Dr. Quintard Taylor, Jr.
Scott and Dorothy Bullitt
Professor of American History
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History 322:
From Timbuktu to Katrina
Manual - Chapter 4
World War II

Introduction | Chap. 1 | Chap. 2 | Chap. 3 | Chap. 4 | Chap. 5 | Chap. 6 | Chap. 7 | Chap. 8

The World War II years and the following decade provided the first significant employment advances and civil rights victories since the Reconstruction period. Consequently, the massive edifice of segregation and racial discrimination was beginning to show major fissures.

The first fissure occurred in 1941 when civil rights and labor leader A. Philip Randolph pressured the Franklin Roose¬velt Administration to issue Executive Order 8802 which outlawed racial discrimination by private firms receiving defense contracts. His argument is advanced in the vignette A. Philp Randolph Calls for A March On Washington, 1941. The second vignette is a cartoon by Theodor Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss) titled The Old Run Around which satirizes job discrimination by the defense industries. Executive Order 8802 is the next vignette. The vignette Dr. Charles Drew and "Segregated Blood" profiles the physician who developed blood plasma and thus saved thousands of lives in World War II while Can Negro Really Fly Airplanes profiles an episode where First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt is flown by a black pilot to challenge another prevailing stereotype. The thousands of African American women who moved to the West Coast during World War II are profiled in Black Women Migrate to the East Bay and Lyn Childs Confronts a Racist Act while Walter White on the Detroit Race Riot of 1943 examines the tensions prompted by the migration of black women and men to the nation’s leading war production center. The Liberation of the Death Camps is a poignant reminder of black soldier’s participation in World War II.

Anticipation of change in the post war period, including the linking of black domestic struggles with anti-colonial campaigns in Asia, Africa and Latin America began even while the fighting still raged in Europe and the Pacific are reflected in African America and International Affairs: A Rising Wind. Ebony, Vol. 1, No. 1, looks at the establishment of what would become the nation’s most popular African American periodical.
A Conservative’s Outlook, 1946 is a critique of the strategies of the leading civil rights organizations of the time while Civil Rights & Organized Labor in the South: Moranda Smith Speaks attempts to link civil rights and union organizing. “Live Anywhere!” High Court Rules and President Truman and Civil Rights show the growing role of the federal government in undermining racial discrimination while Army Integration in the Korean War illustrates the effect of its actions. In Agricultural Mechanization and Black Labor we see the primary motivation for the continuing migration of African Americans from the rural South to the cities of the North and West. The international influence of political activist Paul Robeson is displayed in Paul Robeson Sings on the Border.
The tables, Black Student Enrollment in Colleges, 1941-1942 and Black Faculty in White Institutions, 1947 palpably illustrate the small number of African Americans who had access to higher education during this period. The final vignette Sports and Race: The Jackie Robinson Saga describes the end of segregated baseball.


In an article published in the Black Worker in May 1941, civil rights leader A. Philip Randolph calls on African Americans to march to the U.S. capital to demonstrate for the end of employment discrimination in defense employment. Part of that call is reprinted below.

We call upon you to fight for jobs in National Defense. We call upon you to struggle for the integration of Negroes in the armed forces, such as the Air Corps, Navy, Army, and Marine Corps of the Nation. We call upon you to demonstrate for the abolition of Jim Crowism in all Government departments and defense employment. This is an hour of crisis. It is a crisis of democracy. It is a crisis of minority groups. It is a crisis of Negro Americans. What is this crisis?

To American Negroes, it is the denial of jobs in Government defense projects. It is racial discrimination in Government departments. It is widespread Jim Crowism in the armed forces of the Nation. While billions of the taxpayers' money are being spent for war weapons, Negro workers are finally being turned away from the gates of factories, mines and mills--being flatly told, "NOTHING DOING." Some employers refuse to give Negroes jobs when they are without "union cards," and some unions refuse to Negro workers union cards when they are "without jobs…"

With faith and confidence of the Negro people in their own power for self-liberation, Negroes can break down the barriers of discrimination against employment in National Defense. Negroes can kill the deadly serpent of race hatred in the Army, Navy, Air and Marine Corps, and smash through and blast the Government, business and labor union red tape to win the right to equal opportunity in vocational training and re training in defense employment.

Most important and vital of all, Negroes, by the mobilization and coordination of their mass power, can cause PRESIDENT ROOSEVELT TO ISSUE AN EXECUTIVE ORDER ABOLISHING DISCRIMINATIONS IN ALL GOVERNMENT DEPARTMENTS, ARMY, NAVY, AIR CORPS AND NATIONAL DEFENSE JOBS.

Of course. the task is not easy. In very truth, it is big, tremendous and difficult. It will cost money. It will require sacrifice. It will tax the Negroes' courage, determination and will to struggle. But we can, must and will triumph.
The Negroes' stake in national defense is big. It consists of jobs, thousands of jobs. It may represent millions, yes, hundreds of millions of dollars in wages. It consists of new industrial opportunities and hope. This is worth fighting for. But to win our stakes, it will require an "all out," bold and total effort and demonstration of colossal proportions. Negroes can build a mammoth machine of mass action with a terrific and tremendous driving and striking power that can shatter and crush the evil fortress of race prejudice and hate, if they will only resolve to do so and never stop, until victory comes…

In this period of power politics, nothing counts but pressure, more pressure, and still more pressure, through the tactic and strategy of broad, organized, aggressive mass action behind the vital and important issues of the Negro. To this end, we propose that ten thousand Negroes MARCH ON WASHINGTON FOR JOBS IN NATIONAL DEFENSE AND EQUAL INTEGRATION IN THE FIGHTING FORCES OF THE UNITED STATES. An "all out" thundering march on Washington, ending in a monster and huge demonstration at Lincoln's Monument will shake up white America. It will shake up official Washington. It will give encouragement to our white friends to fight all the harder by our side, with us, for our righteous cause. It will gain respect for the Negro people. It will create a new sense of self-respect among Negroes.

But what of national unity? We believe in national unity which recognizes equal opportunity of black and white citizens to jobs in national defense and the armed forces, and in all other institutions and endeavors in America. We condemn all dictatorships, Fascist, Nazi and Communist. We are loyal, patriotic Americans all. But if American democracy will not defend its defenders; if American democracy will not protect its protectors; if American democracy will not give jobs to its toilers because of race or color; if American democracy will not insure equality of opportunity, freedom and justice to its citizens, black and white, it is a hollow mockery and belies the principles for which it is supposed to stand.

To the hard, difficult and trying problem of securing equal participation in national defense, we summon all Negro Americans to march on Washington. We summon Negro Americans to form committees in various cities to recruit and register marchers and raise funds through the sale of buttons and other legitimate means for the expenses of marchers to Washington by buses, train, private automobiles, trucks, and on foot.

We [also] summon Negro Americans to stage marchers on their City Halls and Councils in their respective cities and urge them to memorialize the President to issue an executive order to abolish discrimination in the Government and national defense. However, we sternly counsel against violence and ill-considered and intemperate action and the abuse of power. Mass power, like physical power, when misdirected is more harmful that helpful. We summon you to mass action that is orderly and lawful, but aggressive and militant, for justice, equality and freedom...

Today, we call upon President Roosevelt, a great humanitarian and idealist, to...free American Negro citizens of the stigma, humiliation and insult of discrimination and Jim-Crowism in Government departments and national defense. The Federal Government cannot with clear conscience call upon private industry and labor unions to abolish discrimination based on race and color as long as it practices discrimination itself against Negro Americans.


Source: A. Philip Randolph, "Call to Negro America 'To March on Washington for Jobs and Equal Participation in National Defense,' July 1, 1941," Black Worker 14 (May 1941).

Source: The Dr. Seuss Collection, Mandeville Special Collections Library, UC. San Diego


Following a dramatic meeting with civil rights activist A. Philip Randolph on June 25, 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802 which appears below.

Whereas it is the policy of the United States to encourage full participation in the national defense program by all citizens of the United States, regardless of race, creed, color, or national origin, in the firm belief that the democratic way of life within the Nation can be defended successfully only with the help and support of all groups within its borders: and

Whereas there is evidence that available and needed workers have been barred from employment in industries engaged in defense production solely because of considerations of race, creed, color, or national origin, to the detriment of workers' morale and of national unity:

Now, Therefore, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the statutes, and as a prerequisite to the successful conduct of our national defense production effort, I do hereby reaffirm the policy of the United States that there shall be no discrimination in the employment of workers in defense industries or government because of race, creed, color, or national origin, and I do hereby declare that it is the duty of employers and of labor organizations, in furtherance of said policy and of this order, to provide for the full and equitable participation of all workers in defense industries, without discrimination because of race, creed, color, or national origin:

And it is hereby ordered as follows:

1. All departments and agencies of the Government of the United States concerned with vocational and training programs for defense production shall take special measures appropriate to assure that such programs are administered without discrimination because of race, creed, color, or national origin;

2. All contracting agencies of the Government of the United States shall include in all defense contracts hereafter negotiated by them a provision obligating the contractor not to discriminate against any worker because of race, creed, color, or national origin;

3. There is established in the Office of Production Management a Committee on Fair Employment Practice, which shall consist of a chairman and four other members to be appointed by the President. The chairman and members of the Committee shall serve as such without compensation but shall be entitled to actual and necessary transportation, subsistence and other expenses incidental to performance of their duties. The Committee shall receive and investigate complaints of discrimination in violation of the provisions of this order and shall take appropriate steps to redress grievances which it finds to be valid. The Committee shall also recommend to the several departments and agencies of the Government of the United States and to the President all measures which may be deemed by it necessary or proper to effectuate the provisions of this order.

