News

African-American Soldiers in World War II Helped Pave Way for Integration of US Military

Millions of Americans fought in the military during World War II, including nearly one million African-Americans. VOA's Chris Simkins reports on the black experience in the military, and the challenges they faced from World War II on.

African-American soldiers played a significant role in World War II. More than half a million served in Europe. Despite the numbers they faced racial discrimination: prior to the war the military maintained a racially segregated force. In studies by the military, blacks were often classified as unfit for combat and were not allowed on the front lines. They were mostly given support duties, and were not allowed in units with white soldiers.

That changed in 1941, when pressure from African-American civil rights leaders convinced the government to set up all-black combat units, as experiments. They were designed to see if African-American soldiers could perform military tasks on the same level as white soldiers.

Eighty-seven-year-old Woodrow Crockett was a part of that experiment. He was a Tuskegee Airman, the first group of black pilots ever trained by the Air Force. He flew 149 missions between 1944 and 1945, protecting harbors in Italy and American bombers from German fighter planes. Mr. Crockett says the Tuskegee Airman had a lot to prove and did so. In 200 missions they never lost a bomber to enemy fire.

"Many times [military leaders] would brief the results of yesterday's mission. And I said it did not take a rocket scientist to listen to those briefings and they figured out that the 332nd [Fighter Group], all black, were not losing any bombers to enemy fighters. And soon they started requesting that we escort them," says Woodrow Crockett.

Retired U.S. Army Colonel Bill De Shields, a historian and founder of The Black Military History Institute of America in Annapolis, Maryland, says, "The symbol of black participation at that time was 'the Double V'. in other words, 'Double V' meant two victories: victory against the enemy abroad, and victory against the enemy at home. The enemy at home of course being racism, discrimination, prejudice and Jim Crow."

Mr. De Shields says widespread racial discrimination throughout American society made it difficult for black soldiers. He says the early successes of the Tuskegee Airmen and other black units paved the way towards fully integrating the military.

"The experiment and the participation African-Americans made during war time from World War II right on to the Vietnam War enabled us to make a change in civilian life. It shows you that blacks and whites working together, can work on a integrated basis. It shows that it does not disrupt the morale of the troops," says Mr. De Shields.

Despite orders from President Harry Truman in 1948 to integrate the U.S. military, black soldiers were still kept in separate units during the Korean War, which lasted until 1953.

Jack Jones joined the U.S. Navy in 1956. He says, "When I first came in blacks were relegated to service type tasks where you did cleaning, serving officers their food and doing their rooms. But by the time I got out African-Americans were all the way from the top down to the bottom. We had several admirals and a bunch of captains."

By the Vietnam War of the 1960s and 70s the military was fully integrated and blacks soldiers were on the front lines and making a difference. African-Americans made up more than ten percent of all forces in Southeast Asia.

According to Mr. De Shields, "The Vietnam War was the one war in which blacks did it all. They were the generals, they were the leaders, they flew the airplanes, they drove the tanks, they were in combat units, they led troops in battle, they did it all and they did it well so there was nothing left to prove."

Since the Vietnam War black participation in the military has grown. Today, there are more than 2.5 million black military veterans. And African-Americans who make up more than 13 percent of the U.S. population, now account for 20 percent of those serving in the military.

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Drowned Migrant Toddler Photo Triggers European Outragei
X
Henry Ridgwell
September 04, 2015 11:36 AM
The harrowing picture of a drowned three-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach appears to have galvanized Europe’s leaders into doing more to address the refugee crisis. France, Germany and Italy issued a joint call Thursday for compulsory quotas of refugees for all EU states. But there were chaotic scenes in Hungary as police tried to force migrants off a train heading for Austria. Henry Ridgwell has more. And a caution, some of the images in this report may be disturbing.
Video

Video Drowned Migrant Toddler Photo Triggers European Outrage

The harrowing picture of a drowned three-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach appears to have galvanized Europe’s leaders into doing more to address the refugee crisis. France, Germany and Italy issued a joint call Thursday for compulsory quotas of refugees for all EU states. But there were chaotic scenes in Hungary as police tried to force migrants off a train heading for Austria. Henry Ridgwell has more. And a caution, some of the images in this report may be disturbing.
Video

Video Russians Observe 11th Anniversary of Beslan School Attack

This week, Russians have been observing the 11th anniversary of the attack by Islamic militants on a school in Russia's North Caucasus region that killed more than 330 hostages, including 186 children. The three-day siege and massacre that started on September 1, 2004 took place in Beslan, a town in the republic of North Ossetia, and is one of the bloodiest terrorist acts ever in Russia. VOA's Mike Richman reports.
Video

Video Native Americans Debate: Father Serra, Saint or Sinner?

Pope Francis will canonize an 18th century missionary to Spanish California during a papal visit to the United States this month.  But some Native Americans have criticized the elevation to sainthood of the missionary priest, Junipero Serra. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan has more from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisis

Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Kurdish Fighters on IS Frontline Ready for Offensive

Finger on the trigger, the Kurdish Peshmerga soldier stared across the dust at a village taken over by Islamic State extremists. The Kurdistan’s Khazir frontline, just 45 minutes from the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul. And at this point, the militants were less than two kilometers away. VOA's Sharon Behn reports.
Video

Video China Announces Troop Cuts at WWII Parade

Chinese President Xi Jinping Thursday announced plans to cut the world’s largest military force by 300,000 troops. The announcement was made during a massive military parade to commemorate victory over Japan in World War II. The event was shunned by most Western leaders and for some is raising fresh concerns about China’s military ambitions. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video Russia-Japan Relations Cool as Putin Visits China for WWII Anniversary

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in Beijing for commemorations of the 70th anniversary of China's WWII victory over Japan. Putin is expected to visit Japan later this year, but tensions between Tokyo and Moscow over islands disputed since the war, and sanctions over Ukraine, could pour cold water on the plan. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Yemen ‘on Brink of Disaster’ as Medical Shortages Soar

Aid agencies warn Yemen is on the brink of humanitarian disaster – with up to half a million children facing severe malnutrition, and hospitals running out of basic medicines. There are fears Yemen's civil war could escalate as the coalition led by Saudi Arabia tries to drive back Houthi rebels, who seized control of much of the country earlier this year. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Apps Helping Kenyan Businesses Stay Ahead of Counterfeiters

Counterfeit goods in Kenya cost the government as much as $1 billion each year in lost tax revenues. The fake goods also hurt entrepreneurs who find it hard to carve out a niche in the market and retain customers. But as Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi, information technology is being used to try to beat the problem.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.

VOA Blogs