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African Americans in
World War II:
Origins of the Civil
Rights Movement
HIS 265
Preparing for War
 Only 5,000 blacks in army in 1940
 Selective Service Act (Sept. 1940) forbade
discrimination
– Many draft boards only accepted whites on
grounds there were no separate facilities for blacks
– A. Philip Randolph, Walter White & T. Arnold
Hill submitted plan to FDR to desegregate armed
forces & institute equal training & merit-based
promotion
 Token steps in Fall 1940:
– Benjamin O. Davis, Sr. promoted to Brig. Gen.
– William Hastie appointed civilian aide to Secretary
of War
– ROTC units added at W. Virginia State, Hampton,
Tuskegee & Prairie View
The March on Washington
Movement
 Industrial plants hired white
unemployed first, so blacks took
jobs vacated by whites
 A. Philip Randolph proposed
100,000-man march for July 1,
1945
 FDR issued Executive Order
8802 June 25, 1941
 Fair Employment Practices
Committee received &
investigated complaints, but had
no authority to punish
Welders
African Americans in World
War II
 Over 3 million black men registered for draft,
but 18.2% rejected on educational or medical
grounds (compared to 8.5% of whites)
 Approx. 1 million African Americans served in
armed forces
 African Americans in armed forces, Sept. 1944:
– 701,678 in Army (86,000 in combat units)
– 165,000 in Navy
– 17,000 in Marine Corps
– 5,000 in Coast Guard
– 24,000 in Merchant Marine
– 4,000 in Women’s Auxiliary Corps
 497,566 serving overseas by Feb. 1945
A Segregated Army
 War Dept. issued order in Oct. 1940 that whites &
blacks would attend same officer training schools
& held to same standard
– some camp commanders reluctant to recommend blacks
at first
– Only Air Corps had segregated training
 Mostly served in segregated units under white
officers, as in previous wars
 Too often placed in support roles
– Blacks made up 20% of engineering corps, 33% of
transportation corps & 44% of quartermaster corps
– Only 12% of soldiers served in combat units
The European Theater
 22 black combat units in Europe:
– 9 field artillery, 1 anti-aircraft, 2 tank, 2
–
–
–
–
tank destroyer, & 8 engineer combat
battalions
1st Army integrated some units at
platoon level in 1945 due to manpower
shortages
761st Tank Battalion fought in Battle of
Bulge
92nd Division earned over 12,000
decorations & citations fighting in Italy
Capt. Charles L. Thomas of 614th
Tank Destroyer battalion & 1st Lt. John
L. Fox of 92nd Division among 7
recipients of Medal of Honor in Jan.
1997
Logo of the
92nd Division
nd
92
Division in Action, Italy
Machine Gun Crew near Massa
Entering Genoa
The Tuskegee Airmen
Lena Horne and some of
the Tuskegee Airmen
 Served overseas in
Mediterranean theater
 Escorted bombers & flew
strafing runs
 94th Pursuit Squadron initially
part of 79th Pursuit Group with
3 white units
 Moved to all-black 332nd
Fighter Group in 1944
 Commanded by Col. Benjamin
Davis, Jr.
 Over 80 pilots won
Distinguished Flying Cross
The Pacific Theater
 Blacks allowed to enlist in Navy & Marine Corps for
the first time in spring 1942
– Dorie Miller became hero for shooting down 4 Japanese
–
–
–
–
–
planes during Pearl Harbor attack
Howard Perry was 1st black Marine
51st Defense Battalion assigned to guard duty in Marshall
Islands in 1944
By fall 1944, 500 black seamen serving on 25 large auxiliary
vessels, mostly in Pacific
12,500 served in Seabees
24,500 served in merchant marine - 18 ships named after
African Americans
 24th Infantry helped take New Georgia Islands in May
1942
 93rd Division saw action at Bougainville, Treasury
Islands, Morotai & Philippines
Howard Perry & Dorie Miller
Trouble on the Home Front
 Most camps located in South, so racial incidents
occurred inevitably
– Some camp commanders banned black newspapers &
segregated transportation and entertainment
– War Dept. issued order in July 1944 forbidding
segregation, but met with hostility
– Serious riots at Ft. Bragg, Camp Robinson, Camp Davis,
Camp Lee & Ft. Dix
 Renewed Great Migration led to renewed racial
tension in northern cities
– 65 black colleges participated in Engineering, Science &
management War Training Program - represented
triumph of Booker T. Washington’s model
– June 1943 riot in Detroit left 25 blacks and 9 whites dead
Detroit Riot, 1943
The “Double V” Campaign
 Pittsburg Courier
launched “Double V”
campaign to fight racism
at home as well as abroad
 NAACP membership
increased from 50,000 to
400,000
 James Farmer founded
CORE (Congress Of
Racial Equality) to fight
segregation in Chicago
Wartime Propaganda
 Office of War Information
hired Ted Poston as advisor
– Used black journalists, artists &
photographers
 Propaganda emphasized U.S.
as egalitarian melting pot in
contrast to Nazi racism
– Films featured multiethnic
platoons, but rarely included
African Americans
– Frank Capra produced The
Negro Soldier in 1944 –
became mandatory viewing for
all soldiers
Liberals Rethink Race
 Blatant racism of Nazis caused white liberals to
reassess importance of racial discrimination
 Ashley Montagu’s Man’s Most Dangerous Myth:
The Fallacy of Race & Ruth Benedict’s The Races
of Mankind were best-sellers in 1942-43
 Gunnar Myrdal’s An American Dilemma (1944)
was exhaustive study
– Saw discrimination as glaring exception to the
“American Creed”
– Called on Americans to live up to their ideals and
eliminate prejudice and segregation
Truman and Desegregation
 Freedom to Serve (1948)
outlined steps
 Executive Order 9981
began process
 All jobs opened to
qualified personnel
regardless of race in 1949
 Gen. Matthew Ridgeway
integrated army in Korea,
1950-51