On October 30, 1954, Secretary of Defense Charles Erwin Wilson announced that the last segregated unit in the United States military had been integrated. The path to this point started in 1948 when President Harry S. Truman issued Executive Order 9981. President Truman’s order said,
“It is hereby declared to be the policy of the President that there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion or national origin. This policy shall be put into effect as rapidly as possible, having due regard to the time required to effectuate any necessary changes without impairing efficiency or morale.”
Despite President Truman’s Executive Order, it took 6 years to make it reality. The Defense Department’s definition of a segregated unit was any unit that was 50 percent African-American. Even though integration was considered accomplished in 1954, change did not occur in a uniform manner. The Old Guard integrated in 1953, but the first African-American soldiers were not assigned to Mortar Battery (Honor Guard) until 1960. The following year saw the first African-American serve as a Tomb Sentinel, when Specialist 4 Fred Moore walked the mat. A year later the first commissioned officer was assigned to the Regiment, when First Lieutenant James McCall was named Executive Officer of the Mortar Battery (Honor Guard).
The Army was not alone is disproportionate representation. The section below is from the book “Integration of the Armed Forces, 1940-1965” and details when President Kennedy noticed the make-up of the joint honor guard during an arrival ceremony.
“He [President Kennedy] was also upset to see “few, if any” black honor guardsmen in the units that greeted visiting Ghanian President Kwame Nkrumah on 13 March , an observation not lost on Secretary McNamara. “Would it be possible,” the new defense chief asked his manpower assistant, “to introduce into these units a reasonable number of negro personnel?” An immediate survey revealed that Negroes accounted for 14 percent of the Air Force honor unit, 8 percent of the Army’s, and 2.2 percent of the Marines Corps’. The 100-man naval unit had no black members.
The book, “Integration and the Armed Forces, 1940-1965” can be found online at:
Read about Fred Moore’s experience as a Tomb Sentinel: