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  Chapter Eleven:

  Government Spending
  Government Employees
  Federal Entitlements
  Federal Judiciary
  Military Personnel
  Blacks in the Military
  Women in the Military
  War Deaths
  Patriotic Attitudes



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Blacks in the Military

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The armed services, rigidly segregated by race during the first part of the century, became a model of successful integration.
Black soldiers enlisted in every American war prior to World War II, beginning with the American Revolution, but they were always placed in segregated units under the command of white officers, commonly assigned to manual labor, and usually discharged when the war ended. Nearly 400,000 black enlisted men and a few black officers served in World War I, mostly in noncombat assignments. 

The Selective Service Act of 1940 allowed qualified persons to volunteer or be drafted regardless of race or color. Black soldiers soon made up 11 percent of the Army’s strength. They were all placed in segregated units, and with a few important exceptions, segregation remained in full effect throughout World War II. The Army adopted full integration as a planning goal in 1951 and was able to announce in 1954 that its last segregated unit had been abolished. Many issues, such as segregation in officers clubs and military cemeteries, remained to be worked out, but after the Army became an all-volunteer force in 1972, it came as close to being color-blind as any segment of American society. By 1996, blacks made up a proportionate share of the Army’s officers (12 percent) and 30 percent of the Army’s enlisted strength. 

In 1900, blacks could serve only as stewards or stokers in the Navy. The Navy entered World War II with about 4,000 black enlisted men and no black officers. All but six of the enlisted men were on mess duty. By 1943, their numbers had risen to 27,000. Two-thirds of them were still assigned to the stewards’ branch. The war was nearly over when the Navy conducted some experiments with mixed ships’ crews, but in February 1946, the Navy announced, “Effective immediately, all restrictions governing types of assignments for which Negro naval personnel are eligible are hereby lifted.” 

The Marine Corps had been an all-white organization since 1798. Forced to accept black draftees during World War II, the Corps adopted a policy of rigid segregation that continued until the Korean War, when the exigencies of battle led to rapid integration. 

When the Air Force became a separate branch of the armed forces in 1947, it shared the Army’s tradition of segregated units, enlistment quotas, and the axiomatic beliefs that white soldiers would not take orders from black officers or live peaceably in mixed units. But by 1949, the Air Force was officially and effectively integrated.

Chapter 11 chart 6

Source Notes
Source Abbreviations

HS series B 1443, Y 906, and Y 907; WA 1998, page 150; and the Department of Defense’s Military Personnel Statistics web site at (accessed October 1, 2000). See also Harry A. Ploski and James Williams, The Negro Almanac (New York: Bellwether, 1967), pages 539–571; Morris J. MacGregor, Jr., Integration of the Armed Forces, 1940–1965 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Army Center of Military History, 1979), pages 7, 33, and 522; and Morris Fletcher, The Black Soldier and Officer in the United States Army, 1891–1917 (Columbia, Mo.: University of Missouri Press, 1974).


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