Bitter Fruit: African American Women in World War II

By Maureen Honey | Go to book overview

The Double Victory Campaign

The predominance of poetry in this section is due in part to the massive wartime output and influence of the poet Langston Hughes, who published regularly in periodicals and who was a member of the Writers' War Board, an organization of writers who used their talents to mobilize the civilian population as best they could. (It is noteworthy that Hughes was investigated by the FBI for alleged subversive activities during the war, as were several African American leaders and the black press in particular, which may have fueled his and their determination to fight segregation.) The African American male soldier is at the center of this poetry, providing an effective tool for deconstructing the racist underpinnings of a society purportedly fighting to preserve democratic principles. He was at the front lines of two battles: the fight against segregation in the armed forces, and the fight against fascist enemies overseas. Airmen at the Tuskegee Army base, the 99th Pursuit Squadron, were a source of particular pride to the black community, for these were the first black pilots to be trained and the first to be sent into combat. Testifying to their symbolic significance is the fact that Gordon Parks, who was the first African American photographer hired by the OWI, tried to accompany the squadron when it first was sent to Europe, but he was prevented from doing so by southern congressmen who did not want the mission publicized, as it would foster ideas of racial equality. Undaunted by the mainstream media white-out, however, black writers and editors put the Tuskegee airmen at the forefront of “Double V” rhetoric, as is evident in the poetry here.

The idea that African American soldiers would demonstrate equality of the races through helping win the war helps explain the attraction of women poets to this subject. African American poets Elsie Mills Holton, Roberta I. Thomas, Ruth Albert Cook, Roberta Thomas, Ruby Berkley Goodwin, Lucia Mae Pitts, Gwendolyn Brooks, Cora Ball Moten, and Margaret Walker all focus on the male subject in this section, and they do so in part to intensify the contradiction between racism at home and the fight for democracy abroad. Unable to go into combat themselves, black women could disrupt a prominent feature of American racism in World War II by putting African Americans into the white-dominated portrait

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Bitter Fruit: African American Women in World War II
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Bitter Fruit *
  • Bitter Fruit - African American Women in World War II *
  • Contents *
  • Illustrations xi
  • Acknowledgments xiii
  • A Note on the Text xvii
  • Introduction 1
  • Section I - Woman Welder, the Crisis, April 1942 *
  • War Work 35
  • Section 2 - A Wac, the Crisis, September 1942 *
  • Racism on the Home Front 127
  • Section 3 - Riveters, Opportunity, Spring 1945 *
  • The Double Victory Campaign 257
  • Section 4 - Singer Lena Horne, the Crisis, January 1943 *
  • Popular Culture and the Arts 317
  • Appendix 381
  • Bibliography 383
  • Index to Authors 391
  • Index to Titles 395
  • Credits 399
  • About the Editor 401
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