War! What Is It Good for? Black Freedom Struggles and the U.S. Military from World War II to Iraq

By Kimberley L. Phillips | Go to book overview

1
Where Are the Negro Soldiers?
The Double V Campaign and the Segregated Military

After the United States entered World War II in early December 1941, editors of the black weeklies urged readers to embrace the V for Victory campaign. In the weeks following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the national effort to solicit support for the war gained momentum. African Americans who looked through the flurry of advertisements, photo-essays, posters, comics, and newsreels produced by the new Office of War Information (OWI) wondered, “Where were the images of the navy messman, the ‘Negro hero’” who reportedly manned a machine gun during the attack? Black editors pressed the navy to release images of the black messman, but the agency refused and claimed “national security” required silence.1 After the organization of the segregated Tuskegee Airmen in July 1941, photographs of blacks training to be support pilots circulated in the black press, but they did not appear in the white dailies or magazines.2 Acknowledging black readers’ frustrations, editors of the Pittsburgh Courier noted how the army “has given out much information of great importance to the white public at home whose menfolk are defending the nation.” As thousands of black men enlisted in or were drafted into the segregated army and as thousands enlisted in the segregated navy, African Americans demanded to know “where are our Negro soldiers? We have heard or read nothing.”3

Over the next months federal agencies organized an aggressive campaign to gain Americans’ support for the war, including support from

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