Senate Democrats

Reid Remarks On 60th Anniversary Of Integration Of U.S. Armed Forces

Washington, DC—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made the following statement today at a ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda to commemorate President Truman’s executive order 60 years ago that marked the beginning of racial integration in the Armed Services.  Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery: 

“Sixty years ago this week, President Harry S Truman inscribed into law with just one pen stroke an executive order that would forever change not just our Armed Forces, but our entire society.  Military service was nothing new to African Americans in 1948.  Black troops had battled with valor in every single American war.

“Nevada knows something about that valor.  When our nation began its Westward march, a regiment of black service men defended the frontiers of the Wild West.  Those black soldiers who served even before Nevada earned admittance to the union were known as the Buffalo Soldiers.

“The first time I met Secretary Powell was shortly after I was elected to the Senate.  My Nevada colleague Senator Bryan and I visited him at his office in the Pentagon.  We spent about an hour together and talked mostly about a trip he was taking to Kansas to dedicate a statue in honor of the Buffalo Soldiers.

“He spoke of their legacy with pride – and of the opportunities they created for generations that followed.  Next week, descendants of the Buffalo Soldiers will gather in Las Vegas to celebrate the 142nd anniversary of the 9th and 10th Horse Calvary Association.

“No story of African American military service is complete without mentioning the legendary Tuskegee Airmen, the famous flyers who gathered here last year to receive their long-overdue Congressional Medal of Honor.

“One of the Tuskegee Airmen was George Sherman of Las Vegas, who enlisted to fight in World War II.  George Sherman did not have to join.  He was not drafted.  Among some in the military, the black enlistees were not wanted.  It would have been understandable for him to say, Why should I join the fight for freedom and justice abroad when I am denied those rights at home?

“But fortunately for America, George Sherman did join.  Hundreds of thousands of others joined.  And their faith in America was rewarded when President Truman signed his executive order for integration.

“For most, progress took more than a pen stroke.  Our colleague, Chairman Charlie Rangel, served in Korea after the integration order.  His remarkable courage earned him a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star.  Yet Charlie Rangel’s regiment in Korea remained completely segregated.

“Progress for many did not come overnight.  But it did come.  And that progress stretched far beyond our Armed Forces.  It planted the seeds of integration that spread throughout our nation in the years that followed.  It created a new Army of young men and women who cherished their equality overseas and refused to tolerate segregation when they returned home.

“The names of some are known well to history: Medgar Evers, Oliver Brown, Nelson Peery, Alex Pitcher, Louis Stokes and Coleman Young, just to name a few.  But countless others made their mark in ways less-noticed.  They integrated universities on the GI Bill.  They organized their churches and communities.  They entered public service.  Las Vegan George Sherman dedicated much of his life after Tuskegee to encouraging other young African-Americans to follow in his footsteps and become pilots.

“Four-star General and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Colin Powell has said that in his military career, he stood proudly on the shoulders of all those African-American trailblazers who came before him – those I have mentioned, and millions others whose names have not found a place in our history books.

“Today we pause to celebrate the far-reaching legacy of the African-American soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen, Coast Guard and Merchant Marines who have proudly worn the uniform of the United States – and those who proudly wear it today.”