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5-220 Editorial Note on Racial Integration of Infantry Combat Units

1945
   
Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Subject: World War II


Editorial Note on Racial Integration of Infantry Combat Units

1945

The U.S. Army’s manpower shortage in late 1944 prompted a call for African-American soldiers in service units in the European theater to volunteer to serve in heretofore white-only Infantry combat units. Twenty-five hundred men were accepted, given Infantry training in early 1945, and organized into fifty-three platoons under a white platoon leader and sergeant. The platoons were used in a total of eleven divisions in the First and Seventh armies.

This experiment with integration was carefully scrutinized in May and June 1945. Trained interviewers from the Research Branch of the Information and Education Division of Eisenhower’s theater headquarters visited seven divisions in which the black platoons had served, and 250 white company-grade officers and platoon sergeants were asked what they thought of the blacks’ combat performance. In addition, approximately 1,700 white enlisted men received questionnaires asking about their attitudes toward the use of black riflemen. The results, which showed whites more positively inclined toward the black volunteers than had been expected, were issued on July 3, 1945 (“Opinions About Negro Infantry Platoons in White Companies of Seven Divisions”).

General Brehon B. Somervell, head of Army Service Forces, thought the report should not be made public, because the experiment provided an inconclusive test of integration; he was also concerned with the political reaction from segregationist members of Congress and newspaper editors who had heretofore given strong support to the War Department. Omar Bradley and others also urged caution regarding the experiment’s implications prior to a future general study of the issue. Assistant Secretary of War McCloy, who headed the War Department’s Advisory Committee on Negro Troop Policies, had become dissatisfied with the inefficiency of the army’s segregation policy. (On the integration experiment, see Morris J. MacGregor, Jr., Integration of the Armed Forces, 1940-1965 [Washington: Center of Military History, 1981], pp. 52-57.) He sent Marshall a copy of the July 3 report with the following attached handwritten note:

General Marshall- For years we have been trying to make a military asset out of the negroes. Perhaps this [report] points to the way. I think it should be followed up in spite of Somervilles reaction tho I agree with him we should not publish it as yet. What do you think?

(McCloy to Marshall, [August 23?, 1945], GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Pentagon Office, Selected].) Marshall’s reply follows (Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #5-221 [5: 289-90]).

Recommended Citation: ThePapers of George Catlett Marshall, ed.Larry I. Bland and Sharon Ritenour Stevens(Lexington, Va.: The George C. Marshall Foundation, 1981- ). Electronic version based on The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, vol. 5, “The Finest Soldier,” January 1, 1945-January 7, 1947 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003), pp. 288-289.

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Holding ID: 5-220

Rights: Public Information