June 25, 1941

Source: Code of Federal Regulations, Title 3, The President, 1938-1943 Compilation
(Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1968), p. 957.


Many African Americans have long recalled and recounted the story of Dr. Charles R. Drew, the brilliant Howard University surgeon who during World War II developed blood plasma which saved millions of lives, but who in 1950 died tragically, and by implication, unnecessarily, because he was refused admittance to a segregated North Carolina hospital after a traffic accident. Historian Spencie Love investigated the story of Drew's death and discovered that he was unsuccessfully treated by white doctors in an otherwise segregated hospital following his accident. She posits that the account of Drew's death was interwoven with the stories of many other less famous African Americans who died or suffered from segregated medical care. Love traces in detail the story of Malthus Reeves Avery, a black North Carolina college student, who did in fact die after being refused admittance to the Duke University Hospital in another traffic accident just months after Drew's death. The Red Cross's s segregated blood policy in World War II, and the protests it generated by Drew and others, laid the foundation for the Drew legend. The excerpted portion of her 1992 article which appears below describes the life of Drew and his brief campaign against the Red Cross's segregation of blood.

Charles Richard Drew was born on June 3, 1904, at 1806 E Street, N.W., in Washington, D.C. He was the eldest of five children born to Richard Thomas Drew and Nora Rosella Burwell Drew.... The years of Drew's childhood were terrible....for American blacks as a group. But Drew and many of his peers managed to live in a protected, hopeful environment, thanks to their families, their churches, and excellent black schools. The Washington of this period was describes as having "the most distinguished and brilliant assembly of Negroes in the world."

Drew graduated from Dunbar [High School] in 1922. He attended Amherst College on an athletic scholarship along with several Dunbar friends. Except for intermittent periods of work, Drew spent the next 18 years completing an extremely formal education.... After Amherst came four years of McGill University Medical School in Montreal, Canada and two years of internship. Drew was then chosen for a Rockefeller fellowship at Columbia University Medical School from 1938 to 1940. There he trained under Dr. Allen Whipple, one of the top surgeons in the country. He also undertook the research on blood preservation that earned him a doctor of science degree, the first ever earned by an African American.

In 1939 Drew married Lenore Robbins, a strikingly beautiful, coolly intelligent home economics professor he had met at Spelman College while on a trip south. In characteristic Drew fashion, he fell in love with her within hours of their meeting and a few days later, on his trip back north, woke Lenore in the middle of the night and proposed.

After receiving his degree in 1940, Drew returned briefly to Howard University, resumed his teaching career, and started a family life. He and Lenore already had one daughter. (Two more daughters and finally a son followed later.)

But within a few months, history intervened and took Drew away again. Because of his expertise in blood banking, Drew was called back to New York from Washington to serve as medical director of the Blood for Britain project, a hastily organized effort to send liquid blood plasma to British solders wounded in France. During the fall of 1940, Drew completed this job so successfully that he was chose to serve as medical director of the first American Red Cross blood bank the following winter. This New York City pilot program became the model for Red Cross blood collection programs all over the country once American entered the war in December 1941....

Drew returned to Howard University Medical School in the summer of 1941 as chief of the Department of Surgery and chief surgeon of Freedmen's Hospital. He stayed on that job until his death, spending most of his time training young black doctors to be top-notch surgeons. Drew always felt himself to be a pioneer. He instilled in his students the sense that they too were pioneers, part of a team that would help break down the wall of prejudice and create a tradition of black excellence and humanitarian values....

Some months after Drew left the Red Cross, the organization began a national program of blood collection. Initially, at the instigation of the Armed Forces, the Red Cross collected blood only from white Americans. All African Americans were turned away as donors.

With black soldiers being drafted, this policy caused an uproar. The NAACP, the National Medical Association, and many humanitarian groups protested the policy. After a few months, it was changed: black volunteers could give blood but theirs was stored separately and labeled accordingly.... Charles Drew, as an expert on blood, managed to place himself at the symbolic epicenter of racial fear in American. As a scientist, he knew what nonsense these policies of exclusion and segregation were. From his perspective there was only one kind of blood, human blood, and it made no sense to segregate it.

He spoke out against these discriminatory policies, saying to reporters in 1942: "As you know, there is no scientific basis for the separation of the bloods of different races except on the basis of the individual types or groups." Drew's style was firm and authoritative but also gentle and low-key.

Newspaper stories and magazine articles followed his statement. Wasn't it ironic, they said, that the pioneer of blood plasma would have his blood refused or segregated if he wished to donate it.... Drew was rightly perceived by the black community as having performed sacrificial humanitarian work and yet having been mistreated. He had in a sense discovered the blood bank. Yet at first his own blood would not have been accepted at it. The irony was powerful.

Source: Spencie Love, "'Noted Physician Fatally Injured,' Charles Drew and the legend That Will Not Die," Washington History: Magazine of the Historical Society of Washington, D.C. 4:2 (Fall/Winter 1992-93): 8-11.


This was the question posed facetiously by Eleanor Roosevelt in April, 1941. The answer to her question appears in the vignette below, taken from an account of the black World War II era Tuskegee Airmen, described by Omar Blair, a Denver resident who became a member of the elite group.

Omar Blair likes to tell the story about Eleanor Roosevelt and the Tuskegee Airmen. He particularly likes the part in which the peripatetic outspoken wife of the president stood on a grass strip in April 1941 near Tuskegee Institute in Alabama and asked an outrageous question: "Can Negroes really fly airplanes?"

Months earlier four black schools--Tuskegee, Hampton Institute, Virginia State, and Howard University--had been named as the schools to offer the Civilian Pilot Training Program to black college students. With the increased threat of U.S. entrance into World War II, the War Department was being pressured to use black officers and pilots in the newly established Army Air Corps. The choice for this training was between Tuskegee and Hampton institutes. Eleanor Roosevelt had been chosen to evaluate their qualifications, to meet with Charles ("Chief") Anderson, the project director of the program, and to ask, as it turned out, the right question. As Anderson told it, he answered: "Certainly we can fly. Would you like to take an airplane ride?" When the Secret Service realized where she was going this time, they first forbade it, and when that did not work, they called her husband. FDR replied with the wisdom of long experience: "If she wants to, there is nothing we can do to stop her."

Thirty minutes later, Eleanor Roosevelt climbed down from the back seat of Anderson's Piper J-3 Cub, posed for photographers, and with a broad grin reassured everyone that, yes, Negroes could fly. Her return to Washington was followed by the birth of the Tuskegee Airmen, a victory in the history of participation of blacks in the military--except for one glaring failure: this unit, like all others, would be segregated and commanded by white officers. Blair, a former Tuskegee Airman and an imposing figure who led Denver's Board of Education during the 1970s, said with some delight: "But this failure is where the Establishment made its mistake--they put us on our mettle."

Why was this considered a victory? Because for the first time there was a real crack in the armor of white supremacy within the military--only a crack, but destined to widen....

Source: Joan Reese, "Two Enemies to Fight: Blacks Battle for Equality in Two World Wars," Colorado Heritage 1 (1990), p. 2.


In the following passage Gretchen Lemke-Santangelo describes the experiences of black women in the World War II era migration to Northern California.

Migrant women...perceived California as a place of relative freedom for black people, a refuge from the harshest manifestations of Jim Crow. And since most migrant women were at a point in their lives where the limits imposed by the white world were particularly painful, California became a symbol of liberation... Filled with such images and expectations, migrant women began their journey in shabby "Colored" waiting rooms of train stations throughout the South. There, they encountered discrimination and indifference from white ticket agents who charged unfair rates, refused to give information regarding arrival and departure times, or ignored black customers until all white travelers had been waited on. From there they boarded Jim Crow cars located at the end of trains, and crowded with servicemen, baggage, and other migrants. Many women believed that this would be their final encounter with Jim Crow, of at least a final brush with this particular type of humiliation. They expected the West to offer them the opportunity to be "somebody," a place where they would be treated like human beings.

