President's Committee on Civil Rights

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The President's Committee on Civil Rights (PCCR) was established by Executive Order 9808, which Harry Truman passed. Truman was perhaps the domino in changing federal legal laws in the following years. Truman was then President of the United States, issued on December 5, 1946.[1] The committee was instructed to investigate the status of civil rights in the country and propose measures to strengthen and protect them. After the committee submitted a report of its findings to President Truman, it disbanded in December 1947.[2]

The committee's terms of reference were: (1)to examine the condition of civil rights in the United States, (2)to produce a written report of their findings, and (3)to submit recommendations on improving civil rights in the United States. In October 1947, To Secure These Rights: The Report of the President’s Committee on Civil Rights was produced. The 178-page report proposed improving existing civil rights laws. More specifically, it aimed to establish a permanent Civil Rights Commission, a permanent fair employment practice commission, a Joint Congressional Committee on Civil Rights, a Civil Rights Division in the Department of Justice, and to develop federal protection from lynching and abolish the poll taxes, among other measures.[3]

On July 26, 1948, President Truman advanced the recommendations of the report by signing executive orders 9980 and 9981. Executive Order 9980 ordered the desegregation of the federal work force and Executive Order 9981, the desegregation of the armed services.[4] He also sent a special message to Congress on February 2, 1948, to implement the recommendations of the President’s Committee on Civil Rights.[5]

Impact on Civil Rights[edit]

The President’s Committee on Civil Rights was proactive in addressing the burgeoning issue of racism in post-war America. Protection from lynching and desegregation in the work force was a triumph of conscience for Truman; as he recalled in his farewell address:

There has been a tremendous awakening of the American conscience on the great issues of civil rights--equal economic opportunities, equal rights of citizenship, and equal educational opportunities for all our people, whatever their race or religion or status of birth.[6]

However morally vindicating, the committee’s policies also addressed how the United States were to be received as a world power.[7] As stated by the committee:

Our position in the post-war world is so vital to the future that our smallest actions have far-reaching effects. We have come to know that our own security in a highly interdependent world is inextricably tied to the security and well-being of all people and all countries. Our foreign policy is designed to make the United States an enormous, positive influence for peace and progress throughout the world. We have tried to let nothing, not even extreme political differences between ourselves and foreign nations, stand in the way of this goal. But our domestic civil rights shortcomings are a serious obstacle.[8]

These "small actions" culminated into the signing of the two executive orders mentioned above by Truman in 1948, an election year. In light of the growing possibility of war, addressing the state of black morale in the armed forces was particularly important. The far reaching effects that the committee had hoped for had little impact on the civil rights of black Americans in the late 1940s. Zinn argued that the President failed to use the power given to him by the 14th and 15th amendments to execute laws strong enough to combat discrimination.[9] It was not until the "Brown vs. Board of Education" decision that the separate but equal doctrine would be overturned and segregation would be officially outlawed by the U.S. government.

President Truman's decision to desegregate the armed forces was politically risky as it came one hundred days before the 1948 presidential elections.[10] This controversial decision could have cost him a victory, but despite the risks, he went through with it and became the 33rd president of the United States of America. On July 26, 1948, Truman abolished the segregation laws.[11] He had been shocked by the way veteran African-Americans soldiers were treated after World War II.[12] Executive orders 9980 and 9981 were introduced to desegregate the workforce and the army.[13]

Signing his Executive Orders 9980 and 9981, President Truman said, "Today, Freedom From Fear, and the democratic institutions which sustain it, are again under attack. In some places, from time to time, the local enforcement of law and order has broken down, and individuals—sometimes ex-servicemen, even women have been killed, maimed, or intimated. The preservation of civil liberties is a duty of every Government state, Federal and local. Wherever the law enforcement measures and the authority of federal, state, and local governments are inadequate to discharge this primary function of government, these measures and this authority should be strengthened and improved. The constitutional guarantees of individual liberties and of equal protection under the laws clearly place on the Federal Government the duty to act when state or local authorities abridge or fail to protect these constitutional rights".[14]

