The Aftermath of World War II

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How did World War II help bring about the Civil Rights Movement?

Many African Americans served the US in WWII after A. Philip Randolph prompted President Roosevelt to end discriminatory practices in the defense industries. This military service and industrial work gave black Americans access to good jobs that elevated their economic status. It also made veterans feel that they had paid dues in sacrificing themselves for America. Further, the US claimed it was an inclusive democracy fighting against the racist, fascist enemy of Nazi Germany, a hypocrisy that drew attention to America's own systematic prejudices. These factors led many African American veterans to become heavily involved in the Civil Rights Movement.

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Two factors which predate World War II by several years but are related to the war and have a bearing on this question are, first, the gold-medal winning performance of Jesse Owens in the 1936 Olympics, and second, Joe Louis's KO of Max Schmeling in 1937. Though the overwhelming majority of white Americans of that period would never have openly admitted it, many would have at least unconsciously recognized that their own racism had something in common with that of the Nazi regime. The accomplishments of those two African American athletes were a signal to the world that racist thinking was without any foundation of fact. In the war the US finally entered in 1941, both of our major enemies, Germany and Japan, based their ideology on racism and carried out genocidal campaigns. The Germans exterminated or exiled virtually the entire Jewish population of Europe, while the Japanese less systematically massacred huge numbers of Chinese in Nanjing and elsewhere, considering themselves the...

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