World War II

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How did black soldiers and black Americans on the home front in WWII respond to segregation and discrimination in the war effort?

Black soldiers and black Americans responded to America's own racist and discriminatory policies during World War II with sharp awareness of their own paradoxical position. They were asked to fight a prejudiced country in Germany whose own racist laws were inspired by America's Jim Crow laws. In general, black people did not conceal the hypocritical nature of America's war against Nazis, but highlighted it in letters and writings.

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There is no easy, neat answer to how black soldiers and black citizens in general reacted to America's World War II effort in relationship to America’s own segregation and prejudice. However, if we look at textual documents, we have evidence that black Americans were critical of America's goals and were sharply aware of how contradictory it was for America to fight oppression and prejudice in Europe while cultivating it back home.

I would highly recommend reading Jim Crow's Children by Peter H. Irons. This book goes into great detail about how soldiers dealt with America's segregated war effort. Says one soldier:

The army Jim-Crows us. The Navy lets us serve only as mess men. The Red Cross refuses our blood. Employers and labor unions shut us out. Lynchings continue. We are disenfranchised, Jim-Crow'd, spat upon. What more could Hitler do than that?

Black Americans across the country voiced their frustration and dismay about being asked to fight racism in Europe while tolerating it in their own country. Indeed, many Nazi lawmakers cited America’s Jim Crow laws against blacks as inspiration for their own laws against Jews.

The black poet Langston Hughes expressed the paradoxical position that many black Americans found themselves in when he asked in a poem, "How long I got to fight / BOTH HITLER—AND JIM CROW"?

In a sentence: black Americans responded with a thoughtful and personal awareness that Hitler was not the only one perpetuating racism and oppression before or after World War II.

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