President Truman briefly served as an artillery man in World War I.[15] Truman’s brief experience as a soldier made him realize the horrors of war and that made him gain a newfound respect for soldiers. He was appalled when he heard of stories of African American World War II veterans were being mistreated shortly after coming back home, especially in the southern states.[16] A particular case caught his attention. Isaac Woodard, a black sergeant, was physically abused and lost both his eyes in the process. His aggressor, Sheriff Shull, openly admitted that he had used physical force on Woodard.[17] However, despite all the evidence against Shull, he was acquitted of all charges in front of an all-white jury.[18]


The committee was composed of 15 members: Charles E. Wilson (Chairman), Sadie T. Alexander, James B. Carey, John S. Dickey, Morris L. Ernst, Rabbi Roland B. Gittelsohn, Dr. Frank P. Graham, Reverend Francis J. Haas, Charles Luckman, Francis P. Matthews, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jr., Reverend Henry Knox Sherrill, Boris Shishkin, Dorothy Rogers Tilly, and Channing H. Tobias.[19]


  • President's Committee on Civil Rights. To Secure These Rights: The Report of the President's Committee on Civil Rights. Washington: GPO, 1947.


  1. ^ "Executive Order 9808, Establishing the President's Committee on Civil Rights, Harry S Truman" from Federal Register, retrieved 18 February 2015. Full text of the order at The American Presidency Project, retrieved 18 February 2015.
  2. ^ For more details on the assigned tasks of the committee, see President's Committee on Civil Rights. To Secure These Rights: The Report of Harry S. Truman's Committee on Civil Rights. Boston: St. Martin's, 2004. ISBN 0-312-40214-7
  3. ^ "Agency History, Records of the President's Committee on Civil Rights Record Group 220" from the Truman Presidential Museum & Library, retrieved January 23, 2006
  4. ^ President's Committee on Civil Rights. To Secure These Rights (2004).
  5. ^ "Executive Order 9980, Regulations Governing Fair Employment Practices Within the Federal Establishment," and "Executive Order 9981, Establishing the President's Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity in the Armed Services, Harry S Truman" from Federal Register, retrieved January 23, 2006. For more details on the desegregation of the armed forces see, "Truman Library: Desegregation of the Armed Forces Online Research File" from the Truman Presidential Museum & Library, retrieved May 4, 2010
  6. ^ "Special Message to the Congress on Civil Rights, Public Papers of the Presidents, Harry S. Truman, 1945-1953" on February 2, 1948, from the Truman Presidential Museum & Library, retrieved January 21, 2006
  7. ^
  8. ^ Zinn (2003:189)
  9. ^
  10. ^ Zinn (2003:190)
  11. ^ Gardner (2003: xi)
  12. ^ Gardner (2003: 13)
  13. ^ Gardner (2003: 20)
  14. ^ Gardner (2003: 21)
  15. ^ Gardner (2003: 22)
  16. ^ Gardner (2003: 18)

Secondary sources[edit]

  • Berman, William C. The Politics of Civil Rights in the Truman Administration. Columbus, Ohio: Ohio State University Press, 1970. ISBN 0-8142-0142-3
  • Gardner, Michael R.,Harry Truman and Civil Rights:Moral Courage and Political Risks Illinois:SIU Press, 2003 ISBN 0-8093-2550-0, ISBN 978-0-8093-2550-4
  • Hamby, Alonzo L. Beyond the New Deal: Harry S. Truman and American Liberalism. New York: Columbia University Press, 1976. ISBN 0-231-08344-0
  • McCoy, Donald R. and Richard T. Ruetten. Quest and Response: Minority Rights and the Truman Administration. Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 1973. ISBN 0-7006-0099-X
  • Vaughan, Philip H. The Truman Administration's Legacy for Black America. Reseda, California: Mojave Books, 1976. ISBN 0-87881-047-1
  • Zinn, Howard The Twentieth Century: A People's History 2003 p. 189

External links[edit]