CONSTRUCTING G.I. JOE LOUIS
In 1940, Franklin Roosevelt underscored the importance of African American patriotism when democracy was under siege. “The European conflict with its spread of the Nazi and Fascist influence makes a challenging appeal… This is a time for national unity and I am strengthened in my hope for the preservation of peace … by the knowledge that the American Negro has maintained a cherished tradition of loyalty and devotion to his country.”1 Even before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the government’s priorities had shifted to the international arena, affecting federal rhetoric and policies concerning black Americans. As federal program administrators had celebrated cultural differences among racial and ethnic groups during the 1930s, War Department and Office of War Information (OWI) officials would continue this policy during the 1940s, while subsuming it under the banner of unity and patriotism.
The war initiated new forms of government-sponsored culture on radio and film, and program administrators became much more wary of the kinds of projects they would develop. Congressional hostility towards the FWP and the FTP had proven how highly contentious and politically controversial images, sounds, and written representations could be. State officials understood that they would have to confront an explosive set of racial tensions while gingerly balancing competing political and social interests; therefore, they treaded much more carefully in the construction of cultural programs. Articulating the precariousness of the situation, the OWI’S racial adviser, Milton Starr, declared, “the pure principles of democracy are far from fulfillment in the life of the American Negro. Considering the grave dangers facing the country, it is … desirable and necessary to