“I think of the history of change – in the terms of the (United States’) military - mostly in terms in race,” NPR and Fox News commentator Juan Williams said Monday at a Freedom to Serve forum at the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum.

“I think of the history of change – in the terms of the (United States’) military - mostly in terms in race,” NPR and Fox News commentator Juan Williams said Monday at a Freedom to Serve forum at the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum.

“You have to certainly start with President Truman’s role 61 years ago for creating a moment that I think echoes through the years defining who we are and what we stand for as an American people.”

Williams, noted African-American author and media personality, delivered the keynote address at the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network’s Freedom to Serve – Then and Now forum.

The forum inside the auditorium of the Truman Library commemorated the 61st anniversary of Truman’s signing in 1948 of Executive Order 9981, a bill that ended racial segregation in the armed forces.

“The government went from a moment of enforcing legal segregation and forcing a caste system that put people of color in secondary status to a role of saying the government stood on the side of those who believed in desegregation, if not absolute integration,” Williams said.

The forum included a series of panelists who explored the history of racial discrimination in the United States military, gender discrimination and the ban on openly gay service members.

The SLDN provides legal services for active and reserve members of the U.S. military, specifically to those in the armed forces who are affected by the military’s ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy.

“I think the parallel drawn between the deseg of the military forces and what is happening today with ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ is significant,” said forum attendee Lisa Pelofsky of Kansas City.

“I was so pleased to hear from the various panelists who are a living history. It gave me the chills to sit in the audience and hear them talk about the desegregation of our military.

“That historically has led to so many progressions in our communities. For me, that was very hopeful to hear what could potentially happen now.”