Fighting Fascism Abroad and Racism at Home

Fighting Fascism Abroad and Racism at Home

Double V Campaign


After World War II began in Europe and America’s defense industries expanded to meet war demands,

A. Philip Randolph urged President Roosevelt to end racial discrimination in these industries and in the military.

African Americans in the Armed Forces


When Roosevelt took no action, Randolph planned a march on Washington that became a widespread political movement.

Then Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802, ending discrimination in defense industries.


African Americans in the Armed Forces

Dorie Miller, mess attendant second class, was awarded the Navy Cross for Pearl Harbor, but his heroism did little to open opportunities for black sailors, who were limited to noncombat positions in the Navy.


African Americans in the Armed Forces

His story is emblematic of the experience of African Americans in the U. S. Armed Forces in World War II: even as they contributed to the war against fascism and Adolph Hitler’s racial doctrines, they faced racism in their own country and ranks.

African Americans in the Armed Forces


To court black voters, in 1940 Roosevelt asked William H. Hastie, dean of Howard University’s law school, to serve as a civilian advisor on racial issues.

Though he could not change the military’s racial policies, Hastie was well placed to monitor black discontent.

His office heard from black soldiers about acts of violence against them as well as discrimination in promotion and training.

His pleas ignored, Hastie resigned, admired by black Americans and briefly embarrassing the Roosevelt administration.

African Americans in the Armed Forces


Early in 1942 the Pittsburgh Courier launched the “Double-V Campaign,” which called for victory on the battlefield and victory over racial prejudice on the home front, seeking to push the nation to live up to the democratic principles.

African Americans in the Armed Forces


Gains came only with struggle.

Despite Roosevelt’s executive order, black employment in defense industries rose only when labor shortages became acute.

Black soldiers were placed in combat only after causalities mounted, in 1944.

The combat successes of the Tuskegee Airmen were also persuasive.

African Americans in the Armed Forces


In March 1940, Pauli Murray applied the Gandhian technique of “nonviolent resistance coupled with good will” when she was jailed for violating Virginia’s bus segregation laws. She lost her legal case but became convinced of the power of creative nonviolence.

As a student at Howard’s law school, she joined the pacifist Fellowship of Reconciliation and helped organize a sit-down protest at a segregated Washington restaurant.

Racial Issues on the Home Front Pauli Murray


But she also experienced gender discrimination, which she quickly labeled Jane Crow.

Though an excellent student who argued for a frontal assault on the constitutionality of segregation per se (a strategy later adopted by the NAACP), she was denied admission to a Harvard’s master’s program because she was a woman.

Enrolling at the University of California’s law school, she met international students who helped her see civil rights in the context of human rights.

Racial Issues on the Home Front- Pauli Murray


Murray was in Harlem one day after a riot that made the streets look like a “bombed-out war zone.” This followed a violent clash in Detroit that took lives and property. Competition for jobs and discrimination in housing made fistfights and rumors flashpoints for black insurrection. “These riots had to come,” was her conclusion.



Other Fellowship of Racial Equality activists, such as James Farmer and pacifist Bayard Rustin, were developing similar ideas, and Farmer formed the Congress of Racial Equality.

Racial Issues on the Home Front


Murray’s hopes to join the NAACP’s legal team were disappointed, but the team continued its successes: Smith v. Allwright outlawed “white primaries,” and Shelley v. Kraemer ruled that racially restrictive covenants were unenforceable.



Civil rights gains during the war were limited:

The military was still largely segregated,

The Fair Employment Practices Committee, established by Roosevelt’s executive order on defense industries, had no enforcement power and was not scheduled to continue,

Roosevelt’s death left more uncertainties,

Truman’s response to civil rights issues was unknown.

Postwar Dilemmas


For Ralph Bunche, the State Department advisor and delegate to the United Nations founding conference, the civil rights issue was linked to decolonization movements, but the Truman administration was reluctant to pressure Britain and France on these issues and made sure the UN could not intervene in domestic matters, thus protection segregation. Yet Truman was aware that segregation damaged U. S. credibility as the leader of democratic nations now engaged in a new contest against the Soviet Union-the Cold War.

Postwar Dilemmas


As the Cold War intensified, any criticism of America was liable to charges of being “communist inspired.”

The result was a major division in African American politics.

Langston Hughes and Richard Wright, once associated with Communist organizations, now distanced themselves.

Thurgood Marshall and Walter White carefully aligned the NAACP with anticommunism and the Truman administration.

Cold War Split in African American Politics


But W.E.B. Du Bois and Paul Roberson doubted Truman would act for civil rights.

Du Bois, now head of the NAACP’s research office, drafted An Appeal to the World, aiming to bring the issue of U. S. racial discrimination before the UN Human Rights Commission.

When the Soviet union agreed to sponsor it, the appeal caused a serious rift within the NAACP.

Eleanor Roosevelt threatened to resign from the board, but White removed Du Bois instead.

Postwar Dilemmas


Du Bois moved on the Council on African Affairs, which Robeson helped to found to aid national liberation struggles in Africa.

Now Roberson emerged as the most energetic and popular proponent of an African American leftist perspective, denouncing lynching, pointing to the irony Of Nazi war crimes trials while America ignored its own crimes, and challenging Truman to act.

Postwar Dilemmas


By the time Truman’s Civil Rights Commission issued its report To Secure These Rights and Truman announced support for its recommendations, Robeson was already under investigation by the House Committee on Un-American Affairs.

The 1949 presidential campaign further split black political leadership. Du Bois and Robeson supported Henry Wallace, the Progressive Party candidate.

Postwar Dilemmas


Truman recruited Hastie to campaign on his behalf in black communities.

Then Randolph mounted a new effort to desegregate the armed forces, joining with Rustin to encourage black draft resistance.

After southern Democrats led by Strom Thurman left the Democratic Party to form the States’ Rights Party, Truman had a freer hand on civil rights and issued executive orders banning racial discrimination in federal employment and the armed forces.

Postwar Dilemmas


His razor-thin victory in the election was owing to black support.

In the aftermath of Wallace’s overwhelming defeat, the ideological boundaries of African American politics narrowed.

As pressures for political conformity increased, the internationalism of Du Bois and Robeson was obscured by their Communist ties.

Postwar Dilemmas


But the NAACP moved to the forefront, forging ties with liberal politicians, labor unions, and Jewish organizations, and achieving highly visible legal victories that forced states to make equal educational facilities available to black students in law and graduate schools.

Marshall’s Legal Defense and Education Fund (established in 1940) not only undermined the separate-but-equal doctrine, but also provided a substitute for mass protest.

Postwar Dilemmas


Swing and the big band sound gave way to an experimental jazz style known as bebop, but most African Americans were listening to “race music”-rhythm and blues.

Racial Dimensions of Postwar Culture


Rhythm and blues was promoted by black-owned radio stations and DJs.

In Hollywood, opportunities expanded for black actors willing to accept the limited roles offered them.

But the most surprising development came in sports: Jackie Robinson’s famous breaking of the color bar in major league baseball.

Postwar Dilemmas


Robinson challenged bus segregation in the military during WWII, but he agreed to suppress aggression in the desegregation experiment engineered by Brooklyn Dodgers owner Branch Rickey. Many Americans saw him as a hero, but he was also a model for gradual or token reform that did not alter African American lives.

Postwar Dilemmas


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