Main Content

Harry Truman ordered integration of military units.

Harry S. Truman Library and Archives/NARA

Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in major league baseball on April 15, 1947 signaling a historic step forward in the movement to end segregation.

However, a less conspicuous event of greater significance to African Americans was President Truman’s controversial 1948 executive order desegregating the military and banning discriminatory hiring practices in the federal government. Issued in an election year, the executive order was a bold move that thrilled African Americans and outraged Southern whites. Truman held to a strong plank for civil rights in the Democratic platform that resulted in a walkout by Southern Democrats who formed the States Rights Democratic Party. The "Dixiecrats" nominated South Carolina’s Strom Thurmond as their presidential candidate. Despite the party split, Truman’s bold endorsement of civil rights enabled the president to attain the votes of African Americans in northern cities in several key electoral states, which contributed to his dramatic victory over Republican Thomas Dewey in 1948.