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Afroamerykańscy weteranie i ruch praw obywatelskich

Dowiedz się więcej o Dorisie Millerze, Amziem Moorze, Medgarze Eversie i innych afroamerykańskich weteranach, którzy odegrali znaczącą rolę w ruchu praw obywatelskich.

Streszczenie

  • The experiences of African American soldiers during World War II inspired many of them to agitate for civil rights when they returned to civilian life. Even though black soldiers faced discrimination from within the American military, they had the opportunity to observe societies where Jim Crow racism was not the law of the land.
  • Black soldiers hoped that their military service would serve as a powerful claim to equal citizenship for African Americans. When they came home, however, they encountered fierce resistance from white supremacists determined to reassert the prewar racial order.
  • Many prominent civil rights activists were drawn from the ranks of veterans, including Brown v. Board of Education plaintiff Oliver Brown and NAACP field officers Medgar Evers and Amzie Moore.

African Americans in World War II

More than a million African Americans served in the armed forces of the United States during World War II. As for most American men and women who served, the war was a major turning point in their lives: they traveled across the country and the world, met people from all walks of life, and learned new skills.1
Poster featuring Dorie Miller, who displayed extraordinary heroism at Pearl Harbor. Poster by David Stone Martin, published by the Office of War information. Image courtesy the National Archives and Records Administration.
For African Americans and other minorities, however, the war experience took on the extra dimension of race. Throughout the war, black soldiers often faced as much hostility from their white comrades-in-arms as they did from enemy combatants. At army training camps in the South, African Americans found themselves in segregated units, receiving fewer privileges than prisoners of war. In the field, black soldiers generally were relegated to menial jobs as janitors and cooks.2
One such individual, Dorie Miller, was serving as a Mess Attendant, Third Class on the battleship West Virginia when Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbor. Though he had only a cook's training, Miller stepped up to fire an anti-aircraft machine gun during the attack, and went on to save several injured men. But when reports of the day's heroes emerged, the Navy refused to identify Miller as anything more than "an unnamed Negro messman."3 Thanks to the advocacy of the NAACP and the black press, Miller eventually was nominated for the Congressional Medal of Honor. Sadly, he died in the line of duty before he could receive the award.
Despite these challenges, the war also afforded African American soldiers a look at the world outside of the United States. Many black soldiers came from impoverished rural towns in the South, and the war gave them the opportunity to live in countries where there was no such thing as segregation and meet people who did not treat them as less than human based on the color of their skin.4

Black veterans return home

Black servicemen dedicated themselves to advancing not only the cause of Allied victory in World War II, but also the cause of civil rights at home. This dual enterprise to achieve victory over fascism and victory over racism was deemed the "Double V" campaign by the Pittsburgh Courier, a prominent black newspaper. African Americans, both in and out of uniform, hoped that valorous service to the nation would forge a pathway to equal citizenship.5
Unfortunately, white supremacists had other ideas. Black veterans were cautioned against wearing their uniforms in public, lest they project an unseemly sense of pride and dignity. Mississippian Amzie Moore returned to his hometown to find that white citizens even had organized a 'home guard' to protect white women from black veterans. Several returning black servicemen were murdered, as a warning to others who might try to step out of line.6

Veterans and the Civil Rights Movement

Their experiences on the battlefield, however, had inured many black veterans to the threat of violence. After being immersed in propaganda touting the virtues of American democracy, African American veterans returned home determined to exercise their right to vote. According to Louisianan William Bailey, "After getting out of the service, knowing the price that I had paid and the problems I had faced . . . why shouldn't I exercise the rights and privileges of any citizen? . . . If I could go over there and make a sacrifice with my life I was willing to do it here."7
Medgar Evers, field secretary of the NAACP in Mississippi, worked on the Emmett Till trial and championed desegregation. Evers was assassinated in 1963 by a white supremacist. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
Other veterans were similarly determined to make the freedoms they had fought for abroad a reality at home. Mississippian Medgar Evers, for example, convinced a group of young black veterans to go to the courthouse and try to register to vote in 1946 (they were turned away by an mob of armed white men). Evers also tried to integrate the University of Mississippi law school, which refused to admit him on racial grounds. Instead of pursuing a career as a lawyer, Evers became the NAACP's first field secretary in Mississippi. Along with Amzie Moore, he interviewed witnesses and aided reporters during the Emmett Till trial. One civil rights organizer noted that he specifically recruited veterans for his chapter of the NAACP because they "don't scare easy."8
Black veterans went on to become key players in the Civil Rights Movement, from Till and Moore to Oliver Brown, the chief plaintiff in the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka Supreme Court Case.

Jak uważasz?

Why do you think the Navy initially refused to identify Dorie Miller?
How do you think military service changed the lives of black Americans?
Why do you think white supremacists found black veterans so threatening?

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