It was 75 years ago, on July 26, 1948, that President Harry S. Truman signed an executive order creating an integrated military.

Previously, Black soldiers were allowed to serve but were restricted to all-Black units.

“There shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion and national origin,” Executive Order 9981 declared.

Wichita’s NAACP joined other branches across the country in commemorating that historic event with a recounting of history and a slide show honoring Black veterans who advanced to positions of leadership thanks to their opportunity to find success in military service and careers.

While it was a political event that changed the rules of service, it was the Korean and Vietnam wars and the Black men and women who served side-by-side with their White counterparts that turned the tide of acceptance of integrated forces, Wichita NAACP president Larry Burks told the audience who gathered at the Wichita State University Rhatigan Student Center for the event.

“In combat, it becomes all about the guy who can get you home safe, not about what he looks like,” Burks said.

“Today, 75 years later, we are still keeping on toward the goal of truly equal treatment of all people,” Burks said. “Progress has been made but we still have some distance to go.”

Kansas Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau said she can personally attest to that.

“As the only Black woman in the Kansas Senate, I routinely find myself on the receiving end,” she said. “I go to the lunch room to pick up my lunch and I get told ‘these lunches are only for the senators. If I attend events with some of my staff, there is an assumption that one of them is the senator.” 

But, she said, progress has been made and in the 2023 session, the legislature voted to approve the placement of a mural honoring the Buffalo Soldiers on the wall in the capitol building.

Larry Burks Sr., president of the Wichita NAACP and military veteran, gave a presentation honoring the Black Wichitans who achieved leadership positions in the military.