Truman’s Desegregation of the Armed Services and Executive Order 9981

Lesson Author
Required Time Frame
1-2 class periods
Grade Level(s)
Lesson Abstract
The students will read background material on civil rights movement relating to the armed services. They will analyze and discuss Executive Order 9981 and learn how the blinding of Sgt. Isaac Woodward affected President Truman. After reading and class discussion, the students will express their thoughts in a writing activity.
Rationale (why are you doing this?)

• Students need to know that the desegregation of the armed services was one of the seminal events of the Civil Rights Era
• Students need to become aware of lesser known “heroes” of the Civil Rights Movement such as Sgt. Isaac Woodward

Lesson Objectives - the student will

• Learn the importance of President Truman’s Executive Order 9981
• Analyze correspondence concerning the desegregation of the armed services
• Read and understand important documents in United States history

District, state, or national performance and knowledge standards/goals/skills met

Virginia Standards United States History: 1865 to the Present

The student will apply social science skills to understand the key domestic and international issues during the second half of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries by
a) examining the impact of the Civil Rights Movement, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the changing role of women on all Americans;

Secondary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed

• Excerpts from “Harry Truman and the Desegration of the Military – A Timeline” by Joy Ann Reid published in The Grio on May 28, 2012,

• Excerpts from “The Conversion of Harry Truman” by William E. Leuchtenburg published in American Heritage, Volume 42 Issue 7 in November 1991.

• Quotations from General Omar Bradley and Walter White

Primary sources needed (document, photograph, artifact, diary or letter, audio or visual recording, etc.) needed

• Executive Order 9981 “Establishing the President’s Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity of the Armed Services” July 26, 1948
• President Truman and Ernest W. Roberts Correspondence
o Roberts to Truman August 14(?), 1948
o Truman to Roberts August 18, 1948
o Roberts to Truman September 2, 1948
o Truman to Roberts September 8, 1948

• Telegram to President Truman from September 10, 1948 Howard Uriah Umohundro
• Photograph of Sgt, Isaac Woodard
• Audio Recording, “Affadivit” read by Orson Wells July 28, 1946 ABC Radio
• Audio Recording Commentary, “Officer X” September 26, 1946 by Orson Wells ABC Radio
• Audio Recording Commentary “The Place Was Batesburg” August 26, 1948 By Orson Welles

Fully describe the activity or assignment in detail. What will both the teacher and the students do?

The students will read the two background articles. There will be a short discussion on the readings, and the teacher will provide additional information and/or answer any questions the students may have about the readings.

The students will view the photograph of Sgt. Isaac Woodard and listen to Orson Wells read the “Affidavit” which was Woodard’s account of the incident. Listening to the second part of the video, Wells’ commentary, “Officer X” is optional.

The students, either individually or in groups, will examine Executive Order 8891.

The students will read and discuss the quotations, the letters and the telegram about Executive Order 8891.

The students will listen to the audio recording of Sgt. Isaac Woodard’s affidavit read by Orson Welles. As an option, students will listen and discuss Orson Welles’ commentary on the beating.


Sample discussion questions:

• What is the reason that President Truman issued Executive Order 9981?

• What gave President Truman the authority to issue the executive order?

• What did the executive order set up? • What was the purpose of the new committee?

• What group of people would be affected by the executive order?

• Why do you think President Truman chose this group?

• Discuss the varying opinions associated with the issuance of the executive order.

• Why do you think these men expressed their opinions? Do you think their opinions affected or influenced President Truman in any way? General Omar Bradley
Walter F. White
Ernest Roberts
Howard Uriah Omohundro 

Why do you think Orson Welles became involved in the situation? Do you think his involvement was beneficial or harmful? Why?

Assessment: fully explain the assessment method in detail or create and attach a scoring guide

As an assessment for understanding the material and practice in writing a thematic essay, students will write an essay:

Choose one of the following topics and write an essay:

a. Imagine you are living in 1948, Write a letter to President Truman. You can be yourself, a student, a white Southerner, an African American Southerner, a regular citizen, or a soldier. In your letter to the president, express your ideas as you think your character might.

b. Write an essay discussing the significance of the Executive Order 9981

c. You are a speech writer for President Truman. The president will address the nation in a radio address to be given on July 27, 1948, the day following the signing of the executive order. What will he say to the American public?

Document set