The journey, then, was perceived as a passage to a better place. Indeed, migrants who traveled by rail, referred to their carriers as "Liberty Trains." As these trains left the station, however, migrant women were forced to observe segregated seating and dining arrangements. This changes after the train crossed the Mason-Dixon line, the boundary dividing the "zone of racial separation" from that part of the country with an informal...system of segregation.... Ruth Gracon left Pine Bluff, Arkansas in 1940 to join her husband in Oakland... Alone with a new baby, Ruth boarded a Jim Crow car. "I remember crossing the Mason-Dixon line and being able to sit in a coach instead of the Jim Crow car. I think it was Kansas City. The Pullman porter was really nice--said that I could sit anyplace now..." Theresa Waller left Houston in October, 1943 to join her husband who had found work on the San Francisco waterfront. Theresa "rode out of Texas on the Jim Crow car...packed with military people." In El Paso, Theresa changed trains, and a soldier who rose to give her his seat said, "you can relax now, because we're at the Mason-Dixon lie, and the Great White Father has to look up to you now."

The journey, while exciting, was also emotionally and physically exhausting. Many migrant women had never left the towns and cities where they were raised. And California, despite its golden image, raised fears as well as hopes... The East Bay grew significantly during the war years, taking on characteristics of a boom town. Richmond, in particular, looked wild and unkempt, with government housing projects, trailer parks, cafes, bars, and clubs springing up on swampy vacant lots north and west of the city. New arrivals, unable to find housing, were sleeping in cars. And everywhere, at all hours, people in work clothes...were going back and forth from the defense plants. Ruth Cherry arrived in Oakland while her husband was at work. At the station....she called a cab to take her to the room her husband had rented. He came home in work clothes, and she started crying when she saw him. "I had never seen him in coveralls and dirty. He was a barber by trade, and always clean."

Migrant women, who expected a land of sunshine and orange groves, were immediately disenchanted with the weather. By most...accounts, the years between 1940-1945 were unusually cold, foggy, and rainy. Willa Henry, who drove out with relatives, sent her only winter coat by train with her other belongings. "The night we got there my uncle took us out to eat at Slim Jenkins [an Oakland nightclub] and I thought I would freeze to death coming out of that warm climate.... Lovie McIntosh remembers the rain and mud... "I can remember the hills above Richmond looking so dismal. It was raining a lot then. We were upstairs in the project and the wind would blow and blow, and I would cry and cry..." Opal Smith…remembers the fog rolling in after sunset on her first evening in Oakland. She and her small children huddled in their tiny apartment, frightened by the strange sound of foghorns.”

Source: Gretchen J. Lemke-Santangelo, Abiding Courage: African American Migrant Women and the East Bay Community (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996), pp. 64-67.


In the following vignette, black San Francisco shipyard worker Lyn Childs, describes how she came to the defense of a Filipino employee on the ship she was repairing. Her account also discusses the reaction from her supervisor.

I was working down in the hold of the ship and there were about six Filipino men...and this big white guy went over and started to kick this poor Filipino and none of the Black men that was working down there in the hold with him said one word to this guy. And I sat there and was getting madder and madder by the minute. I sprang to my feet, turned on my torch, and I had a flame about six to seven feet out in front of me, and I walked up to him and I said (you want me to say the real language?) I said to him,

"You so-in-so. If you go lift one more foot, I'll cut your guts out." That was my exact words. I was so mad with him.

Then he started to tell me that he had been trained in boot camp that nay national group who was dark skinned was beneath all White People. So he started to cry. I felt sorry for him, because he was crying, really crying. He was frightened, and I was frightened. I didn't know what I was doing, so in the end I turned my torch off and I sat down on the steps with him.

About that time the intercom on board the ship started to announce,

"Lyn Childs, report to Colonel Hickman immediately."

So I said, "I guess this is it." So I went up to Colonel Hickman's office, and behind me came all these men, and there lined up behind me, and I said,

"Where are you guys going?"

They said, "We're going with you."

When we got to the office [Colonel Hickman] said, "I just wanted to see Lyn Childs," and they said, "You'll see all of us, because we were all down there. We all did not have the guts enough to do what she did, [but] we're with her."

Colonel Hickman said, "Come into this office."

He had one of the guards take me into the office real fast and closed the door real fast and kept them out, and he said,

"What kind of communist activity are you carrying on down there?"

I said, "A communist! What is that?"

He said, "You know what I am talking about. You're a communist."

I said, "A communist! Forget you! The kind of treatment that man was putting on the Filipinos, and to come to their rescue. Then I am the biggest communist you ever seen in your life. That is great. I am a communist."

He said, "Don't say that so loud."

I said, "Well, you asked me was I a communist. You're saying I am. I'm saying I'm a...

"Shh! Shh! Shh! Hush! Don't say that so loud." Then he said, "I think you ought to get back to work."

"Well, you called me Why did you call me?"

"Never mind what I called you for," he said, "Go back to work."

Source: Paul R. Spickard, "Work and Hope: African American Women in Southern California During World War II," Journal of the West 32:3 (July 1993):74-75.


Writing for an NAACP publication, Walter White, Executive Director of the organization provides one view of the reason for the racial violence in the city in the middle of World War II.

In 1916 there were 8,000 Negroes in Detroit's population of 536,650. In 1925 the number of Negroes in Detroit had been multiplied by ten to a total of 85,000. In 1940, the total had jumped to 149,119. In June 1943, between 190,000 and 200,000 lived in the Motor City…The overwhelming majority -between 40,000 and 50,000- of the approximately 50,000 Negroes who went to Detroit in this three year period moved there during the fifteen months prior to the race riot of June 1943. According to Governor Harry S. Kelly, of Michigan, a total of 345,000 persons moved into Detroit during the same fifteen month period. There was comparatively little out-migration as industry called for more and more workers in one of the tightest labor markets in the United States. The War Manpower Commission failed almost completely to enforce its edict that no in migration be permitted into any industrial area until all available local labor was utilized. Thus a huge reservoir of Negro labor existed in Detroit, crowded into highly congested slum areas. But they did have housing of a sort and this labor was already in Detroit...

Politically minded public officials have winked at the activities of agencies like the Klan, the Black Legion, the National Workers League, the followers of Father Coughlin and other similar groups. During the 30s especially where there was keen competition for jobs because of the depression, Southern whites sought and secured jobs on the police force of Detroit and in the courts. There was a period of years when cold-blooded killings of Negroes by policemen were a constant source of bitterness among Negroes. Eventually protest by such organizations as the Detroit branch of the NAACP and other Negro and inter-racial groups led to a diminution and…a practical cessation of such killings. But a residue of distrust of the police remained. When the riot of June 1943 broke forth, this suspicion of police by Negroes was more than justified...

The willful inefficiency of the Detroit police in its handling of the riot is one of the most disgraceful episodes in American history. When the riot broke out on Sunday night, June 20, following a dispute between a white and Negro motorist on the Belle Isle Bridge, an efficient police force armed with night sticks and fire hoses could have broken up the rioting...and broken the back of the insurrection, had the police been determined to do so. Instead, the police did little or nothing...

The anti-Negro motivation of the Detroit police department is further illustrated by these facts and figures. It has already been pointed out that the Negro population of Detroit at the time of the riot was 200,000 or less, out of a total population of more than 2,000,000. The inevitable riot was the product of anti-Negro forces which had been allowed to operate without check or hindrance by the police over a period of many years. But 29 of 35 persons who died during the riot were Negroes. An overwhelming majority of the more than 600 injured were Negroes. Of the 1,832 persons arrested for rioting, more than 85 percent were Negroes. And this in the face of the indisputable fact that the aggressors over a period of years were not Negroes but whites.

Source: Walter White, "What Caused the Detroit Riots?," in What Caused the Detroit Riots? (New York: NAACP, 1943).


In the passages below death camp survivors Samuel Pisar and Moshe Sandberg describe their initial encounters with black U.S. Army troops in April 1945.

Pisar: I suddenly became aware of a hum, like a swarm of bees, growing in volume. A machine gun opened fire alongside our barn and, when it stopped, there was that hum again, only louder, unearthly metallic.
I peeped through a crack in the wooden slats. Straight ahead, on the other side of the field, a huge tank was coming toward the barn. It stopped, and the humming ceased. From somewhere to one side, machine guns crackled and the sounds of mortar explosions carried across the field. The tank's long cannon lifted its round head, as though peering at me, then turned slowly aside and let loose a tremendous belch. The firing stopped. The tank resumed its advance, lumbering cautiously toward me. I looked for the hateful swastika, but there wasn't one. On the tank's sides, instead, I made out an unfamiliar emblem. It was a five pointed white star. In an instant, the realization flooded me; I was looking at the insignia of the United States army.

