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Home | Cold War Turns Hot | The Armed Forces Integrate | What the Experts Say

Moving Toward Integration -Disbanding the 24th

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Smith: Tell about disbanding of the 24th. Why was it eliminated?

Hammond: Well, let's say it was retired rather than disbanded. Retired because of the law that was written when the thing was established after the Civil War, it had to be an all black unit. They wanted to just keep the name and integrate it and move the men around.

Ellis: Which they've done with other units.

Hammond: Yes, but they couldn't do that with the 24th Infantry because the law said it had to be all black.

Smith: The law that created it.

Hammond: Now you could have gone around it.

Smith: They could have gotten Congress to pass a different law?

Hammond: Yeah, but it's a war and that was there rational for it. I'm sure they could have integrated it and said nothing, but in the end the bean-counters rule.

Smith: So there's nothing particular about—

Hammond: They were perfectly happy to get rid of the name because of the baggage. So they didn't make a big issue out of it. They could have, but they didn't.

Smith: What about the men from the 24th -black soldiers who wanted it to keep going?

Hammond: There were black soldiers who had questions about it. But in the long run they were in the Army and you go where you're told. And when they got in the integrated units, they were a lot better off than when they were in an all black unit.

Ellis: Describe the process of integration in Korean War, what were the circumstances that finally drove the integration?

Hammond: Integration in the Korean War came about by necessity. There were more black soldiers than the all black units could absorb. So you had all these black guys in the early days of the war, wandering around the rear, unattached, just in holding units and nobody knew where to put them. Meanwhile the whites are getting whacked and there are holes in the other units. What do you do? If you're smart, you go down to the rear units and grab those black guys and put them out there. And if anybody objects, you tell him to shut his mouth. We're out here to live. You do what you have to do and keep your mouth shut. Black guys in white units are treated like everybody else, because you gotta treat them like everybody else. You give them the same stuff, the same orders, you can't discriminated in a unit. Because if you start that, you destroy not only the morale of the blacks, but of the whites. Treating him like that, I need him, he's right on my side. What do you do to me? So that doesn't happen.

And racial stereotypes to the contrary, the black guys do just fine. And this is repeated again and again and again. And the Army is standing there with its figurative mouth hanging open. Oh, something is wrong with the way we've been doing things. Oh. And they start integrating, the process of integration starts at that point. And MacArthur leaves and Ridgeway replaces him and Ridgeway wants to be done with segregation entirely and he's a man of considerable liberalism. And he does it.

Smith: Why was the Army so slow - held out the longest?

Hammond: I think the Navy, the Marines did a pretty good job of holding out.

Smith: That's true.

Hammond: The Navy.

Smith: Yeah, Navy particularly.

Hammond: The Army is slow, but it's not dumb. Whatever you want to think about it, it's a people's army, a real people's army. They saw the handwriting on the wall, knew where they would have to go. And they did it, bit the bullet and did it. Interesting. The blacks will talk about the officers - oh this one was so bigoted and that one. And we would come in and interview these very same people and after they had had careers in the Army—some of them 30 years—it's amazing how much they grew. Like poor old St. Augustine, the sinner and lord, you call him a saint but what a sinner. It's not where you begin, but where you end. So they all grew.

Smith: Were some of these guys self-reflective about it?

Hammond: Sure, of course they were.

Smith: And what changed them was exposure?

Hammond: Yeah, life. Do they have the residuals of racial prejudice, I think all of white society has its racial prejudices to this day and black people are acutely aware of it. I heard on some of the tapes some talking to John Cash about founding a veterans association. And we want it to be mostly black, but we can't make it black because that would be discrimination. Well, don't worry about it. Just give it a neutral name and you'll put black guys in it and no white guys will want to join it. They have got the score in that regard I think.

Next: The Human Cost of Racism in the Military