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

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

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

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

Synopsis

It is well known that World War II gave rise to human rights rhetoric, discredited a racist regime abroad, and provided new opportunities for African Americans to fight, work, and demand equality at home. It would be all too easy to assume that the war was a key stepping stone to the modern civil rights movement. But Fog of Warshows that in reality the momentum for civil rights was not so clear cut, with activists facing setbacks as well as successes and their opponents finding ways to establish more rigid defenses for segregation. While the war set the scene for a mass movement, it also narrowed some of the options for black activists. This collection is a timely reconsideration of the intersection between two of the dominant events of twentieth-century American history, the upheaval wrought by the Second World War and the social revolution brought about by the African American struggle for equality.

Excerpt

The Second World War remade the world and transformed much of American society. But what of its impact on the struggle for racial equality—and in turn, what does that tell us about the connection between war and rights, the nature of African American protest, and the origins of the civil rights movement?

Because of the thoroughly revolutionary character of the war, and the fact that civil rights protests came to such prominence barely a decade after the Allies’ victory, some scholars have assumed that the war must have been the transformational moment in the long struggle for black equality—the moment when the structures of Jim Crow began to crack and crumble and a nascent civil rights movement started to take shape. On the face of it, there is plenty of evidence to support this interpretation. On the international stage, of course, Adolf Hitler gave racism a bad name, while American policymakers discovered that domestic racial discrimination could harm their diplomatic overtures to non-white nations, as black leaders connected the Allies’ war against fascism to their own fight against colonialism. In the United States, the black press championed a “Double V” campaign, demanding a victory for democracy at home as well as abroad; the largest black protest organization of the era, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), saw its membership grow eightfold; and a new civil rights organization, the Committee (later the Congress) of Racial Equality (CORE), employed nonviolent direct action protests that would become the hallmark of the civil rights movement. In national politics, labor leader A. Philip Randolph used his March on Washington Movement to secure a presidential order against racial discrimination in the defense industries and the creation of a Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC), which together represented the most meaningful federal intervention in the realm of black civil rights since Reconstruction. In the courts, the NAACP won key victories, notably the landmark 1944 Supreme Court ruling against the whites-only political primary, Smith v. Allwright, that heralded a . . .

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