My skull seemed to burst. With a wild roar, I broke through the thatched roof, leaped to the ground, and ran toward the tank. The German machine guns opened up again. The tank fired twice. Then all was quiet. I was still running. I was in front of the tank, waving my arms. The hatch opened. A big black man climbed out, swearing unintelligibly at me. Recalling the only English I knew, those words my mother had sighed while dreaming of our deliverance, I fell at the black man's feet, threw my arms around his legs and yelled at the top of my lungs: `God bless America!'

With an unmistakable gesture, the American motioned me to get up and lifted me in through the hatch. In a few minutes, all of us were free.

* * *

Sandberg: A group of SS soldiers pointed towards the village and said that the tanks parked there were American. I don't think that any of us believed them. It seemed a joke at our expense. Somebody asked if we could get out of the train and in a voice very different from the usual, a soldier replied, `Of course.' Some of us got out, without any particular joy, unable to understand the meaning of that fateful moment. Some ran to the grass and began devouring it as if it was the most natural of foods. The Germans stood silent, only looking towards the tanks.

We were free, but we did not know it, did not believe it, could not believe it. We had waited for this such long days and nights that now when the dream had come true it seemed still a dream. We wanted to go to a house to beg something, but just then an American tank approached from which the soldiers motioned us to come nearer. Only then did we understand that it was not a dream. We were free! We were really free! We broke into weeping. We kissed the tank. A Negro soldier give us a tin of meat, bread and chocolate, and pointed to us the way to the village center. We sat down on the ground and ate up all the food together-bread, chocolate and meat. The Negro watched us, tears in his eyes.

Sources: Samuel Pisar, Of Blood and Hope (Boston, 1979), pp. 92-93; Moshe Sandberg, My Longest Year in the Hungarian Labour Service and in the Nazi Camps (Jerusalem, 1968), pp. 113-114.


In a 1945 book titled A Rising Wind Walter White, executive secretary of the NAACP became the latest of a long list of African Americans scholars and activists who established a nexus between domestic civil rights issues and international developments. White was inspired to write the book after a tour of Europe during the final months of World War II. Taking the title from a speech by Eleanor Roosevelt affirming the rise of global anti-colonialist and anti-imperialist movements, White argued that the struggles of peoples in Asia and Africa to gain independence paralled the campaign of African Americans for full citizenship in the United States. He added that attempts to restrict black freedom would resonate negatively around the world, and particularly among the emerging nations. Excerpts from the book appear below.

World War II has given to the Negro a sense of kinship with other colored—and also oppressed—peoples of the world. Where he has not thought through or informed himself on the racial angles of colonial policy and master race theories, he senses that the struggle of the Negro in the United States is part and parcel of the struggle against imperialism and exploitation in India, China, Burma, Africa, the Philippines, Malaya, the West Indies, and South America. The Negro soldier is convinced that as time proceeds that identification of interests will spread even among some brown and yellow peoples who today refuse to see the connection between their exploitation by white nations and discrimination against the Negro in the United States….

Any person of normal intelligence could have foreseen this. With considerable effectiveness, the Japanese by radio and other means have industriously spread in the Pacific stories of lynchings, of segregation and discrimination against the Negro in the American Army, and of race riots in Detroit, Philadelphia, and other American cities. To each of these recitals has been appended the statement that such treatment of a colored minority in the United States is certain to be that given to brown and yellow peoples in the Pacific if the Allies, instead of the Japanese, win the war. No one can accurately estimate at this time the effectiveness of such propaganda. But it is certain that it has had wide circulation and has been believed by many. Particularly damaging has been the circulation of reports of clashes between white and Negro soldiers in the European and other theaters of operation.

Indissolubly tied in with the carrying overseas of prejudice against the Negro is the racial and imperialist question in the Pacific of Great Britain's and our intentions toward India and China. Publication of Ambassador William Phillips' blunt warning to President Roosevelt in May 1944 that India is a problem of the United States as well as of England despite British opposition to American intervention is of the highest significance. It reaffirmed warnings to the Western world by Wendell Willkie, Sumner Welles, Pearl Buck, and Henry Wallace, among others, that grave peril which might bring disaster to the entire world was involved in continued refusal to recognize the just claims for justice and equality by the colored people, particularly in the Orient. These people are not as powerless as some naive Americans believe them to be. In the first place they have the strength of numbers, unified by resentment against the condescension and exploitation by white nations which Pearl Buck calls "the suppression of human rights to a degree which has not been matched in its ruthlessness outside of fascist owned Europe," which can and possibly will grow into open revolt. The trend of such awakening and revolution is clearly to be seen in the demand which was made by China at the Dumbarton Oaks Conference of August 1944 that the Allied nations unequivocally declare themselves for complete racial equality. It is to be seen in Ambassador Phillips' warning that though there are four million Indians under arms they are wholly a mercenary army whose allegiance to the Allies will last only as long as they are paid; and in his further revelation that all of these as well as African troops must be used to police other Indians instead of fighting Japan.

Permit me to cite a few solemn warnings of the inevitability of world¬wide racial conflict unless the white nations of the earth do an about face on the issue of race. "Moreover, during the years between 1920 and 1940 a period in the history of the Asiatic and Pacific peoples was in any event drawing to its close," says Sumner Welles, former Undersecretary of State, in his epochal book, The Time for Decision.

The startling development of Japan as a world power, and the slower but nevertheless steady emergence of China as a full member of the family of nations, together with the growth of popular institutions among many other peoples of Asia, notably India, all combined to erase very swiftly indeed the fetish of white supremacy cultivated by the big colonial powers during the nineteenth century. The thesis of white supremacy could only exist so long as the white race actually proved to be supreme. The nature of the defeats suffered by the Western nations in 1942 dealt the final blow to any concept of white supremacy which still remained.

The distinguished former Undersecretary might well have gone on to point out that had not the Russians and Chinese performed miracles of military offense and defense in World War II, or had not the black Governor General of French Equatorial Africa, Félix Eboué, retained faith in the democratic process when white Frenchmen lost theirs, the so-¬called Anglo Saxon nations and peoples would surely have lost this war. And Mr. Welles could have reminded his readers that brown and yellow peoples in Asia and the Pacific and black peoples in Africa and the West Indies and the United States are not ignorant of the truth that the war was won by men and women—white, yellow, black, and brown. Resumption of white arrogance and domination in the face of such facts may be disastrous to the peace of the world...

Will the United States after the war perpetuate its racial discrimina¬tion policies and beliefs at home and abroad as it did during the war? Will it continue to follow blindly the dangerous and vicious philosophy voiced in Kipling's poem, The White Man's Burden? Will decent and intelligent America continue to permit itself to be led by the nose by demagogues and professional race hate mongers to have its thinking and action determined on this global and explosive issue by the lowest common denominator of public opinion?

Or will the United States, having found that prejudice is an expensive luxury, slough off the mistakes of the past and chart a new course both at home and in its relations with the rest of the world?
What will America's answer be? If already planned race riots and lynchings of returning Negro soldiers "to teach them their place" are consummated, if Negro war workers are first fired, if India remains enslaved, if Eboué's people go back to disease and poverty to provide luxury and ease for Parisian boulevardiers, World will be in the making before the last gun is fired in World War II...

What to do?

The United States, Great Britain, France, and other Allied nations must choose without delay one of two courses to revolutionize their racial concepts and practices, to abolish imperialism and t full equality to all of its people, or else prepare for World War III. Another Versailles Treaty providing for "mandates," "protectorates," and other devices for white domination will make such a war inevitable. One of the chief deterrents will be Russia. Distrustful of Anglo American control of Europe, many and perhaps all of the Balkan states may through choice or necessity ally themselves with Russia. If Anglo Saxon practices in China and India are not drastically and immediately revised, it is probable and perhaps certain that the people of India, China, Burma, Malaya, and other parts of the Pacific may also move into the Russian orbit as the lesser of two dangers.

As for the United States, the storm signals are unmistakable. She can choose between a policy of appeasement of bigots which course she gives every indication now of following and thus court disaster. Or she can live up to her ideals and thereby both save herself and help to avert an early and more disastrous resumption of war.

A wind is rising—a wind of determination by the have nots of the world to share the benefits of freedom and prosperity which the haves of the earth have tried to keep exclusively for themselves. That wind blows all over the world. Whether that wind develops into a hurricane is a decision which we must make now and in the days when we form the peace.

Source: Walter White, A Rising Wind (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Doran
and Company, Inc., 1945), pp. 144, 147-155. )


In November, 1945, John H. Johnson launched Ebony after establishing Negro Digest three years earlier with a $500 loan from his mother. The first issue of Ebony sold 50,000 copies making it immediately the largest circulated black-owned magazine in the nation. Sixty years later it retained that distinction but with a circulation of 1.6 million. Ebony which quickly became the centerpiece of Johnson’s publishing empire, was far more. However, than a successful publication. It came to represent in its pages the aspirations of millions of black Americans, their dreams and desires for something more than the racially segregated world that existed when Ebony first reached newsstands and coffee tables across the nation. What appears below is the opening statement of Johnson in the first issue of the magazine.

