I. Introduction

"The colored man in uniform is expected by the War Department to develop a high morale in a community that offers him nothing but humiliation and mistreatment. . . . The War Department has failed to secure to the colored soldier protection against violence on the part of civilian police and to secure justice in the courts in communities near-by to Southern stations. . . . On the training fields the development of morale does not take into consideration Jim-Crow laws and customs. The "Four Freedoms" cannot be enjoyed under Jim-Crow influences."

-Brigadier General Benjamin O. Davis, Sr.

With these words, the first black general in the United States military, Brigadier General Benjamin O. Davis, Sr., accurately expressed the deep-felt resentment held by virtually every black military member during World War II. Although blacks were members of the military, they continued to be subject to the indignities of discrimination in the form of poor treatment by local communities, the military establishment *84 (including superiors, contemporaries, and subordinates), and Jim Crow military policies. General Davis, along with many other military and civilian proponents of military equality, fought discrimination on all fronts. From privates in the field reporting discriminatory treatment up the chain of command, to A. Philip Randolph's demand for an Executive Order, virtually all segments of black society recognized the irony of black soldiers fighting for the freedom of oppressed peoples abroad while simultaneously being subjected to oppression themselves. The result of the struggle for the Right to Fight and equality in the military, Executive Order 9981, not only began a new day for blacks in the military, but had implications in the fight for broader civil rights. The Executive Order was a presidential proclamation of the right to bear arms for one's country as a civil right. It also provided ammunition for advocates presenting subsequent challenges against discrimination in other contexts, namely education. The change from segregation to integration in the military represented more than a mere change of military policy; it represented a change in the understanding of the social fabric of our nation. As such, Executive Order 9981 was an important precursor to Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka and subsequent efforts to achieve equality of opportunity in America.

The purpose of this Note is to bring Executive Order 9981 and the struggle to desegregate the military into conversation with the literature on Brown and subsequent civil rights gains in the sphere of race and education. In its attempt to recognize the importance of the parallel demands for civil rights made to the executive and judicial branches during the period penned as the Forgotten Years of the Civil Rights movement, current literature tends to focus primarily on the importance of only one of A. Philip Randolph's petitions to the executive branch, the March on Washington Movement (MOWM). Many commentators view the MOWM as both the ultimate expression of African American rights consciousness during the war period and as a key step in the civil rights fight which led to the Brown decision. However, if, as it has been *85 suggested, the importance of the MOWM to the Brown-era civil rights movement has almost been forgotten, the even more effectual Committee Against Jim Crow in Military Training (CAJC) and the resulting Executive Order 9981 have been overlooked. The efforts to achieve equality in the military during the Forgotten Years, as well as the postwar petition for military integration by Randolph, were necessary precursors to advancements made during the Brown-era civil rights movement. While Executive Order 8802 was an initial step in the right direction and provided the necessary initial momentum, Executive Order 9981 made a more concrete step toward integration in American society and provided essential momentum for the Brown decision.

The two major issues of the period were independently significant, yet inextricably linked: employment discrimination and military service. During World War II, the federal government was a significant American employer, and the military was the most significant federal employer of minorities. The fight against discrimination in federal employment (engaged by the Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC), a body created by Executive Order 8802 in 1941) ran in logical parallel to the fight against discrimination in the military. While Executive Order 8802 and the FEPC provided a decent start, further action was needed to ensure equality in the military. Executive Order 9981 filled the significant hole left by Executive Order 8802's absence of language prohibiting discrimination in the military. Executive Order 8802 was, in effect, a deferral of action on the issue of discrimination by the federal government, setting up a committee to evaluate the problem of discrimination (the FEPC), in lieu of taking direct action. 1 *86Executive Order 9981, on the other hand, represented a direct assault on discrimination.

The frontal attack on segregation and discrimination in the military marked a historical shift in thinking on equality. The elimination of Jim Crow in federal employment and the military invigorated the fight against discrimination in other areas. With discrimination on the ropes in the venue of federal government, it was only a matter of time before broader fights against societal injustice could be successfully raised and won. The case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka and subsequent cases (e.g., the 2003 affirmative action cases Grutter v. Bollinger 1 and Gratz v. Bollinger ) were logical beneficiaries of the social changes initiated by Executive Order 9981. 1 The proclamation that blacks should be able to pursue their right to fight absent discrimination was an essential precursor to Brown; the presidential decree demonizing discrimination in federal employment was a powerful social statement which helped form the Court's contemporary thinking on social equality.