WATERVLIET ARSENAL - In the summer of 1948, President Harry S. Truman signed Executive Order 9981 that forever changed race relations at the U.S. Army Watervliet Arsenal.

"It is hereby declared to be the policy of the president that there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion, or national origin," the July 26, 1948, executive order stated.

Today's Arsenal commander, Col. Scott N. Fletcher, believes he has not only inherited a command rich in tradition, but also a command that is rich in equal opportunity.

"The 60th Anniversary of the Integration of the Armed Forces represents a significant milestone in the history of the Arsenal and our Army," Fletcher said. "It opened the doors of opportunity not only for African-Americans, but for people from all races, creeds, color, and gender to work at the Arsenal."

"When I look around the Arsenal today, I see great harmony in the workforce," Fletcher said. "But I know that it hasn't always been like this throughout the past 60 years."

There had to be great champions who not only followed the letter of the law, but also the spirit of what President Truman was trying to accomplish, Fletcher said.

Equality and fairness in the workplace doesn't happen by chance. These ideals come from continued effort by the chain of command and by the workforce to make moral decisions that are not only right for the Arsenal, but also right for our country, said Fletcher.

"Without a doubt, today's diverse workforce has strengthened the Arsenal's ability to support the warfighter by providing different perspectives and solutions to work-related challenges," said Fletcher.

Charlie Robinson, a material handler at the Arsenal, shared Fletcher's sentiments. He said that in his four years at the Arsenal he has experienced a hiring system that is void of racism.

"I had a relatively easy time getting hired," said Robinson. "I believe that only the best qualified individuals get hired without regard to race or sex."

Harry Bomba Jr., a machinist at the Arsenal, added that in his 11 years at the Arsenal he has not experienced any negative issues in regard to race or sex.

"Within my section, 50 percent of the workers are women," Bomba said. "To me, working at the Arsenal is like working in one big happy family."

Despite this executive mandate in race relations, the Watervliet Arsenal had by 1948 already integrated and included minority workers in all facets of Arsenal manufacturing.

During World War II many women, both black and white, worked in local factories such as the Watervliet Arsenal, while men were engaged in military service, according to Jennifer A. Lemak in a 2008 article titled, "Albany, New York and the Great Migration."

In today's military, minorities make up more than one-third of active duty forces, with blacks comprising more than 17 percent. Black representation in the enlisted forces -- about 13 percent -- is parallel to the amount of blacks represented in the recruiting-age civilian population overall, according to Defense Department statistics.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16