Role Of African Americans In Wwii

1525 words - 6 pages

Those studying the experience of African Americans in World War II consistently ask one central question: “Was World War II a turning point for African Americans?” In elaboration, does World War II symbolize a prolongation of policies of segregation and discrimination both on the home front and the war front, or does it represent the start of the Civil Rights Movement that brought racial equality? The data points to the war experience being a transition leading to the civil rights upheavals of the 1960s.
World War II presented several new opportunities for African Americans to participate in the war effort and thereby begin to earn an equal place in American society and politics. From the beginning of the war, the black media urged fighting a campaign for a “Double Victory”: a global victory against fascism at the warfront and national victory over racism at the homefront. In spite of the literary and artistic achievements of the Harlem Renaissance, the economic or political gains that the black community expected did not come to light from the African American participation in the First World War. (Perry 89) Thus the black media aimed to obtain that foothold that would bring about racial equality. They emphatically declared that there would be no lessening of racial activism, in order to present a consolidated front to America’s enemies.
On the home front, A. Philip Randolph’s threat to force a march on Washington to advocate for civil rights in wartime employment represented this new stance. When government defense contracting first started in the early 1940s, the US government acquiesced to the demands of many corporations that solely stipulated white hiring. For instance, of 100,000 aircraft workers in 1940, only 240 of them were black and a majority of them occupied unskilled positions such as janitors. (Jeffries 107) To protest this discrimination against African Americans, the head of the powerful Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, A. Randolph threatened a march on the nation’s capital with 100,000 African Americans. Attempting to avoid this embarrassingly large protest, President F.D.Roosevelt sent his wife and the Mayor of New York to negotiate with Randolph. The duo negotiators offered to call business leaders, requiring that they hire African American workers. However, this gesture, did not fulfill Randolph’s demands for racial equality, thus he refused to withdraw. Three days before the march was to take place, FDR signed Executive Order 8802 that banned discrimination in government hiring just as Randolph had demanded. In addition, Executive Order 8802 established the Fair Employment Practice Committee (FEPC) to address reports of disobedience. (Perry 88) Although the under­funded and under­staffed FEPC had no legal enforcement power, it wielded the power of public hearings and cancellation of government contracts which applied pressure to businesses and unions to create a climate of impartiality or racial equality. (Takaki...

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