By James Revels

Integration in the military is 75 years old. On July 26, 1948, President Truman signed executive Order 9981, which called for equality of treatment and opportunity for all Americans in the armed forces. 

James Revels

This order effectively ended the existence of all-Black units, and paved the way for a gradual elimination of discrimination in the armed forces, where minorities constitute a significant portion of our armed forces today. But this success story has not defeated the scourge of racism that continues to grip this nation.

From the Revolutionary War, to the Civil War, World War I, World War II, Vietnam and today’s armed conflicts, Black service members have fought and died for this country. Yet, they continue to struggle against vestiges of racism today. 

Family members of the 761st Tank Battalion, which fought bravely throughout Europe during World War II, are struggling to obtain recognition and honors earned for their service. No one knows how many of these veterans suffered from a lack of medical treatment, because their service was ignored.

As we reached the 75th anniversary of integration in the armed forces, there were no special ceremonies to recognize this milestone. 

President Truman’s executive order was compelled, in part, by the success of all Black units; the 9th and 10th Cavalry, the 761st Tank Battalion, the 24th and 25th Infantry Regiments and the 99th Fighter Squadron. We know about the achievements of these units because of the tireless efforts of the Black media and civil rights activists.

On the 50th Anniversary of integration in the armed forces, I wrote in the El Paso Times: “Today, the armed forces are touted as one of the most integrated of American institutions. Only professional sports can claim an equal level of racial integration. While racism and prejudice still resides within military ranks, their impact is often offset by effective Black leadership. The success of military racial integration should demonstrate to civilian leaders in government and business that once opportunity channels are open, meaningful progress toward true integration and equality follows.”

As an old soldier, who joined the Army years after the demise of all Black units, I can only imagine what members of all Black units that fought bravely for freedom in Europe must have endured when they returned to second-class citizen status in this country, where their achievements and honors are relegated to the dustbins of history.

Even as some misguided politicians continue to oppose integration and diversity within the armed forces, the success of all-Black units demonstrates the true meaning of democracy and freedom for all. The future success of our nation, and its armed forces, will be measured by the character, integrity, honor and abilities of all who answer the call to arms. Black Americans have been among the first in line.

James Revels is a retired Army colonel and former columnist for the El Paso Times who lives in East El Paso.