Fog of War: The Second World War and the Civil Rights Movement

By Kevin M. Kruse; Stephen Tuck | Go to book overview
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“You can sing and punch but you can’t be a
soldier or a man”

Stephen Tuck

In his contribution to his own edited collection of essays by black leaders, What the Negro Wants (1944), the distinguished black historian Rayford Logan insisted “The Negro Wants First-Class Citizenship.” He did not expect black Americans to gain equal rights quickly, because “the will of the majority is opposed to granting them now.” But he believed that there were steps that could be taken to win equality in the longer term. Logan called for changes in the law, the inclusion of black workers in unions, and an end to colonialism. Then he added, “A young woman informed me in all seriousness that her whole attitude changed when she saw a colored girl in a class at Columbia University wearing better clothes than she did.”1

For Logan, changing the black image in the white mind was crucial because “thirteen millions, largely unarmed, have no chance to win equality by force from an adamant, powerfully armed one hundred twenty millions.”2 White assumptions of black American inferiority and, by extension, the presumption that black Americans should occupy a subordinate place in society, underpinned racial discrimination—by individuals, by employers, and by the government. The justification for the infamous Plessy decision of 1896, for example, which upheld the principle of racial segregation, held that “if the two races are to meet upon terms of social equality, it must be the result of natural affinities, a mutual appreciation of each other’s merits.” But “if one race be inferior to the other socially, the constitution of the United States cannot put them upon the same plane.”

Thus for many black leaders, like Logan, the question of the black image was not a sideshow to the main story of wartime protest. It was integral to the main story, taking its place alongside campaigns for black inclusion in the war effort and for black rewards because of their contribution to the war effort. Changing the black image was fundamental if African Americans wanted to progress to


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