Cover: Foxholes and Color Lines

Foxholes and Color Lines

Desegregating the U.S. Armed Forces

Posted on 1998

by Sherie Mershon, Steven L. Schlossman

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This insightful study chronicles the progress made over the last 50 years with the desegregation of the U.S. military. The executive order issued by President Truman in 1948 that mandated this sweeping change marked the beginning of a slow march toward toward implementation that saw intense political conflict and strenuous opposition to racial integration throughout all branches of the military. Authors Mershon and Schlossman divide their study of military integration into three phases: 1940 to the end of World War II; 1943-1954; and the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s. The military chain of command did bring about changes in behavior despite entrenched racist attitudes. However, interservice differences and the basic conservatism of the military slowed and complicated desegregation efforts. The recollection of a U.S. military that came to full racial equality swiftly and easily — a shining example of the effectiveness of America's military command — is challenged here. The authors conclude that successful future reforms will be achieved not only through strong civilian and military leadership but also by building on traditions within the military's organizational culture that promote rather than prohibit social change.

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