On July 26, 1948, President Harry S. Truman signed Executive Order 9981, integrating America’s Armed forces, and 75 years later, Howard University, a site with a deep history of military service and civil rights activism, recognized this pivotal moment in American history with a panel and symposium.
The university, in partnership with Blue Star Families and The Chamberlain Project hosted “Freedom to Serve: Integrating the Armed Services, an event that included robust conversations, an appearance by Air Force veteran and venerable actor Morgan Freeman, and a celebration of American heroes.
Howard University (HU) President Wayne A.I. Frederick opened the event by reminding audiences of the institution’s long history with the armed forces.
“For over 100 years, Howard University has had its own ROTC battalion, thousands of Howard alumni serve throughout the armed forces today, and Howard is the first HBCU to serve as a U.S. Department of Defense, Air Force University Affiliated Research Center,” Frederick said. “We are proud of our ongoing efforts and happy to serve as the host of this important event, commemorating a milestone in our nation’s history.”
Before reading a statement on behalf of Vice President Kamala Harris, a Howard University alumna, Freeman noted his own commitment to Blue Star Families.
“When Blue Star Families asked me to come, I accepted because I’m a veteran, and I thank you for what you are doing,” said Freeman, who received an honoree degree from HU. “I care about the people who serve, and I will continue to be of service.”
In addition to Freeman, other distinguished guests and history-makers were on Howard’s campus for the event, including Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough and Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro, who were keynote speakers.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, a retired United States Army four-star general, also gave virtual remarks.
How Civil Rights and Civic Responsibility Work Together
Blue Star Families is the nation’s largest nonprofit dedicated to supporting military families and strengthening communities across the United States. The organization, founded by military spouses in 2009, supports military families when a loved one is deployed and when that individual returns.
Kathy Roth-Douquet, CEO of Blue Star Families, told the audience about the importance of having this 75th-anniversary occasion at Howard University.
“Civic responsibility and civic rights go hand in hand,” said Roth-Douquet. “By telling the story of how military service interrelates with civil rights and strengthens our country at home and abroad, we are telling a positive story about the people who serve and military service itself, which is particularly meaningful now, when recruiting is stumbling. We are excited to highlight many diverse heroes and the way ahead.”
The Chamberlain Project bridges the military-civilian gap within higher education. The organization awards Retiring Officer Teaching Fellowships, which Howard University has hosted. Retiring service members are given teaching positions at leading colleges and universities specifically for sharing diverse perspectives with students.
“The integration of the Armed Forces in 1948 was a pivotal moment in America’s long and continuing journey toward the full realization of civil rights for all Americans,” said Jonathan Soros, founder of The Chamberlain Project. “We are proud to partner with Howard University and Blue Star Families to commemorate this important anniversary and recognize the essential connection between our civil and military institutions.”
With the 75th anniversary of the desegregation of the U.S. military, Frederick emphasized the importance of joining Blue Star Families and The Chamberlain Project for this observance.
“Howard University has a long history of supporting the diversity of the armed forces. Howard students, faculty, and alumni play an important role in the military by bringing a broad range of perspectives, experiences, and expertise that contributes to the overall success of our nation’s defense,” said Frederick.