Bitter Fruit: African American Women in World War II

By Maureen Honey | Go to book overview

Racism on the Home Front

Although women in the military were unquestionably hurt by racism, male soldiers became the symbol of besieged black America in the African American press as segregated army bases provided the flash point for protest and civil disturbances; these issues are reflected in this section. In November of 1941, representatives of the black press, including Roy Wilkins, the editor of The Crisis, met with heads of the War Department and were told, under protest, that the military would segregate African Americans from other troops. Although it would reverse itself in 1948 when Harry Truman desegregated the armed forces, the War Department's position was that it was not a “sociological laboratory” and that racial integration would interfere with prosecuting the war. Jim Crow facilities at training camps included separate buses, PX counters, and sections in movie theaters, hospital wards, and dormitories; domestic travel via train meant segregated cars in the South; and buses between army camps and southern towns were initially segregated as well. Furthermore, black battalions were often put under the command of white officers, frequently southern, and at times forced to perform menial tasks. In at least one instance, a state (Arizona) demanded that black troops be released to pick cotton. These conditions are alluded to in the material of this section as are other incidents. Adding to the humiliation and dangers of these undesirable tasks were the barring of black troops from combat until late in the war (they were used mainly in labor battalions) and the imposition of quotas on numbers of African Americans allowed to be pilots, officers, nurses, doctors, and skilled technicians in the military.

Aggravating these discriminatory practices were the numerous instances of violence against black soldiers at training camps, such as the shooting of a soldier by white police when he sat in the white section of a bus in Beaumont, Texas, or the killing of another soldier in Durham, North Carolina, by a white bus driver. In 1942, three soldiers based in Alexandria, Louisiana, were convicted of rape and sentenced to death, a cause taken up by Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP. Not one World War II black soldier was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor (the first was given in 1998). These cases and others were mentioned by African American magazines, and they fueled a dramatic rise of support for the NAACP and the National Urban League.

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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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