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July 24, 2008


WASHINGTON, D.C. – House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn today participated in a U.S. Capitol Rotunda ceremony to commemorate President Truman’s executive order signed 60 years ago that marked the beginning of racial integration in the Armed Services.  Other participants in the ceremony were House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Minority Leader John Boehner, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Former Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell, and two distinguished members of the 370th Regiment, 92nd Infantry (Buffalo) Division, Captain Spencer C. Moore and Sergeant A. William Perry.  Following are his remarks from the ceremony.

“History records that Crispus Attucks, one of five people killed at the Boston Massacre, was of African and Native American ancestry.  He is generally reputed to be the first to die in the birth of this country.

“Throughout the Revolutionary War about 5,000 African American Soldiers are thought to have served in Washington’s Army, in spite of a 1775 edict prohibiting such service.

“Throughout the history of our military we have struggled with how best to utilize the talents and patriotism of African Americans.  That struggle, to me, is best epitomized by the words of General Andrew Jackson, who said during the war of 1812, ‘Through a mistake in policy, you have heretofore been deprived of participation in the glorious struggle for national rights in which our country is engaged.  This no longer shall exist.  As Americans, your country looks with confidence to her adopted children for a valorous support.’

“Unfortunately, Jackson’s edict was short-lived.  On March 3, 1815, the United States War Department issued a memorandum that dismissed black soldiers, returning to the pre-1812 status-quo.

“For the next 133 years our nation struggled with the contradictions inherent in the words of Frederick Douglass, which were uttered during the Civil War, ‘Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letter, U.S., let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder and bullets in his pocket, there is no power on earth that can deny that he has earned the right to citizenship.’

“In spite of these prolific and I dare say accurate words, our nation continued to struggle with the proper utilization of people of color in the defense of our country.

“We have glorified their contributions through the depictions of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, we have glamorized those contributions through the unmatched heroics of the Tuskegee Airmen, and we have moved to correct the injustices done to James Webster Smith, the first black cadet admitted to West Point and John Henry Conyers, the first black Midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy—both of whom I might add, were South Carolinians.

“In spite of all of these honorable attempts, it was not until President Truman signed Executive Order 9981, on July 26, 1948, did this country finally, and I hope permanently, commit itself to Frederick Douglass’s admonition.  And I’m proud to be here today to share this podium with General Colin Powell, Captain Spencer Moore, and Sergeant A. William Perry who stand on the shoulders of people like Benjamin Davis Senior and Junior, Colonel Charles Young, and General Chappie James who never gave up on life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

“Truman’s Executive Order was not met with unanimous support, but given the history and contribution of these aforementioned African Americans and the sacrifices of many, like Joseph Henry Washington, he was also the brother of my wife’s mother, and another South Carolinian, whose place in history will only be recorded as one of the colored sailors who survived the assault on the U.S.S. Arizona, on that fateful day, December 1941, in Pearl Harbor.

“We should never forget them or President Harry Truman for his great wisdom.”


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