May 15, 2018 - The Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project (VHP) has launched an online “Experiencing War” website feature, titled “Equality of Treatment and Opportunity: Executive Order 9981,” marking the 70th anniversary of the landmark order that abolished racial discrimination in the U.S. armed forces.
(Left) One featured collection is of Frances Wills Thorpe, one of the first African-American women commissioned as an officer in the segregated Navy Women’s Reserve during World War II.
The feature highlights 15 digitized collections in the VHP archive, each of which includes the first-person narrative of an African-American veteran who served either before, immediately after or during the process of desegregation.
One featured collection is of Frances Wills Thorpe, one of the first African-American women commissioned as an officer in the segregated Navy Women’s Reserve (WAVES) during World War II. She overcame several race-related obstacles, including a delayed admission into the WAVES training program, which caused her to miss several weeks of critical instruction.
However, Thorpe, an educated woman, quickly caught up with her white counterparts and was able to graduate on time the following month. She later published a book recounting her experiences as a pioneering naval officer.
Another collection features the story of Maj. Gen. Harry William Brooks Jr., a career military officer who served in both segregated and integrated units during his time in the U.S. Army. Born in the late 1920s, Brooks was no stranger to segregation. As a child growing up in Indianapolis, Indiana, he attended segregated schools and was forced to obey Jim Crow laws, regulations of racial segregation directed against black people, such as those that governed seating in public places like movie theaters.
When he enlisted in the Army, Brooks’ unit was divided by race, except during athletic events. When word first spread that U.S. President Harry Truman had signed the executive order, Brooks recalls, “Nothing changed. The units were not integrated and we kept doing the same thing.” Nevertheless, Brooks’ distinguished service spanned nearly 30 years from the Korean War through the Vietnam War. He was the sixth black general flag officer in the U.S. Army.
Go to loc.gov/vets/stories/ex-war-desegregation.html to access these and other veterans’ collections featured in “Equality of Treatment and Opportunity: Executive Order 9981.”
Congress created the Veterans History Project in 2000 to collect, preserve and make accessible the firsthand remembrances of United States war veterans from WWI through the more recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, so that future generations may hear directly from veterans and better understand the realities of war. For more information, visit loc.gov/vets/ or call the toll-free message line at (888) 371-5848. Subscribe to the VHP RSS to receive periodic updates of VHP news. Follow VHP on Facebook @vetshistoryproject.
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