Independence, MO – Monday was the 61st anniversary of Harry Truman signing executive order 9981, which racial integrated the US military. A forum at the Truman Library used the occasion to draw attention to what some say is a similar civil rights battle. KCUR's Alex Smith went to Independence, Missouri to find out more.
On Monday afternoon, the Senate Armed Services Committee announced that its plan to review the controversial "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy this Fall. "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" prohibits anyone who is openly gay from serving in the US military. Nearly 13,000 troops have been discharged since the policy began in 1993. For the Servicemember's Legal Defense Network, this could be the chance they've been waiting for to overturn a policy they been fighting since it began. The SLDN organized Monday's "Freedom To Serve" forum at the Truman Library to address this issue. Many of the forum's panel's and speakers drew parallels been the struggle for desegregation in the 1940's and the campaign against Don't Ask Don't Tell today. Among those who spoke out at the forum were Harry Truman's grandson, Clifton Truman Daniel and his great granddaughter, Aimee Daniel.
The integration of the military was a strong victory in the struggle for racial equality in this country. But many claim that the military still has a problem with inequality, not in regards in race, but in regards to sexual orientation. NPR and Fox News commentator Juan Williams served as keynote speaker and Congressmen Dennis Moore and Emmanuel Cleaver both spoke in support of the organization. But the audience of about 70 gave their warmest response to retired Major General Vance Coleman. He enlisted in the segregated army in 1947 and retired in 1987. But he's become a strong critic of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" since the policy began in 1993. Taking a break after one of the forum, General Coleman explained what first got him interested in the issue.
General Coleman and others who fight against DADT will get their chance to challenge the policy when it's reviewed by the Senate Armed Services Committee this Fall.