Starting with King Philip's War in the 17th century, blacks fought and died alongside whites in an integrated environment in the North American colonies. They continued to fight in every American war integrated with whites up until the War of 1812. They would not fight in integrated units again until the Korean War.
While a handful of Blacks were commissioned as officers in World War I, white officers remained the rule in that conflict. The NAACP lobbied the government to commission more black officers. During World War II, most officers were white and most black troops still served only as truck drivers and as stevedores. The Red Ball Express was operated almost exclusively by African-American truck drivers and was instrumental in facilitating the rapid advance of Allied forces across France shortly after D-Day. In the midst of the Battle of the Bulge in late 1944, General Dwight D. Eisenhower was severely short of replacement troops for existing military units—all of which were totally white in composition. Consequently, he made the decision to allow African-American soldiers to pick up a gun and join the white military units to fight in combat for the first time. This was the first step toward a desegregated United States military. Eisenhower's decision in this case was strongly opposed by his own army chief of staff, Lieutenant General Walter Bedell Smith. Indeed, it was stated that Bedell Smith was outraged by the decision and had said that the American public would take offense at the integration of the military units.
In 1948, President Harry S. Truman's Executive Order 9981 ordered the integration of the armed forces shortly after World War II, a major advance in civil rights. Using the Executive Order (E.O.) meant that Truman could bypass Congress. Representatives of the Solid South, all white Democrats, would likely have stonewalled related legislation.
For instance, in May 1948, Richard B. Russell, Democratic Senator from Georgia, attached an amendment to the Selective Services bill then being debated in Congress. The Russell amendment would have granted draftees and new inductees an opportunity to choose whether or not they wanted to serve in segregated military units. Russell's amendment was defeated in committee. Truman signed Executive Order 9981 on July 26, 1948. In June 1950 when the Selective Services Law came up for renewal, Russell tried again to attach his segregation amendment, and again Congress defeated it.
At the end of June 1950, the Korean War broke out. The U.S. Army had accomplished little desegregation in peacetime and sent the segregated Eighth Army to defend South Korea. Most black soldiers served in segregated support units in the rear. The remainder served in segregated combat units, most notably the 24th Infantry Regiment. The first months of the Korean War were some of the most disastrous in U.S. military history. The North Korean People's Army nearly drove the American-led United Nations forces off the Korean peninsula. Faced with staggering losses in white units, commanders on the ground began accepting black replacements, thus integrating their units. The practice occurred all over the Korean battle lines and proved that integrated combat units could perform under fire. The Army high command took notice. On July 26, 1951, the US Army formally announced its plans to desegregate, exactly three years after Truman issued Executive Order 9981.
Soon Army officials required Morning Reports (the daily report of strength accounting and unit activity required of every unit in the Army on active duty) of units in Korea to include the line "NEM XX OTHER EM XX TOTAL EM XX", where XX was the number of Negro and Other races, in the section on enlisted strength. The Form 20s for enlisted personnel recorded race. For example, the percentage of Black Enlisted Personnel in the 4th Signal Battalion was maintained at about 14% from September 1951 to November 1952, mostly by clerks' selectively assigning replacements by race. Morning Report clerks of this battalion assumed that all units in Korea were doing the same. The Morning Reports were classified "RESTRICTED" in those years.[citation needed
Index of Service