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Desegregation of the Armed Forces

Lesson Author
Required Time Frame
1 -2 days
Grade Level(s)
Lesson Abstract
Students will gain experiences in decision-making processes, analyzing primary source documents, technological research skills, and gain an understanding of President Truman's role in Civil Rights in America.

The students will be in four cooperative learning groups:  Secretaries of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Defense. Students will use primary source documents. Technology could be utilized by students accessing documents online or if technology is not available, documents could be provided by the teacher. An individual writing assignment will summarize the activity.

Rationale (why are you doing this?)

Students will gain experiences in decision-making processes, analyzing primary source documents, technological research skills, and gain an understanding of President Truman’s role in Civil Rights in America as they explore the Desegregation of the Military.                                                                

Lesson Objectives - the student will
  • Use decision-making skills to solve problems.                                                                                                 
  • Analyze primary source documents and synthesize the information about Civil Rights in America.
  • Utilize technological research skills to gain access to documents.
District, state, or national performance and knowledge standards/goals/skills met
  • Missouri Show Me Standards Performance Goals: Goal 1—acquire knowledge and skills to gather, analyze, and apply information and ideas. Goal 3—acquire knowledge and skills to recognize and solve problems.
  • Missouri Show Me Standards Knowledge: Social Studies 2 Continuity and change in the history of Missouri, the United States and the world. Social Studies 6 Relationships of the individual and groups to institutions and cultural traditions. Social Studies 7 The use of tools of social science inquiry.

Kansas Standards

Benchmark 3: The student uses a working knowledge and understanding of individuals, groups, ideas, developments, and turning points in the era of the Cold War (1945-1990).

7.(K) examines the struggle for racial and gender equality and for the extension of civil rights (e.g., Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, Little Rock Nine, Martin Luther King, Jr., Montgomery Bus Boycott, Voting Rights Act of 1965, Betty Friedan, NOW, ERA, Title IX).

Benchmark 5: The student engages in historical thinking skills.

1. (A) analyzes a theme in United States history to explain patterns of continuity and change over time.

2. (A) develops historical questions on a specific topic in United States history and analyzes the evidence in primary source documents to speculate on the answers.

3. (A) uses primary and secondary sources about an event in U.S. history to develop a credible interpretation of the event, evaluating on its meaning (e.g., uses provided primary and secondary sources to interpret a historical-based conclusion).

Secondary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed
  • Good reference books: Eyes off the Prize by Carol Anderson and The Dixiecrat Revolt and the End of the Solid South, 1932-1968 by Kari Frederickson
Primary sources needed (document, photograph, artifact, diary or letter, audio or visual recording, etc.) needed
Technology Required

Computers with Internet Access.

Fully describe the activity or assignment in detail. What will both the teacher and the students do?
  • Teacher Introduction: 
  • Discuss the despondency of men returning from serving their country and fighting for democracy, but arriving home to injustice and inequality. Rayford Logan said, “It might not be a bad idea to have some democracy to defend.” Returning from the war, Blacks realized they had changed. Haywood Stephney, a navy veteran from Mississippi said, “After seeing what some of the other world was doing then I realized how far behind I was. As we began to move and stir around and learn other ways then we had a choice—a comparison.” Many Black Americans questioned whether America was worth risking their lives to defend. Harry Carpenter called out to a Black soldier in uniform, “When the war is over, the white folks will be kicking you niggers around just like they did before” so “what the hell are you fighting for, you have no flag, you do not have a Country.”  A. Philip Randolf said, “Negro soldiers are in no mood to shoulder a gun again to fight for democracy abroad until we have democracy at home.” During the era of Jim Crow laws, lynching of Black Americans was common. A political cartoonist, Oliver W. Harrington drew a cartoon which “depicted a slain European crumpled beneath a hail of bullet holes and a flag bearing the swastika. In the next panel was a dead black man, a rope around his neck, slumped against a sign reading “Sikeston, MO U.S.A.” A man named Cleo Wright removed from a jail in Sikeston, was dragged through the streets, soaked in gasoline and set on fire--one example of many beatings, tortures, and lynching’s of Black Americans. Harry S. Truman became outraged as the violence turned toward returning veterans. Two instances that were brought to his attention were in February 1946 where World War II veteran, Isaac Woodard was attacked and blinded by policemen in South Carolina and July 1946 as two African American veterans and their wives were pulled from their car in Monroe, Georgia and shot to death with more than 60 bullets.  
  • Read lyrics of Woody Guthrie song about Isaac Woodard: 



  • In a speech, Colin Powell states, that military service should be “where the color of your guts and the color of your blood was more important than the color of your skin.”  Powell noted that African Americans have served in military conflicts since the American Revolution, but it wasn’t until Truman’s Executive Order that Blacks could see a better future for themselves. The Executive Order actually took six years to have integration fully implemented into the army and other branches of the service.


  • Students will become head of government departments to implement the Executive Order. Students will be divided into four groups: The Secretary of the Army, The Secretary of the Navy, The Secretary of the Air Force, and The Secretary of the Defense. Each department is directed to examine present practices and determine what forward steps can and should be made. In writing, submit detailed implementation and supplemental policies to meet each department’s specific needs to the President.


  • Following the brainstorming of the secretaries, students will be referred to the primary source documents of the actual implementation and supplemental policies enacted in the military (links listed in Primary Sources). Students may use the document analysis worksheets to identify important points in the documents. https:/