An expansive history of African-Americans in the U.S. military, fighting for fair treatment as they risked their lives at war.
James (Root and Branch: Charles Hamilton Houston, Thurgood Marshall, and the Struggle to End Segregation, 2010) is a Washington, D.C., lawyer with a deep family military tradition. His grandfather, Cornelius James Sr., served in a racially segregated U.S. Army during World War II, hoping that his sons might serve in a less prejudiced environment. One son became an Army colonel, another became an Army major and a third became a Navy commander. In clear but often flat prose, the author skillfully examines how the Caucasian-dominated military, with a few notable exceptions in the top ranks, treated African-American members as second-class citizens. James shows convincingly that the interplay of African-American status in the military and in civilian life affected one another, for better and for worse. He opens the book with a scene from World War I, then harks back as far as the Revolutionary War to bring the mostly upsetting saga forward. The most important individual of the book, in terms of positive change, is President Harry Truman. Although not by inclination a civil rights activist, on July 26, 1949, Truman issued Executive Order 9981, which commanded desegregation within all branches of the armed forces. Positive change proceeded slowly after that. Though it appeared Truman would lose the 1948 presidential election, he won, and after the election, he supported the executive order in vigorous, concrete ways.
An inspiring story spanning parts of five centuries as African-Americans pushed back against the powers that be to achieve more-or-less equal treatment inside the military.