WE’RE OFF! Like a thoroughbred stallion, we’ve been straining at the starting gate for months now waiting for the gun from the almighty, omnipotent, super-duper War Production Board. We’ve brain-trusted and blueprinted, rehearsed and dummied over and over again anxiously keeping a weather eye pealed on Washington for the “go” signal. And sure enough when the V-J whistle did blow, we were caught with our pants down.

Here’s your paper and scram, the WPB boys suddenly said. And there we were with tons of slick, shiny stock, a sheaf of dummies but no magazine. But this story having a happy ending as do all good tales, we can confide that we pulled a reconversion act out of an ancient hat with slick style that would put magician Houdini to shame. And here we are.

As you can gather, we’re rather jolly folks, we EBONY editors. We like to look at the zesty side of life. Sure, you can get all hot and bothered about the race question (and don’t think we don’t) but not enough is said about all the swell things we Negroes can do and will accomplish, EBONY will try to mirror the happier side of Negro life—the positive, everyday achievements from Harlem to Hollywood. But when we talk about race as the No. 1 problem of America, we’ll talk turkey….

Source: Ebony 1:1 (November 1945) p. 1.


Spencer Logan, a former non-commissioned officer in the United States Army, wrote A Negro’s Faith in America which was published by Macmillan in 1946. Logan took issue with civil rights leaders and organizations and argued against political agitation and instead counseled African Americans to become better educated while waiting reminding his readers that white America was, however gradually, nonetheless moving toward societal integration. Logan and newspaper columnist George Schulyer are reminders of the links between black conservatives in the era of Booker T. Washington and the African American neo-conservatives who emerged in the 1970s.

Have the Negro people developed a man or group of men who can lead them and speak for them in the postwar era which lies just ahead?

The mere development of creative talent, no matter how great, does not, it seems to me, necessarily fit an individual for leadership. Many of the Negroes who are prominent because of their creative talents or their success as interpretive artists are not in the real sense leaders of the Negro people.

These men and women, including some of the most eminent and distinguished members of the Negro race, are obviously moved by the artist's desire to give of himself to humanity. But I wonder if it is not also from a sense of social frustration which even with their gifts they cannot shake off that some of them have attempted a leadership for which they are not emotionally fitted. Between these individuals and the Negro masses which they represent, there is a spiritual gulf. These gifted men and women are not of the people. Their policy of stressing social equality rather than the building of a strong Negro society is indicative of their desire to get away from being Negroes. Any kind of leadership that arises from such frustration is not of the Negro people as I know them ....

The ideal of democracy demanded by many Negro leaders is in harmony with the theory of democracy for all; but it ignores reality. The reality of the situation is that many Negro and white people are not ready to assume the responsibility of citizenship in a progressive modern state. One of the first needs of the mass Negro is a better understanding of the present day crisis in American life and a recognition of his own respon¬sibility in relation to it.

The extent to which Negro leadership has drifted from a program in harmony with the needs of the Negro in this crisis is indicated by certain aspects of the Negro press. Negro editors, aware of the inconsistency between the ideal of democracy as advocated by the Negro leaders and the discrimination and injustice endured by the average Negro, have at¬tempted to emphasize the discrepancy by resorting to a type of headline which stresses the basic defects of Negro white relationship: "White Policeman Shoots Negro Boy" "White Man Slays Negro Sweet¬heart"—"Negro Youth Denied Entrance to White College."

These editors will say that, by political agitation, social and economic equality can be gained. Yet the feeling lingers in the hearts of many responsible Negroes that the problem presented has bread and butter roots, and that agitation yields at best only a few jobs ....

Dr. George Washington Carver was a leader of quite a different sort. He avoided the many pitfalls of the Negro publicists. He developed his talent to the utmost, then gave freely of his wizardry to all people. He earned the gratitude and respect of white people. Dr. Carver set the highest possible standard for good race relationship, for he, as a Negro, achieved and practiced a concept of democracy which was in harmony with its greatest social and spiritual possibilities. Dr. Carver often said that he gave so freely of his talent because it was given to him by God. He subordinated his racial instincts to the good of democracy, and he believed that by dedicating his energies to the well being of all mankind he would best serve his race. Dr. Carver more than any other Negro has set an example for Negro leadership of the future.

There are many Negro organizations which are dedicated to the task of obtaining social equality and a fuller share in democracy for the Negro by means of political pressure and court decisions. Such groups operate on the theory that the ideals upon which a government is founded can be enforced through the legal code of that country by test cases which establish definite precedents. They fight segregation by proving that it is legally wrong. They would wipe out lynchings by fining the county involved, or by making prison sentences mandatory for anyone involved in them. They would loosen the economic noose about the neck of the Negro by the passage of more laws designed to make job discrimination illegal.

Negro leaders ruled by this thought pattern are in my opinion guilty, along with their white counterparts, of the gravest injustice to their cause if they attempt to gain by force of law alone the advantages of social equality from people who are not spiritually or morally prepared to grant it. They should realize that those who live by political agitation are by this very fact often handicapped as leaders; for a man who fights for the legal recognition of a principle may in the process lose sight of the human values involved ....

If the people of America are to get along with one another, regardless of racial and religious differences, they must become more aware of the need of making their democratic principles a part of their everyday lives. No citizen should be allowed to fail in the realization of his own responsibility for the welfare of the whole, with stress upon mutual respect among all. America has learned the technique of selling the public almost anything. We have been taught lessons of health and cleanliness, have been influenced to spend or save money, and have been united for the purpose of waging war against a common enemy. Why cannot similar educational techniques be used against those attitudes on the part of many of our citizens which may well prove to be as destructive as any foreign foe could have been?

Source: Spencer Logan, A Negro’s Faith in America (New York: Macmillan Co., 1946), pp. 12, 15, 16, 18 19, 60.


After World War II organized labor began to penetrate into some industrialized areas of the South where it inevitably confronted the issue of race. Unions such as the Food and Tobacco Workers affiliated with The Congress of Industrial Organizations, promoted racial integration and helped develop a group of African American labor activists who either led or supported parallel efforts for civil rights. Moranda Smith (1915 1950) of Winston-Salem, North Carolina was one of these leaders. The passage below, from her address at the CIO’s national convention in Boston in 1947, combines the issues of civil rights and labor organizing.

I work for the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company in Winston Salem, North Carolina. I want to say a few words on this resolution for the reason that I come from the South and I live in the South. I live where men are lynched, and the people that lynch them are still free.

The Taft Hartley Bill to Local 22 in Winston Salem is an old, old story. The Taft Hartley Bill was put before the workers in Winston Salem about four years ago when the CIO came to Winston Salem to organize the unorganized workers in the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco plant. We were faced at that time with a lot of court actions. They tried to put fear into the hearts of the workingmen in Winston Salem.

One of the things in the Constitution of the United States is a guarantee to a human being, regardless of his race, creed or color, of freedom from fear. I say the Taft Hartley Bill is nothing new to us. When men are lynched, and when men try to strike and walk the picket line, the only weapons that the workers in America, especially in the South, have to protect themselves is action. When they are put in jail, they must protect themselves. If that is the protection of democracy in the United States of America I say it is not enough.

I want to emphasize a few of the things that you have in this resolution. Too long have the Negro people of the South and other workers in America heard a lot of words read to them. It is time for action, and I am now wondering if the CIO is going to stop and do some of the things by action. You talk about political action and you talk about politics. How can there be any action when the Negroes in the South are not allowed to vote? Too long have the workers in the South stopped and looked to Congress for protection. We no longer look to the government in Washington for protection. It has failed. Today we are looking for an organization that says they are organized to fight for the freedom of all men regardless of race, creed or color, and that is the CIO.

I will tell you this and perhaps it will interest you. To the Negro workers in Winston Salem it means a great deal. They told us, "You cannot vote for this and you cannot vote for that. " But last May in the city of Winston Salem the Negro and white workers, based on a program of unity, were able to put in their city government two labor men. I am proud to say one of those was a Negro. The other was a white labor leader. (Applause.) Yes. We are faced today with this word that they call "democracy." I want to say to this convention let us stop playing around. Each and every one of you here today represents thousands and thousands of the rank and file workers in the plants who today are looking for you to come back to them and give them something to look forward to: not words, but action.

