Racial tensions significantly increased during World War II, particularly with the role of African American soldiers in the military. Many people did not believe that black soldiers were equal to white soldiers and returning war veterans often faced tensions in their own communities. This postwar environment was partly responsible for the rise of the Civil Rights movement, which brought issues such as racial inequality to a national stage.
The prevalence of antisemitic Nazi propaganda led to a backlash against some forms of racism in American and European culture. Many Civil Rights proponents successfully highlighted the irony of arguments against antisemitism made by people who held racist sentiments towards African Americans and Latinos. The divide between racial groups may have been highlighted during World War II, but this tension laid the foundation for the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. The horror of the Nazi agenda and its roots in antisemitism exposed many antisemitic groups in the United States and Europe as well.
The Zoot Suit Riots
In 1943, tensions between white military members and Mexican Americans who referred to themselves as "zoot suiters" rose to new heights. Zoot suiters wore high-waisted trousers and suits with large shoulder pads as a style statement. Their culture was heavily frowned upon by many white servicemen and the tensions ignited in a riot in which the zoot suiters were attacked by mobs of soldiers. The media's bias against the zoot suiters inflamed tensions around the country between Mexican Americans and the military.
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which precipitated the United States' participation in World War II, Japanese-Americans experienced significant racial tension. Two months after the bombing, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued an executive order to evacuate all Japanese Americans to the West Coast. More than 120,000 people were placed in interment camps across the United States under the guise of ensuring national security. Many American citizens were displaced during the period of Japanese interment, including many Japanese-American service members.
Jim Crow Laws
Jim Crow laws were mandated segregation laws that required separate buildings and institutions for black and white Americans. Jim Crow laws lasted from the 1880s to the 1960s and furthered racial tensions during the World War II era. These laws were challenged in the post-World War II era when many black veterans raised the issue of inequality they experienced after returning from the War. In this sense, World War II did ignite racial tensions, but much of the discourse that followed led to the major changes of the Civil Rights movement.