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

By Kevin M. Kruse; Stephen Tuck | Go to book overview

11
“Did the Battlefield Kill Jim Crow?”
THE COLD WAR MILITARY, CIVIL RIGHTS,
AND BLACK FREEDOM STRUGGLES

Kimberley L. Phillips

“The Korean War,” Ebony magazine observed, “is given credit for hastening integration in the Army.” Many white Southerners resisted Brown, but “the Army is having a big impact on the South’s racial patterns.” Some whitesonly restaurants near bases quietly served blacks in uniform. “[I]n Columbus, Georgia, soon after Negro and white MP’s patrol[ed] the streets, Negroes were added to the city’s civilian police force.”1 Walter White linked the military’s integration with African Americans’ long quest for civil rights. “Once again, as has been true throughout American history, armed conflict and national danger brought the Negro advancement toward his goal of full citizenship.” If black Americans lived on the outskirts of democracy, as black journalist and author Roi Ottley concluded in 1951, White argued that the military’s integration during the Korean War “demonstrates to the world that the direction of democracy’s movement is forward.” As American troops occupied Europe and much of Asia, and as the United States launched wars in Korea and military interventions in Vietnam, many African Americans hoped that the integrated military would have far-reaching consequences for their civil rights struggles. White imagined that as blacks and whites bled together in foxholes, as their children attended school and played together on military bases, they would “carry the attitude of respect” into American life. After decades of fighting “for the right to fight,” he and other mainstream civil rights leaders interpreted African Americans’ expanded roles on the Korean War battlefield as a critical step toward racial equality and a new demonstration of American democracy.2

During World War II, the NAACP and other civil rights organizations fought “for the right to fight.” A. Philip Randolph’s March on Washington had demanded, in addition to the inclusion of black workers in defense employment, the end of discrimination in the army. President Roosevelt initially ducked the army question. Randolph judged the continued discrimination “the war’s greatest scandal.” Wartime necessity (to mobilize more troops to fight

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