We want to stop lynching in the South. We want people to walk the picket lines free and unafraid and know that they are working for their freedom and their liberty. When you speak about this protection of democracy, it is more than just words. If you have got to go back to your home town and call a meeting of the rank and file workers and say, "This is what we adopted in the convention, now we want to put it into action," if you don't know how to put it into action, ask the rank and file workers. Ask the people who are suffering, and together you will come out with a good program where civil rights will be something to be proud of. When you say "protection of democracy" in your last convention, along with it you can say we have done this or that. The people that lynch Negroes in the South, the people that burn crosses in the South, the people who put men in jail because they wanted 10 or 20 cents an hour wage increase will learn that the workers can walk as free men, because we have done something in action.
One thing more. I have looked over this delegation, and I wonder if you cherish the word "democracy. " I say to you it means something to be free. It means a great deal. I do not think you have ever read or have ever heard of a Negro man or a Negro woman that has ever been a traitor to the United States of America ....

They can lynch us. They can beat us. They can do anything they want to, but the Negroes of America who have always been true to the American flag, will always march forward. We are just asking your help. We are not asking for charity. We do not want charity. We belong to America.

Our forefathers fought and bled and died for this country and we are proud to be a part of it just as you are. When the civil liberties of Negroes in the South are interfered with [and] you do nothing about it, I say to you, you are untrue to the traditions of America. You have got to get up and do something in action, as I have said before and not by mere words. So we are looking forward to your help and we call on you, because we have called on you before and you have given us aid. We will call on you again, and we ask you not to fail us.

Source: Final Proceedings of the 9th Constitutional Convention of the CIO,
October 15, 1947. (Pamphlet).


In 1945 the Shelleys, an African American family, purchased a home in St. Louis unaware of the racially restrictive covenant on the property since 1911. Neighbors sued to prevent them from occupying the home and triggering a series of court cases that ended with the 1948 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Shelley v. Kraemer which ruled restrictive covenants unenforceable by state action. The Pittsburgh Courier article below titled, “’Live Anywhere!’ High Court Rules,” described the decision and its impact.

An American citizen can live anywhere in the U. S….if he has the money to buy or build a home. This was the ruling of the United States Supreme Court Monday when it outlawed restrictive covenants in cases arising in Detroit, St. Louis and Washington, D. C. The vote was unanimous in every case!

Reversed were rulings of the Supreme Court of Michigan, upholding the legality of covenants restricting Orsel McGhee and his family from living in a so-called “white” residential area in Detroit, and a similar ruling by the Missouri Supreme Court against J. D. Shelley and his family in St. Louis. All were barred because they were Negroes.

Adding totality to the finality of its decisions the Nation’s highest tribunal also reversed the U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in two cases in Washington, D. C., involving James M. Hurd and family and Robert H. Rowe and family.

Taken behind closed doors several months ago, the Supreme Court justices had studied the dynamite-laden issue secretly, and when the decision was announced three of the justices did not vote. They were justices Reed, Jackson and Rutledge, who had excused themselves from hearing the case when it was argued, because each was in some manner involved in circumstances which had a bearing on the cases.

Voting unanimously were Chief Justice Vinson, who delivered the Court’s opinion; Justices Frankfurter, Burton, Black, Murphy and Douglas.

The far-reaching decision means that a mortal blow has been struck at racial restrictions in homes, artificially created ghettoes, public utilities and public services, restaurants, neighborhood theaters and countless and countless other jim-crow manifestations made possible because of the heretofore enforced segregation in home ownership.

The decision of the Court was that individual property owners could voluntarily enter into covenants, but that Court enforcement of such covenants contravened the Fourteenth Amendment. The Supreme Court further ruled that court action constituted State action, and will not henceforth be permitted in these covenant cases.

Yet to be considered by the Supreme Court is a case from Ohio.

In giving the Court ruling Chief Justice Vinson said:

“Upon full consideration we have concluded that in these cases the State has acted to deny petitioners the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment…the judgment of the Supreme Court of Missouri and the judgment of the Supreme Court of Michigan must be reversed.”

Their decision in the cases in Washington, D. C., was patterned after the Michigan and Missouri reversals.

The ruling of the Supreme Court—which may upset the pattern of residential life in almost every State in the Union—supported a 1917 ruling by the U. S. Supreme Court in which it voided racial restrictive covenant ordinances enacted by the city of Louisville, Ky., and other municipalities.

Source: Lem Graves, Jr., “‘Live Anywhere!’ High Court Rules,” The Pittsburgh Courier, May 8, 1948, pp. 1, 5.


In a single week in July, 1948 President Harry S. Truman issued Executive Order 9980 which prohibited segregation and discrimination in federal employment, and Executive Order 9981 ending the 173 year-old official policy of segregation of blacks in the Armed Services which evolved soon after the Revolutionary War. Sections of the two orders are printed below.

Executive Order 9980: WHEREAS the principles on which our Government is based require a policy of fair employment throughout the Federal establishment without discrimination because of race, color, religion, or national origin; and

WHEREAS it is desirable and in the public interest that all steps be taken necessary to insure that this long established policy shall be more effectively carried out:

NOW THEREFORE, by virtue of the authority vested in me as President of the United States, by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, it is hereby ordered as follows:

1. All personnel actions taken by Federal appointing officers shall be based solely on merit and fitness; and such officers are authorized and directed to take appropriate steps to insure that in all such actions there shall be no discrimination because of race, color, religion, or national origin.

2. The head of each department in the executive branch of the Government shall be personally responsible for an effective program to insure that fair employment policies are fully observed in all personnel actions within his department.

3. The head of each department shall designate an official thereof as Fair Employment Officer. Such Officer shall be given full operating responsi¬bility, under the immediate supervision of the department head, for carrying out the fair employment policy herein stated. Notice of the appointment of such Officer shall be given to all officers and employees of the depart¬ment.....

* * *

Executive Order 9981: WHEREAS is essential that there be maintained in the armed services of the United States the highest standards of democracy, with equality of treatment and opportunity for all those who serve in our country's defense:

NOW THEREFORE, by virtue of the authority vested in me as President of the United States, by the Constitution and the statutes of the United States, as Commander in Chief of the armed services, it is hereby ordered as follows:

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. This policy shall be put into effect as rapidly as possible, having due regard to the time required to effectuate any necessary changes without impairing efficiency or morale....

Source: Federal Register, 13:146 (July 28, 1948), pp. 4312, 4313.


Although racial integration of the Armed Services began with President Harry Truman’s Executive Order 9981 in 1948, practically speaking the Army began to integrate during the Korean War. The accounts that follow provide a glimpse of that integration. The first is by Beverly Scott, a black officer while the second is by Harry Summers, a white enlisted soldier.

Beverly Scott: The 24th Regiment was the only all-black regiment in the division, and as a black officer in an all-black regiment commanded by whites I was always super sensitive about standing my ground. Being a man. Being honest with my soldiers....
Most of the white officers were good. Taken in the context of the times, they were probably better than the average white guy in civilian life. But there was still that patronizing expectation of failure. White officers came to the 24th Regiment knowing or suspecting or having been told that this was an inferior regiment.

[In September 1951, members of the regiment were integrated into other units.] I was transferred to the 14th [Regiment] and right away I experienced some problems. People in the 14'h didn't want anybody from the 24th. I was a technically qualified communications officer, which the 14th said they needed very badly, but when I got there, suddenly they didn’t need any commo officers.

Then their executive officer said, “We got a rifle platoon for you. Think you can handle a rifle platoon?”

What the hell do you mean, can I handle a rifle platoon? I was also trained as an infantry officer. He knew that. I was a first lieutenant, been in the army six years…If I had been coming in as a white first lieutenant the question never would have been asked.

Harry Summers: When they first started talk¬ing about integration, white soldiers were aghast. They would say, How can you integrate the army? How do you know when you go to the mess hall that you won't get a plate or a knife or a spoon that was used by a Negro? Or when you go to the supply room and draw sheets, you might get a sheet that a Negro had slept on....
I remember a night when our rifle company was scheduled to get some replacements. I was in a three-man foxhole with one other guy, and they dropped this new replace¬ment off at our foxhole. The other guy I was in the foxhole with was under a poncho, making coffee. It was bitterly cold. And pitch dark. He got the coffee made, and he gave me a drink, and he took a drink, and then he offered some to this new replacement, who we literally couldn't see, it was that dark. And the guy said, "No, I don't want any."

"What the hell are you talking about, you don't want any? You got to be freezing to death. Here, take a drink of coffee."
"Well," he said, "you can't tell it now, but I'm black. And tomorrow morning when you find out I was drinking out of the same cup you were using, you ain't gonna be too happy." Me and this other guy kind of looked at each other. "You silly son of a bitch," we told him, "here, take the goddam coffee."

Source: Rudy Tomedi, No Bugle, No Drums: An Oral History of the Korean War (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1993).


The following article from the Chicago Defender suggests the relationship between agricultural mechanization in the South and the continuing rural to urban migration of African Americans.

