Desegregation of the Armed Forces

Lesson Author
Required Time Frame
One 90-minute seminar (block) period
Grade Level(s)
Lesson Abstract
The students will analyze six groups of primary sources documents related to the desegregation of the armed forces on July 26, 1948. They will work together to gain a broader understanding of both the immediate and long-term ramifications.

The students will analyze six groups of primary sources documents related to the desegregation of the armed forces on July 26, 1948.  They will work together cooperatively to gain a broader understanding of both the immediate and long-term ramifications of this momentous decision.

Rationale (why are you doing this?)

Using and analyzing primary sources forces students to delve more deeply into the issue being studied.  The desegregation of the armed forces was a significant step toward the civil rights movement, but it also built upon the actions the NAACP had taken since its founding in 1909.  Studying this event will help bridge the gap between these two movements for change.

Lesson Objectives - the student will
  • Read and analyze primary sources related to the desegregation of the armed forces in 1948.
  • Compare and contrast the arguments for and against the desegregation of the armed forces.
  • Assess the legacy of Executive Order #9981.
District, state, or national performance and knowledge standards/goals/skills met
  • Kansas State Social Studies Standards – U.S. History, Benchmark 3, Indicator 7 (High School)
  • Kansas State Social Studies Standards – U.S. History, Benchmark 5, Indicator 3 (High School)

Missouri Standards

2. Continuity and change in the history of Missouri, the United States and the world

6. Relationships of the individual and groups to institutions and cultural traditions

7. The use of tools of social science inquiry (such as surveys, statistics, maps, documents)

Secondary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed
  • Chapter 20, Section 5 “The Transition to Peace,” pp. 729-734 in African American History (Prentice Hall)
  • Document Analysis form
Primary sources needed (document, photograph, artifact, diary or letter, audio or visual recording, etc.) needed
Fully describe the activity or assignment in detail. What will both the teacher and the students do?
  1. Prior to this lesson, the students will have studied African American participation in World War II, particularly the “Double V for Victory” campaign.  They will also have learned about the numerous acts of violence committed against African American servicemen returning to the segregated South in 1945 and 1946.  In particular, the students will examine the blinding of Isaac Woodard in South Carolina and the quadruple lynching in Monroe, Georgia, two cases which held particular significance for Harry S. Truman as he contemplated issuing Executive Order #9981.
  2. As homework the night before this lesson, the students will be expected to read Chapter 20, Section 5 entitled “The Transition to Peace” in their African American History textbook.  This information will serve as background knowledge for the primary source lesson.
  3. Before class begins, arrange the desks into six groups.  I allow my students to choose which group of desks they want to sit at when they arrive at the beginning of class.
  4. Ask students to clear their desks of everything except a writing utensil.  Give each student six copies of the “Document Analysis” form (one form for each of the six folders).
  5. Place one folder of documents in the middle of each group of desks.  Each folder should contain 4-5 copies of the document (one for each student to read).  The documents and folders are as follows:
  • Folder #1 – Statement of Truman K. Gibson, Jr., April 9, 1945
  • Folder #2 – text of Harry S. Truman’s “Address Before the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People,” June 29, 1947
  • Folder #3 – Letters from A. Philip Randolph to Harry S. Truman, dated December 28, 1947, January 12, 1948, and June 28, 1948.  Also included is a memo addressed to Matt Connelly, dated January 20, 1948, as this memo relates to the Randolph letter of January 12, 1948
  • Folder #4 – Executive Order #9981, issued July 26, 1948
  • Folder #5 – Letters from Andrew S. Evans (age 11), Robert Winston (age 7 ½), and Mr. and Mrs. Irvin Dagen
  • Folder #6 – letter from Lyndon B. Johnson to Harry S. Truman and accompanying press release commemorating the 20th anniversary of the desegregation of the armed forces, July 26, 1968
  1. Give each group 10-12 minutes to read the document in the folder and complete the Document Analysis form.  Students may work together to compare their observations of the document.  Once each group has finished, rotate the students to the next group, continuing until all students have had a chance to work with each of the six document folders.
  2. At the end of class, engage the students in a discussion of the documents.  Which documents surprised them?  Which documents helped them understand the context of the time period?  Which documents gave them a more complete understanding of President Truman’s decision to desegregate the armed forces?  What is the legacy of the desegregation of the armed forces? 
Assessment: fully explain the assessment method in detail or create and attach a scoring guide

Part of my assessment will be an informal assessment of the students’ learning based upon our class discussion at the end of the period.  I will also pick up the students’ Document Analysis packets, and grade them on their completion of a form for each folder of documents.