African Americans in World War II where Patriotism Crossed the Color Line
By Moses kamuiru.
Beyond the segregation
Black Americans have always supported the nation, especially during wartime even though they have been the subject of racial discrimination throughout the history of the United States. After the outbreak of world war two, over two and a half million Americans registered for the draft, and another one million served as volunteers or draftees in all branches of the US military throughout the six-year conflict. Most of the Blacks who signed up served in the Army and were only allowed to serve in some segregated combat support groups. The more than 12,000 men who served with the segregated 92end Division were decorated for their effort and received citations for their acts of valor. All the members of the 761st Tank Battalion received the Presidential Unit Citation for Extraordinary Heroism.
The Tuskegee Airmen
By the wake of 1944, there were over 140,000 African American men in the US Army Air Force in various units which included the 99th Fighter Squadron popularly known as the Tuskegee Airmen. They became legendary for their heroic actions during the conflict and received a Distinguished Unit Citation, 150 distinguished flying crosses, 744 medals, several silver stars and fourteen Bronze stars. The Navy, which had only allowed blacks to serve as mess attendants gave in to the pressure from Civil rights movement and their commander in chief President Franklin Delano Roosevelt which forced the Navy to start recruiting Blacks in the April of 1942 for service. Black leaders accused the navy of Practicing Jim Crow due to its policy of relegating Blacks to segregated units.
Black women in service
African American females came to the defense of their nation when they enlisted in the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps (WAAC). Black women were often called the ten percenters because they only comprised for ten percent of all the women recruited. Like their Black male counterparts, they were assigned to segregated units, ate in segregated tables in the boardrooms and mess halls, lived in segregated housing and received isolated training. Although African American Officers received training together with their white counterparts in Officer Cadet Training, all the other aspects of life in the corps were segregated. Despite the fact that Black women were separated from the rest of the services, they served their country with distinction.
Nazi and Dixie Nordics
Although Black Americans supported the United States during the war, they were not silent about the racial discrimination they faced. Some of them even noted that there were similarities between how the Germans treated the Jews in Europe and how the Southern white Men treated Blacks in America. Langston Hughes, the poet, for instance, noted that the same way Germans are the victims of a mass psychosis, to a black person they might be as well be speaking of white southerners in Dixie. He continued to note that American Nordics have a mass psychosis as well when it comes to race.
Photo credits: Battery B, 338th Antiaircraft Artillery, ca. 1943, detail. (Gilder Lehrman Collection)