MEMPHIS – The mechanical cotton picker is putting cotton pickers out of jobs but they are finding new jobs making the mechanical picker. Julius J. Thomas, industrial relations secretary of the National Urban League, disclosed last Friday as he outlined plans for a book he is writing.

In the book, which will be published by Funk and Wagnalls, Thomas will analyze administrative procedure in setting up fair employment practice conditions. His theory is that where top management takes a firm position, fair employment practices can be achieved in any work situation.

Fresh from a tour of manufacturing plants, which will take him eventually through more than 130 leading industries, Thomas cited International Harvester corporation as an excellent example of the Memphis Tenn. Plan of the as an excellent example of the achievement of fair employment practices.

That plant, he asserted, employs some 2,600 workers, with 26 per cent of the production workers and 18 per cent of the entire force being colored. He added that the contract between the corporation and the union representing the employees provides that promotion and job security are in no way to be affected by an employee’s race.

The fact that this was being done in the South, Thomas said, proves that if management lays down such a policy at the top level it will be carried out down to the lowest workers.

He said colored workers in the Harvester plant are employed at all levels and receive the same wages as white workers performing the same tasks.

He accounted for the policy of International Harvester by saying that when Cyrus McCormick invented his first harvesting machine in Virginia, he was aided by a colored man and he determined then that he would always give colored workers fair employment opportunities. Each succeeding head of the corporation, Thomas said, has followed that pattern set by the founder of the corporation.

Source: The Chicago Defender, October 2, 1948, p. 1


By the late 1940s Paul Robeson had emerged as one of the most controversial figures on the American political scene. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Rutgers University and the first black All-American football player, accomplished actor and concert singer, Robeson had an acclaimed career in the theater and motion pictures. Like many of his politically-conscious contemporaries, Robeson chose to identify with the Communist Party in the 1930s. By the 1940s when other public figures renounced such allegiances Robeson nevertheless reaffirmed his support, making him a major target of the 1950s Red Scare.

In 1950 the United States State Department revoked Paul Robeson’s passport to prevent him from traveling and speaking abroad. In response Canadian and U.S. labor activists organized a series of four border concerts between 1952 and 1955 where Robeson sang to thousands of Canadians and Americans at the Peace Arch near Blaine, Washington which marks the border between the nations. In one concert Robeson stood on the back of a truck one foot from the border and performed before 40,000 Canadians in attendance on the other side. These remarkable concerts are described below.

It seems so simple that all people should live in full human dignity and in friendship. But somewhere the enemy has always been around who tries to push back the great mass of the people in everyland—we know that.

Before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat and Martin Luther King Jr., shared his dream with those gathered to march at the nation’s capitol, actor-singer-activist Paul Robeson’s deep voice rippled over the thousands at the U.S.-Canadian border near Blaine for his second Peace Arch concert, Aug. 16, 1953.

And I want you to know that I’ll continue this year fighting for peace, however difficult it may be. And I want everyone in the range of my voice to hear, official or otherwise, that there is no force on Earth that will make me go backward one one-thousandth part of one little inch.

That speech, given in response to government censorship of Robeson, might have faded into historical oblivion if not for the efforts of a handful of people.

One of them, Detroit African-American Museum founder Charles Wright, was determined to keep Robeson’s legacy of speaking for the concerns of African-Americans an world laborers alive in the mid-1970s.

“Since I’d seen him in ‘Othello’ in 1944, I was naturally attuned to look up Robeson everywhere I went,” says Wright, 79.

Some time after he learned of the Whatcom County concerts, Wright came to the Pacific Northwest looking for people who had witnessed them. That’s how he learned of Harvey Murphy of the United Mine, Mill and Smelters Workers’ Union, which would have sponsored a 1952 Robeson concert in Vancouver if the government had allowed the singer to go to Canada. Wright visited Murphy at his Toronto home in 1974.

There Murphy gave Wright a tape of the first two of Robeson’s four annual Peace Arch concerts. The tape had been gathering dust in his closet.

This year, which would have been Robeson’s hundredth birthday, the recordings have been released commercially for the first time by Illinois-based Folk Era Records. Robeson will also be recognized posthumously Wednesday at the Grammy Awards.

A number of historians, including Wright in his book “Robeson: Labor’s Forgotten Champion,” have documented the events leading up to the four concerts.

Robeson visited Russia in the 1930s and openly praised his treatment there and the country’s policies. The entertainer’s political speeches, which continued in following decades, didn’t sit well with government officials, which were increasingly agitated by Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s communist witch hunts.

Robeson was blacklisted. Eventually, his annual income fell from a reported $100,000 annually to a paltry $6,000. Despite the damage to his career and threats of violence, he continued to speak out.

In 1950 Robeson’s passport was revoked to keep him from speaking abroad. In early 1952, the Mine, Mill and Smelters Workers’ Union invited him to address its annual meeting, to take place in Vancouver, B.C. Because U.S. citizens weren’t required to have passports to enter Canada, Robeson proceeded as planned.

However, he was stopped at the border, on the basis of World War I legislation that allowed the United States to restrict its citizens’ travel during times of national emergency.

Many Canadians resented the U.S. restriction of who they could hear speak, recalls Ray Stevenson, who was a union member at the time.

“It was a question of the right of Canadian people to hear Paul Robeson, who was an internationally known world figure,” says Stevenson, 79, who lives in Toronto.

After union workers discovered the restriction, they decided to gather at a Vancouver auditorium to protest. Robeson was to call union leaders from Seattle but to everyone’s surprise, members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers had rigged the telephone so everyone could hear him speak, Stevenson says.

“All of a sudden Paul’s voice is booming over the loudspeakers to this assembled throng,” he says.

Robeson spoke for 17 minutes and sang “Joe Hill” before plans for a protest concert were announced.

“The lack of a dissenting vote, Murphy announced—to a roar of laughter—meant that the representatives of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the FBI who were present were in support of the resolution,” writes Martin Duberman in his biography of Robeson.

“So instead of a couple of hundred people listening to Paul Robeson there were literally thousands and thousands who came to listen to Paul Robeson,” says Al King of Vancouver, B.C.

King, also a former union member, attended the first of the Peace Arch Concerts. He recalls a festive atmosphere with about 40,000 on the Canadian side of the border and 10,000 on the U.S. side.

“It turned into a real picnic,” says King, 83. “We clogged up the bloody border for hours.”

Robeson stood on the back of a truck parked one foot away from the border singing spirituals like “No More Auction Block” and “Old Man River.”

At one point, King got to shake the former college football All-American’s hand.

“I was absolutely amazed,” King recalls. “I’m over 6-feet, but I had to look up to see him…He was an immense man.”

Stevenson attended the last two concerts, held in 1954 and 1955.

“It was a very moving experience—one of the great moving experiences of my life,” Stevenson says.

Attendance had declined to about 15,000 to 20,000 by Stevenson’s recollection, but the audience remained enthusiastic. However, not everyone had come to support Robeson, he says, remembering a handful of attendees suspected of being with the FBI and Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

“We sort of felt, and I think justifiably, that they were something of a hostile force in this sea of pro-Robeson (activity),” Stevenson says.

Robeson was finally allowed to enter Canada in 1956, though Canadian officials were reluctant to allow him to perform at first. Their stance softened, however, with the threat of additional concerts along the border, Stevenson says.

Robeson’s passport was restored in 1958.

“If Paul had been allowed to just go naturally amongst the people the impact would not have been nearly as widespread and well-known as when we had to struggle to hear him,” Stevenson says.

Years later, Wright says he is happy to see Robeson get more recognition for his efforts.

“This tape will be lost to the public unless something happens to publicize it. …So when he gave it to me I promised to try and keep it alive,” Wright says. “One of our goals is to make sure that the young people know about Paul Robeson, because he was the greatest role model we’ve ever had.”

Robeson died in 1976 after having a stroke in Philadelphia.

Source: Ernest A. Jasmin, “Barred at the Border,” The Bellingham Herald, February 24, 1998, pp. C1, C3.



Twenty Black Institutions with the Largest Black Student Enrollment




Degrees to Black Students, 1942

 1. Howard University



 2. Tennessee A&I State College



 3. Tuskegee Institute



 4. Prairie View (Tex.) State College



 5. Virginia State College



 6. Alabama State Teachers College



 7. North Carolina A&T College



 8. Hampton Institute (Va.)



 9. Florida A&M State College



10. Wiley College (Texas)



11. South Carolina State College



12. Lincoln Univ. (Missouri)



13. Fayetteville (NC) State College



14. Philander Smith College (Ark.)



15. Langston University (Okla)



16. Morgan State College (Md.)



17. Lane College (Tenn.)



18. (Ala.) State A&M Institute



19. Virginia Union University



20. Winston-Salem (NC) State College





Twenty White Institutions with the Largest Black Student Enrollment




Degrees to Black Students, 1942

 1. Wayne University (Mich.)



 2. Ohio State University



 3. City College of New York



 4. Columbia Teachers College (N.Y.)



 5. University of Kansas



 6. University of Illinois



 7. Western Reserve Univ (Ohio)



 8. Indiana University



 9. Boston University



10. Oberlin College (Ohio)



11. Kansas State University



12. Northwestern University (Ill.)



13. Harvard University



14. University of Nebraska



15. University of Denver



16. Purdue University



17. Loyola University (Chicago)



18. University of Arizona



19. Pacific Union College (Ca.)



20. Drew University (N.J.)




Source: "The American Negro in College, 1941-1942," Crisis, 49:8 (August 1942), pp. 252, 266.



In 1947 Ebony Magazine surveyed the nation's leading institutions to determine the number of black faculty. There were, according to the survey, 63 instructors at 25 predominately white institutions. A total of 78 blacks had taught at 43 Northern white colleges since the turn of the century, the oldest was Chicago-born Dr. William Augustus Hinton, 63 of Harvard University Medical School. Dr. Hinton had been on the faculty since 1915. Listed below are the numbers of African American faculty at the major institutions in the United States.




Number of

Black Faculty

University of Illinois


Roosevelt College (Chicago)


City College of New York


Brooklyn College


New York University


School of Social Work (New York)


Hunter College (New York)


University of Chicago


Harvard University


Cornell University


Columbia University


Rutgers University


Smith College (Massachusetts)


University of Iowa


University of Minnesota



Source: Ebony Magazine, September, 1947.



Sports historian Jules Tygiel recounts the summer of 1947 when Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers and finally broke the racial barrier in major league baseball.

The Brooklyn baseball club acquired its unusual nickname in the early 20th Century. Electrified streetcars in New York's largest borough were so dangerous, joked the residents, that one had to become a skilled "trolley dodger" to survive. Brooklynites appended the name to the local baseball team and later shortened it to "Dodgers." When Jackie Robinson arrived in Brooklyn in 1947, gasoline-powered buses were replacing the electric trolleys... These two developments--the appearance of a black baseball player and the invasion of the internal combustion engine--symbolized the forces transforming Brooklyn. Wartime migrations had sprinkled the borough's predominately white, middle-class population with blacks from the South and Latins from Puerto Rico...and rapid construction of highways facilitated the exodus of the expanding white middle class to the suburbs, and points farther west. The Robinsons journeyed from California to New York; many people traveled in the other direction....

For Jackie Robinson, relative tranquility characterized the initial week of the 1947 season. In the first two contests, facing the Boston Braves, the rookie first baseman eked out one bunt single.... On April 18 the Dodgers crossed the East River to play the New York Giants. Over 37,000 people flocked to the Polo Grounds to witness Robinson's first appearance outside of Brooklyn. Robinson responded with his first major league home run.... The next three weeks thrust Robinson, his family, his teammates, and baseball into a period of unrelenting crises and tension. The Dodger's first opponents on the homestand were the Philadelphia Phillies managed by Alabaman Ben Chapman.... From the moment the two clubs took to the field the Phillies, led by Chapman, unleashed a torrent of insults at the black athlete. Chapman mention everything from thick lips to the supposedly extra-thick Negro scull... and the repulsive sores and diseases he said Robinson's teammates would become infected with if they touched the towels or combs he used.

“I have to admit that this day of all the unpleasant days of my life brought me nearer to cracking up than I have ever been," Robinson wrote in 1972. "For one wild...minute I thought, 'to Hell with Mr. Rickey's noble experiment'" The ordeal tempted Robinson to "stride over to that Phillies dugout, grab one of those white sons of bitches and smash his teeth with my despised black fist." The daily flood of mail included not only congratulatory messages but threats of violence. In early May, the Dodgers turned several of these notes over to the police.... In the aftermath of the threats...Rickey requested that Robinson allow the Dodgers to open and answer all correspondence. The Dodgers released details of the threatening letters to the press on May 9....

A more ominous development overshadowed these incidents. New York Herald Tribune sports editor Stanley Woodward unveiled an alleged plot by National League players, led by the St. Louis Cardinals, to strike against Robinson during the first Dodger-Cardinal game. National League President Ford Frick and Cardinal owner Sam Breadon averted the walkout with the following ultimatum.

If you do this you will be suspended from the league.... I do not care if half the league strikes. Those who do it will encounter quick retribution. They will be suspended, and I don't care if it wrecks the National League for five years. This is the United States of America, and one citizen has as much right to play as another.

A seasoned athlete, even in his rookie year, Robinson seemed to thrive on challenges and flourished before large audiences.... The bigger the occasion the more he rose to it. Robinson's drive not only inspired his own dramatic performances but intimidated and demoralized enemy players. Robinson "stirred up the Dodgers and Dodger fans in anticipation of victory and he stirred up the resentment of fans and players on other teams. To some degree because he was black, but most of all because he beat 'em." "This guy didn't just come to play," asserts Leo Durocher, "he came to beat ya. He came to stuff the goddamn bat right up your ass."

"He brought a new dimension into baseball," said Al Campanis. "He brought base stealing back to the days of the twenties. He revolutionized major league baseball by injecting an element of ‘tricky baseball,’ so common in the Negro Leagues....” Tom Meany told the tale of a Dodger Giant game in 1947 when Robinson doubled with one out in a tie game and then tagged up on a routine fly ball to center field. A Giant executive sitting next to Meany angrily denounced Robinson as a "showboat." "That's bush stuff," exclaimed the baseball man. "With two out he's just as valuable on second as he is on third. What's he going to do now--steal home I suppose?" On the next pitch, Robinson did just that, putting the Dodgers in the lead...

To black America, Jackie Robinson appeared as a savior, a Moses leading his people out of the wilderness.... "In the Depression," according to Ernest J. Gaines, it was tough on everybody, but twice as hard on the colored, and He sent us Joe Louis...and after the war, He sent us Jackie." Thousands of blacks thronged to ball parks wherever he appeared. For games in Cincinnati, a "Jackie Robinson special" train ran from Norfolk, Virginia, stopping en route to pick up black fans.... Robinson himself wrote that while the sight of so many blacks pleased him, their indiscriminate cheering sometimes proved embarrassing. "The colored fans applauded Jackie every time he wiggled his ears," complained one black sportswriter after a game in Cincinnati.... Black Americans affixed their loyalty not only to Robinson, but to the Brooklyn Dodgers as well. For many years, blacks throughout the nation would be Dodger fans, in honor of the team that had broken the color barrier.

Robinson's popularity was not confined to blacks; white fans also stormed baseball arenas to view this new sensation. In Brooklyn white fans rallied behind Robinson, "350%," recalls Joe Bostic.... Wendell Smith reported, "He seldom gets a chance to eat a peaceful meal on the train.... He is the target of well-wishers, autograph hounds and indiscreet politicians who would bask in his glory to win prestige for themselves. They call him on the telephone at all hours of the morning or night." At time the fans could get personal.... A twenty-year-old winner of the Miss Akron beauty contest professed her love for Robinson and invited him to visit her. "I know that you are a married man and that you have a son," she admitted, "but you don't have to be an angel." Robinson advised the woman, "When I married Mrs. Robinson, I exchanged vows to love, honor, and cherish her for the rest of my life. 'Honor' means just that to me and any sneaking, skulking escapade would destroy the very thing that enables me to hold my head up high."

Robinson's early season difficulties brought numerous letters denouncing the Philadelphia players and the accused St. Louis strikers. "I happen to be a white southerner," wrote a man from Richmond on May 19, "but I just want you to know that not all us southerners are SOB's" A letter from Corpus Christi, Texas, dated May 11 advised him to "Stay in there and fight, Jackie. For there will be others to follow you in the Big Leagues if your are successful." A midshipman at Annapolis wrote of Robinson's tormentors, "personally, I'd like to paste them on the jaw. I think it's a shame that we have such people existing in our country."

Correspondents repeatedly reminded the black pioneer of his responsibilities to his race and to the United States. Harold MacDowell of Newark informed Robinson that "there are thousands of American youngsters of your complexion and my different complexion who are going to learn their first lesson in sociology from your experience... Remember you are on a stage all the time. Your mistakes will be attributed to all Negroes."

Robinson's correspondence reflected the changes in racial attitudes that he inspired. His dynamic presence instilled a sense of pride in black Americans and led many whites to reassess their own feelings. The affection for Robinson grow so widespread that at the year's end voters in an annual public opinion poll named him the second most popular man in America. Only Bing Crosby registered more votes.

Jules Tygiel, Jackie Robinson Breaks Baseball's Color Line (New York, 1983), pp. 181-200.