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President's Committee on Civil Rights: Truman's Response to the Cold War Battle in the International Media
I. Introduction
II. Creation of President’s Committee on Civil Rights (PCCR)
III. Desegregation of the military and the role of the PCCR in Executive Order 9981
IV. Conclusion
The Cold War 's role in promoting Civil Rights in the U.S.
On December 5, 1946 President Truman created the President’s Committee on Civil Rights in an effort to address America’s Civil Rights problem with the ultimate goal of strengthening the United States international image in its propaganda battle with the Soviet Union throughout the Cold War. With the start of the Cold War, the United States faced immense international pressure to live up to its Cold War rhetoric regarding democratic ideals. President Truman summarized this in his 1947 state of the union address: “when we fail to live together in peace, the failure touches not us, as American, alone, but the cause of democracy itself in the whole world. That we must never forget.” (1) Truman’s comment reflects the importance of a country’s image in the international media during the Cold War. The United Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR), America’s communist enemy, frequently denounced the United States for its domestic struggle with race relations in an effort to sway the newly independent countries in the Middle East and Africa towards communism. Truman realized that the United States would have to make noticeable improvements in the area of Civil Rights if they wanted to win the rhetoric battle with the USSR. Truman responded to this realization by establishing the President’s Committee on Civil Rights with Executive Order 9008 on December 5, 1946. In its year of existence, the PCCR served as the motivating force behind many substantial changes in the fight for Civil Rights. The two areas where the most significant changes were seen were the desegregation of the armed forces and the groundbreaking cases witnessed by the justice department.

The creation of the President 's Committee on Civil Rights

During World War II, African American argued that racial discrimination at home was not compatible with the fight against intolerance in Europe. While President Roosevelt made some efforts to address this by establishing a Fair Employment Practices Commission, his effectiveness was limited because major congressional committees were still largely control of southerners and with the war going on overseas Civil Rights was a low priority. This all changed with the advent of the Cold War and the ensuing propaganda battle with the USSR. The intense international attentions on domestic issues force America and its leaders to make Civil Rights a top priority.
On December 5, 1946, President Truman established the President’s Committee on Civil Rights (PCCR) by Executive 9808. The purpose of the committee was to purpose means to strengthen and protect the Civil Rights of all American people. To do this the committee explored the social, economic and educational aspects of civil rights. The committee was chaired by Charles E. Wilson, the General Electric president, and consisted of fifteen members. The PCCR conducted inquiries of twenty eight government department and agencies, the most important of which included: The Department of Agriculture, Labor, justice, States and War, the Civil Service Commission; the federal Bureau of Investigation; the National Housing Agency; the Public Heath Service; and the Social Security and Veterans Administrations (Truman Library). The committee also examined existing laws, regulations and statues as well as making recommendations for policy improvements.
Desegreagtion of the armed forces: The PCCR's role in Executive Order 9981
In October 1947, the President’s Committee on Civil Rights issued its final report, “To Secure These Rights,” setting the nation’s civil rights agenda. Among its many suggestions, the report called for the desegregation of the armed forces. Therefore, in accordance with the PCCR’s recommendations, on July 26, 1948, President Truman issued Executive Order 9981 which abolished segregation in the armed forces by providing for: “equality of treatment and opportunity in the armed forces without regards to race, color religion, or national origin.” (Truman Library) The order called for the policy to put into action as quickly as possible.
In addition to desegregating the armed forces, Executive Order 9981 also established the President’s Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity in the Armed Forces. It consisted of seven members designated by the President. The committee was designed to examine the rules, procedures and practices of the armed services with the goal of determining where changes and improvements could be most effectively implemented to carry out the recommendations made by the PCCR and ordered by the President. Executive Order 9981 directed all departments and agencies of the Federal Government to cooperate fully with the committee and to provide it with any information that it requested.
Segregation in the military was not officially ended until September 30, 1954 when the Secretary of Defense announced that the last all black unit had been removed. However, President Truman directive with Executive Order 9981 put the armed forces at the head of the growing Civil Rights Movement to win a fully equivalent role for African American Citizens.


After making some advances during World War II, African Americans were faced with a negative postwar reaction and indifference towards their status as second class citizens. With the advent of the Cold War and the ensuing media battle with the USSR, Soviet propaganda attacked the United States for its mistreatment of blacks: “racial segregation suddenly became an embarrassment to Washington (Dudziak).” America’s leaders and particularly President Truman realized that the government would have to directly address the issue of civil rights to protect not only the image of the United States, but the image of democracy.
Established by President Truman in December 1946, the President’s Committee on Civil Rights (PCCR) played a substantial role in the course of the Civil Rights Movement. However, through the PCCR civil rights groups and the national government were able to reinforce each other’s efforts to improve the status and treatment of African Americans. When the Commission issued its report in October 1947, it set the nation’s civil rights agenda for the course of the Cold War. The report made note of the many limits placed on black Americans, and insisted that: “ each person, regardless of race, color or national origin, should have access to equal opportunity in securing education, decent housing and jobs.”

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