African-American Participation in the War

President Harry S. Truman desegregated the United States military via Executive Order 9981 of July 26, 1948. 

Due to segregation and the resultant lack of opportunities in civilian life, African-Americans did not receive occupational or educational deferments at the rate that whites or other minorities did. As a result, they were somewhat more likely to be drafted. Interestingly, a 1966 poll showed that 63 percent of African-American soldiers (career soldiers, first-time voluntary enlistees, and draftees) and civilians (white-collar and blue-collar workers) polled viewed the draft as fair, in contrast with 48 percent of whites (same categories). African-Americans were more likely to value their military training, even if it was not related to any civilian occupation, as a means to get ahead in civilian life than whites.

In a repeat of the situation which occurred in World War II, combat units contained many men (of any race now that the military was desegregated) who scored lower on their military aptitude tests, disproportionately African-Americans. As a result, the number of African-Americans who became casualties in Vietnam was consistently larger than their share of the American population.

Table 9: Mental Group Categories of Army Draftees and Enlistees by Race, 1965 Table 10: Percentage Distribution of Military Occupations for Army Enlisted Men, by Military Status and Race
African-American Participation in the War