Despite the gains of the abolition of slavery and the three Reconstruction amendments to the Constitution, Jim Crow segregation had pervaded every aspect of American society since the 1890s. And the military was no exception. When black men volunteered for duty or were drafted following the Japanese sneak attack, they were relegated to segregated divisions and combat support roles, such as cook, quartermaster and grave-digging duty. The military was as segregated as the Deep South.Ron Paul on C-Span in 2012 (via Politic365):
“But when you look at the problems, the government is basically the problem, even with the racial problems,” Paul said on the Washington Journal.
“First it endorsed and legalized slavery. And then it comes along and it was the Jim Crow laws that provided the integration. Who was the biggest segregationist? It was our military up until after World War II.”
The claim that the U.S. Armed Services was the “biggest segregationist” was one that was generally correct, an expert told Politic365.com.
“Ron Paul is correct. There was a policy of segregation in the U.S. Armed Forces during the Second World War,” said William Bundy, a professor at the U.S. Naval War College. “However, that is only part of the story.”
“I would say to you that the matter of race in the military is kind of a long story that is not told very easily. And it really stretches back to the Revolutionary War to where we are today.”
Bundy, himself being the third African-American naval officer to command a submarine, said that military can be seeing as a reflection of society.
“Life for Blacks in the service has generally reflected the treatment of Blacks in the population of these United States,” he wrote in an e-mail.
While several ships were segregated in the Navy during World War II there were also Navy groups that started to integrate, he explained.
Bundy pointed to an article written by Morris J. MacGregor, Jr. for the U.S. Army Center of Military History which explained that Army policy during World War II was also a policy of segregation, and at times defended it in the name of “military efficiency.”
However, the Army was also the biggest employer of minorities during the Second World War.
Additionally, Bundy explained that black military achievement and advancement has existed throughout U.S. Armed Services history, pointing to The Red Tails, otherwise known as the Tuskegee Airmen serving in World War II, and the U.S.S. Mason, a naval warship with a predominantly African-American crew.
“However, it was Eleanor Roosevelt, President Harry Truman and others who lead change during and after the war over the objections of leaders who were wed to their times that embraced the separation of the races,” Bundy said, noting that Truman signed Executive Order 9981 which called for the desegregation of the military.