Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum

Desegregating Armed Forces
Robert Brosseau
American History
Time Frame:
One hour
Civil Rights

Grade Levels:
9, 10, 11, 12

Classroom/Homework Activity to be performed:
  • Students will research the historical cause of desegregating the Armed Forces

  • To practice analyzing Primary Sources
  • To explore one aspect of overcoming racism in our history

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

  • Missouri SS 3, 1.6 & 1.9 – Analyze political developments in US; evolution of American democratic institutions including Civil Rights
  • Missouri SS1.10 – Analyze the roles & influence of political parties and interest groups.
  • Missouri SS 3, 1.6 & 1.10 – Describe the changing character of American society and culture
  • AP – Compare causes and/or effects, including between short and long term effects
  • AP – Analyze and evaluate the interaction of multiple causes and/or effects

Primary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:
Full description of activity or assignment.
  • Students have individual computers.
  • Teacher demonstrates, on class screen, how to log on to Truman Library website.  Navigate to
  1. Research
  2. Online Documents
  3. The Truman Administration’s Civil Rights Program: Desegregation of the Armed Forces
    1.  Review chronology for future student reference
  4. Select ‘Documents’ link July 26, 1948.  This demonstrates to students how to navigate around.
  5. Teacher reviews essence of Exec Order – total time, 10 minutes


  • Teacher calls up July 3, 1945 Opinions about Negro Infantry Platoons” for students to read.  Discuss white troops opinions, implications for future integration
  • Teacher displays 1946 Gillem report, page 5 & 6, showing need for new policy since old policy on segregation was not efficient.  Total time for both discussions – 10 minutes 
  • Students choose one other document that justifies Truman’s reason for signing Exec Order 9981. 
  • Students explain why their choice of document would move Truman toward the Executive Order. 
  • If time, have students review case of Issac Woodard:  http://www.trumanlibrary.org/whistlestop/study_collections/desegregation/large/lessons/dseg.html

Full explanation of the assessment method and/or scoring guide:
  • Student explanation needs to match submitted document.  May be done verbally as part of a class review or on submitted / e-mailed work.  Pass/Fail activity. 
  • Can also be assessed on a future exam regarding Truman’s role in civil rights (Mult Chc) or future essay regarding cause of major civil rights decisions.