The Racial Integration of the American Armed Forces

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The Racial Integration of the American Armed Forces: Cold War Necessity, Presidential Leadership, and Southern Resistance by Geoffrey W. Jensen

In order to win the Cold War, American presidents embraced the mantra of equality of opportunity to justify racial reform efforts within the US military. The problem was that equality of opportunity never guaranteed acceptance—nor was it designed to. In The Racial Integration of the American Armed Forces, Geoffrey W. Jensen clarifies our understanding of the political processes that fundamentally altered the racial composition of the US military.

Jensen examines nearly thirty years of military integration that unfolded during the Cold War. America’s racial woes were grist for the propaganda mills in Moscow and their integration effort was intended to curb this assault and protect the nation’s image during this largely ideological struggle. But integration of the armed forces needed more than just Cold War justification. It also required the willingness of the president to lead.

Military integration occurred as the result of the longstanding tradition of Congress to allow the executive branch to control the staffing and composition of the military. While past accounts of the integration of the armed forces have focused on the critical roles played by the burgeoning leadership of the civil rights movement and the Black population, Jensen is the first to emphasize the importance of presidential leadership and their staffs. Jensen contends that understanding the action—and inaction—of Cold War presidents and their administrations matters just as much as understanding the efforts of those outside of Washington and the West Wing, as it was the presidents who were the ones dictating the pace at which reform was carried out.

Jensen has carefully situated this story within the milieu of the Cold War, the civil rights movement, and, looming over it all, the emergence of Southern resistance to desegregation in the United States. Desperately committed to upholding and expanding their vision of white supremacy, the South recoiled in horror at the prospect of racially integrating the armed forces. From this vantage point, Jensen shows how the use of Black military personnel during the Cold War, and throughout all American history, was not born solely out of humanistic beliefs or desires to improve the social status of the Black community, but out of the strategic necessity of winning the war at hand.

About the Author

Geoffrey W. Jensen is associate professor of history at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

Product Specifications

Published by University Press of Kansas, 2023. Paperback, 432 pages.