Harry S. Truman and the Quest for Civil Rights

Harry S. Truman was an unlikely person to set the course of civil rights for the 20th century. Raised in the border state of Missouri, he was the grandchild of slaveholders. And yet, Truman was sympathetic to the plight of his fellow Americans.

After World War II, when President Truman learned that African-American veterans returning home from fighting for freedom abroad were being met with racism and even violence at home, he resolved that the federal government must address civil rights. The United States must fulfill the promise of democracy. On July 26, 1948, President Truman issued Executive Orders 9980 and 9981, ordering the desegregation of the federal workforce and the military.

President Truman’s decision to issue these orders – and his actions that led up to that decision – set the course for civil rights for the rest of the century. Sixteen years after Truman issued Executive Orders 9980 and 9981, President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act into law. Later, Bill Moyers, one of Johnson’s top aides commented, “Truman’s hand steadied his.”

Learn more about Harry Truman’s civil rights legacy:

Attend Serving as One

Join the Truman Library Institute and the Truman Library at the special Truman Legacy Series program Serving as One: The 70th Anniversary of the Desegregation of the Armed Forces. The free public program takes place Thursday, July 26, at the Truman Library, with a special public reception at 5:30 p.m. and the program beginning at 6:30 p.m. RSVPs are requested.

Visit the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum

Plan your visit to the Truman Library in Independence, MO, to learn more about Harry Truman’s life and presidency, including his decision to desegregate the military and federal workforce.

Listen to Truman’s Historic Address Before the NAACP

Harry Truman became the first president to address the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) on June 29, 1947. Listen to his historic address here.

Play the Role of President

Test your presidential mettle at The White House Decision Center, a nationally-acclaimed program where participants step into the roles of President Truman and his advisers to tackle some of his most challenging decisions of the Truman administration. This program offers five decisions to choose from, one of which is the president’s decision to desegregate the military. The White House Decision Center is popular among students ranging from middle school to post-graduate, and it is also available for corporate and other adult groups to book as a unique teambuilding alternative.

Explore the Archives

Dive into the Truman Library’s vast archives to learn even more about Truman’s historic decisions to desegregate the military and the federal workforce. Here are some starting points: