World War II: The Black’s track to freedom
The 1940’s were a time of diversification in the United States. America was at war and African-Americans were discriminated against at home and abroad. Despite these issues, World War II became known as the war that changed the status of African-Americans. This is evident in Maggi Morehouse’s, Fighting in the Jim Crow Army. In her book she, “illustrates the crucial link between World War II and what has sometimes been referred to as the Second Civil War.”1 The Second Civil War refers to the civil rights movement of the 1960’s, which was inspired by many influential African-Americans including Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks. Neil Wynn’s, The African American Experience during World War II takes a look at the African-American on the home front, and how they were affected by the New Deal, as well as showing us how “these wartime protests by African Americans indicated a growing determination to be treated as equals.”2 While different in writing styles, both books describe World War II as being one of the most important times in the advancement of equality for African-Americans.
Fighting in the Jim Crow Army is split into two main sections, with author Maggi Morehouse following the lives of several soldiers by using letters written during the war. In chapters 1-4, Morehouse talks about recruitment of the African soldiers into the Army and the battles they fought during the war. At the time, having African-Americans fight alongside white soldiers was a controversial issue because of the discrimination they faced. Most whites living in America “were not really accustomed to the idea of black combat soldiers.”3 Once the men entered the Army, they would realize the difficulties of being a black soldier. The soldiers talked about how differently they were treated compared to white soldiers, and that only the 92nd and 93rd Regiments consisted of African-American soldiers. It was evident early on that the soldiers were not being taken seriously. To begin with, they were segregated from the white soldiers. The jobs they had initially were not jobs that involved combat; those jobs included cleaning dishes and clothes. Eventually the regiments were sent to Fort Huachuca where they trained for real combat. However, the soldiers remained there and they soon realized that they were training for nothing. They demanded that they be shipped off to fight. Finally in 1944, the 93rd Division was shipped out and fought on the island of New Guinea, heading toward the Philippine Islands. Meanwhile the 92nd Division moved its way through Italy, where they earned respect from the Italians for being the first black soldiers in the Army. The members of the 93rd Division “were among the first Americans to accept a Japanese surrender.”4 It was evident that the African-American soldiers had many accomplishments in the war, and were very excited to be going home.
Chapters 5 and 6, titled “Coming Home” and “Afterword” comprise the second section of the book, dealing with the soldiers after they returned home from the war. Although they had accomplished much in the war, it was obvious that they had not fully defeated discrimination. On their way back to America, a large Kaiser ship with soldiers of the 93rd Regiment was held at sea for three days because no surrounding military base would take the black soldiers. However, when they got home they realized that they had earned respect as many people, including whites, thanked them for their service. The soldiers were icons for the African-Americans on the home front. For blacks “World War II was a fight for freedom.”5 Morehouse talked about the returning black soldiers hoping to continue their service in the Army after their success in World War II. It was then they realized the progress they had made, as many of the returning soldiers were now being placed into integrated armies. Morehouse’s book makes many realize that even though “These members are overlooked in the civil rights struggle,”6 they played a huge role in the war, and set up ideals for future generations.
The African American Experience during World War II has a much different writing style. Wynn does not use first person experiences, but rather looks over the war in a third person view focusing less on the war, and more on the home front. The first section consists of chapters 1-3, with chapter 2 being “Mobilizing for War”, where Wynn talks about the New Deal in the 1920’s and how it affected African-Americans, as well as the initial introduction of the black soldier and their experience when fighting in World War II. He then goes all the way back to the 1920’s where he introduces the “increasingly self-conscious and aware, New Negro.”7 He explains how the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) set the stage for African-Americans of the 1940’s to have an opportunity to achieve equality. Once in the war, blacks began to protest the inequality they were receiving. These protests “indicated a growing determination to be treated as equals.”8 After the war, even after all the protests, Wynn made it clear that African-Americans would have to continue their fight for equality on the home front as racism turned into conflict on the way home. This included violent outbreaks between white and black soldiers on ships returning to America.
Chapters 4-5 are based on the years after the war. Chapter 4 talks about conflict on the home front, while chapter 5 talks about postwar years and changing civil rights. This begins with the death of President Theodore Roosevelt and how it left a hole in the black community. His death saddened many African-Americans because many of Roosevelt’s policies benefited them. One example would be Executive Order 8802, also known as the Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC), which gave blacks an equal opportunity for employment. Wynn then talks about how racial conflict was heating up during the war years. There were a series of violent race riots that tainted the African-American reputation. “The riots in 1943 were really just the most conspicuous manifestation of the mounting racial conflict throughout the war.”9 After Roosevelt’s death, African-Americans tried to take matters into their own hands. However, whenever blacks tried to take steps towards equality, such as having Maceo Snipes become the first African-American to vote in Taylor County, Georgia, in 1946, the white community responded by lynching Snipes. This scared the rest of the black community from following in their footsteps. Over time, the blacks moved closer to equality, though it was clear that the United States had a very long way to go before they were accepted as equals in a white society. The book ends with Wynn stating, “The African American experience in World War II clearly had enormous significance in shaping developments in the coming decades.”10
Although the two books were very different in terms of writing styles, both authors had very similar beliefs. This is apparent when comparing both of the author’s theses. Maggi Morehouse believes that that the soldiers in World War II did not get enough credit for what they did in the war. She believes that they forced whites, at home and at war, to respect them through their achievements in war, even if they still had not achieved true equality. She believes that the soldiers who “participated in the “Good War” also form part of the “Greatest Generation,” yet they continue to be invisible in the general histories of World War II.”11 Wynn’s thesis is similar in many ways, but is slightly different. Wynn believes that World War II was more of a turning point in civil rights history. He shows this when explaining how after the war, the United States was forced to alter some of its policies because of what African-Americans had accomplished during the war, at home and on the battlefield. Wynn also puts emphasis on the New Deal having a great effect on the black community. His final thesis is that “despite the barriers they faced, World War II was enormously significant in the African American experience.”12 In all, both authors agree that African-Americans played a huge role in World War II. Their actions during the war set the stage for future civil rights movements.
After reading Fighting in the Jim Crow Army, it is obvious that Maggi Morehouse had ample respect for the African-American soldiers who fought in the war. Most of the information used in her book came from her father, who was a World War II veteran. She was able to obtain first hand experiences of African-American soldiers because her father “had served as one of the 275 white officers in the mostly all-black 93rd infantry.”13 She talks about all the privileges that came along with being an officer’s daughter. It was when she looked through all of her father’s war mementos that she developed a profound respect for the soldiers, which influenced her belief on how important the African-American soldiers were in World War II. Neil Wynn’s point of view was also influenced by the presence of a soldier. Wynn states that he was “asked to write this book at about the same time I was working with Gregory Cooke on the film Choc’ late Soldier from the USA.”14 He explains how timely his involvement was since he was asked to write on African-Americans as he was working on a film about them, and that he met many people who lived through the war. Everyone he met was involved in the black experience during the war years. This heavily influenced him and made him an expert on the subject.
Maggi Morehouse’s Fighting in the Jim Crow Army was published in 2000. Although she doesn’t state specifically how or even if writing the book was influenced by the outside world, it is fair to draw some conclusions. In her introduction, Morehouse makes it clear that her main influence for writing her book was her father’s personal experience in the war. However, the turn of the century was a time when everyone began to reflect on what had been accomplished in America during the 20th century. The African-Americans in World War II were of significant importance, especially when looking at how far they had come by the 21st century in comparison to the 1940’s. Neil Wynn’s The African American Experience during World War II was published in 2010. In Wynn’s introduction, he makes it apparent as to why he wrote his book when he did. “President Obama’s 2008 election indicated how far the United States had progressed toward a more equal and fair society since 1944.”15 Wynn wrote this book so that younger generations could come to learn and appreciate how far America has come in terms of racial equality since 1944.
When writing Fighting in the Jim Crow Army, rather than using a third person point of view or using a specific character to tell her story, Morehouse compiled numerous amounts of letters written by those directly involved in World War II. Some reviewers like Samuel L. Broadnax, former member of the Tuskegee Airmen, said he enjoyed this unique style of writing. Others, such as Publishers Weekly, had mixed feelings towards the book. Publishers Weekly found her research striking, as well as a memorable contribution to cultural history, but felt that it wouldn’t appeal, “beyond World War II buffs and a small niche of the African-American studies market.”16 Others such as Broadnax, found the interviews refreshing and enlightening. He felt that the interviews were sufficient in describing all the prejudice that African-Americans had to encounter during World War II. Those who reviewed The African American Experience during World War II felt that Wynn did an excellent job focusing on the postwar advantages that African-Americans gained, but did not do a great job of describing the protests, sometimes violent, which occurred in order for them to obtain those advantages.
There is no doubt that African-Americans played a huge role in World War II on the battlefield, and at home. Both books tell the same story, but are very different in how they approach the subject. Neil Wynn’s The African American Experience during World War II is your typical, everyday history book. The book is told from a third person view without using characters or following any one person. It is a book that is filled with many facts and dates, along with much talk about the political effects that African-Americans had on the home front during the war years. The book spends too much time on the 1920’s and the New Deal, not focusing enough on the war years. While those events are important in African-American history, it is too distant from World War II to take up a substantial amount of the book, especially one about World War II. There is no doubt that the book is filled with important information, however there is a lack of emotional appeal, which makes the book dull and difficult to read. Maggi Morehouse’s Fighting in the Jim Crow Army takes a completely different direction in terms of writing style. From the beginning, the book is very fast paced and entertaining. The reason behind this is Morehouse using first hand experiences of African-American soldiers during World War II: most of them in the form of letters. While Morehouse does give her insight plenty of times throughout the book, she lets the experiences tell most of the story, allowing the reader to develop their own opinions. It is the perfect balance of insight given by Morehouse, and the stories themselves, which make the book such an enjoyable experience. “Stories told by these men and women who made history are unparalled.”17
Many say that the 1940’s were a watershed in American history. After reading The African American Experience during World War II and Fighting in the Jim Crow Army, it is apparent that both Neil Wynn and Maggi Morehouse couldn’t agree more. Watershed is defined as a time of change, and the 1940’s were exactly that. When World War II started African-Americans were heavily discriminated against. When the war ended, America was forced to adjust as blacks began getting closer to equality, which qualifies as change. Both Wynn and Morehouse make it apparent that African-Americans during World War II played a huge role for the black civil rights movement, in war and at home. In Wynn’s conclusion he sums up his feelings about the 1940’s being a watershed when he says “without a doubt that the war had an enormous impact on all Americans, black and white, and that race shaped the African American experience.”18
After reading two compelling books about African-Americans in World War II and the impact which they have had on American history, there is a large amount of respect gained not only for African-Americans during the war, but for the authors who were able portray the whole story. “The war itself focused attention on issues of race, prejudice, discrimination, and exclusion.”19 In Conclusion, African-Americans would not have the rights they do today if it wasn’t for their forefathers fighting at home and on the battlefield during World War II.
1. Morehouse, Maggie. Fighting in the Jim Crow Army. Boston, Maryland: ROWMAN & LITTLEFIELD PUBLISHERS, INC., 2000. X.
2. Wynn, Neil. The African American Experience during World War II. Lanham, Maryland: ROWMAN & LITTLEFIELD PUBLISHERS, INC., 2010. 49.
3. Morehouse, Maggie. 1.
4. Morehouse, Maggie. 183.
5. Morehouse, Maggie. 229.
6. Morehouse, Maggie. 233.
7. Wynn, Neil. 13.
8. Wynn, Neil. 49.
9. Wynn, Neil. 75.
10. Wynn, Neil. 97.
11. Morehouse, Maggie. XIII.
12. Wynn, Neil. XIII.
13. Morehouse, Maggie. XIV.
14. Wynn, Neil. IX.
15. Wynn, Neil. XI.
16. Publishers Weekly. Magazine. January 1, 2001. 80.
17. Samuel L. Broadnax. Personal. 2001. 358-359
18. Wynn, Neil. 97.
19. Wynn, Neil. 98.