World War II was a fight to make the world safe for democracy. This only underscored the inequality and segregation that African Americans experienced at home. Minorities were instrumental in the war effort, whether they were serving overseas or contributing to the effort stateside.
However, they still faced large-scale discrimination. Despite all the new employment opportunities, African Americans still received less pay than their white counterparts and often found themselves working in dangerous and less than savory jobs, if they were even hired at all. African Americans enlisted in record numbers. Many hoped that they could demonstrate their worth as Americans through military service. However, they still found themselves in segregated military units performing menial support tasks.
With new job opportunities opening up all around the country, many African Americans from the Jim Crow South went to Northern cities in search of work. While they found institutionalized racism less intense in their new homes, they still faced regular discrimination.
One response to this discrimination was the March on Washington Movement. As early as 1941, African American activists threatened a massive demonstration in the nation's capital. President Roosevelt responded with an executive order prohibiting defense contractors from practicing discrimination. In 1943, continued lobbying directed at the federal government resulted in another executive order expanding the previous protections to federally funded jobs outside of defense.
Groups, such as the NAACP, continued their efforts to bring legal action against discriminatory practices. They met limited success. After the war, many African Americans continued their efforts to fight for equality. The war had shown them and many other Americans the impact that they could have on society. This momentum of activism eventually became the civil rights movement that defined much of the following decades.