for the four Presidents.  (You may also want to create a simple timeline to supplement the chart.)

  1. What would the term ‘equality’ mean to each man?
  2. How does the idea of equality change over time?
  3. c.      Considering their beliefs, what could have motivated each man to take the actions he took regarding civil rights?  (This leads directly to our central question.)


Primary Source Analysis

1)    Introduce the central question, and discuss the meaning of each of the choices:


In regards to Executive Order 9981, was Truman

1) Idealistic, 2) Pragmatic, or 3) a Shrewd Politician?



2)    Read Executive Order 9981.

  1. What did this document do?
  2. Why did he have to issue it?
  3. Why wouldn’t Congress pass a law regarding this issue?


3)    Discuss the context surrounding Executive Order 9981.  Here is a list of possible topics:


  1. 1936 – Presidential Election – African Americans Vote Democratic in Large Numbers for the First Time
  2. 1940 - NAACP – Adopted the Integration of the Military as One of Its Primary Goals
  3. 1940 – Roosevelt Chose Not to Address Segregation in Military Over Concern for Morale
  4. 1941 – March on Washington Movement – A. Philip Randolph and other Black Leaders Successfully Pressured Roosevelt to Take Action on Civil Rights (Executive Order 8802)
  5. 1942 - Executive Order 8802 – Roosevelt Established That There Will Be No Discrimination by Defense Contractors and It Established Quotas For Black Troops for Each Branch of the Military
  6. Two Views on Segregation in the Military during World War II
    1.                                                               i.      William Hastie – African American Advisor to the War Department - Segregation in Military:
      1. Drove Down Morale of Black Soldiers
      2. Inefficient
      3. Hypocritical
      4.                                                             ii.      George Marshall – Army Chief of Staff - Segregation in Military:
        1. Can’t Ignore Racial Attitudes of the Country
        2. For Whatever Reason, Abilities of Blacks Below that of Whites
        3. Army Can Only Be Strong if it Utilizes the Abilities of its Soldiers
        4. Army is Not the Place for Social Experiments



  1. Election of 1948 – Truman faced several challenges when running for re-election:  competition within the Democratic Party from both a moderate Strom Thurmond and Henry Wallace), a South that he was probably going to lose, and a large population of African-Americans in key northern states.


4)    Choose the primary sources that you would like to use, and begin source analysis.  This can be done in various ways: 

  1. All Class – analyze one or more sources as a class
  2. Jigsaw – create several groups, have each group concentrate on individual sources, and have each group report back to the class
  3. Individually – have students analyze packets on their own, then discuss as a class


5)    Keep track of where the evidence is leading by filling out “Idealistic, Pragmatic, Shrewd Politician” chart.  This can be done individually or as a class.  Paraphrase material from the source in each column, and make sure to label which source the information came from.


6)    After discussing all of the sources that you use, create three spots in the room – one spot for each of the three choices – and have students choose which spot they want to go to.  Have each group defend why they chose to go there.  If there is an empty spot, you may have to argue that position yourself.  Possible discussion questions: 


  1. Was Truman weak or strong? 
  2. Was he independent or manipulated?
  3. Did he have a vision or was he making it up as he went along?
  4. How should we remember Truman?




7)    Have students answer the central question in essay form.  Possible rubric is provided:

Full explanation of the assessment method and/or scoring guide:









Argument demonstrates a deep level of understanding

Argument demonstrates a basic level of understanding

Argument is confusing and demonstrates little understanding

Argument demonstrates no understanding


Writer corroborates evidence from multiple sources


Writer uses evidence from multiple sources

Writer uses evidence from one source

Writer does not use evidence from sources


Writer correctly addresses why a source is credible



Writer attempts to address why a source is credible


Writer does not address why a source is credible


Writer refers to an historical event in a way that further explains their answer

Writer attempts to address another historical event


Writer does not mention another historical event


Argument is original and demonstrates personal reflection



Argument is basic and mainly reiterates ideas from class



Writing is easy to understood and mistakes (organization, spelling, sentence structure) do not detract from the essay


The essay is difficult to understand and mistakes detract from the essay




Discuss “Affirmative Action.”  What is it?  What is its purpose?  Why is it controversial?

Access the New York Times – Upfront Magazine article on affirmative action:


Possible Questions:

1)    Who do you agree with?  Why?

2)    How do people in our area view this issue?  Is this how mainstream America views this issue?

3)    Could an action like EO 9981 solve the issue of affirmative action?  Why or why not?